published Friday, March 25th, 2011

State budget and education

Bit by bit, the Tennessee General Assembly is reforming education, both to control costs and to make the interests of students the priority. But there is still a ways to go.

While the state House of Representatives and Senate are moving in the direction of reining in so-called collective-bargaining “rights” for teachers, the Republican-controlled bodies are not fully agreed on how to do that. The Senate version of the legislation is stronger, as it would keep school districts from engaging in collective-bargaining negotiations with teachers unions altogether.

That makes it the better bill, because government employees — who work for our entire public — shouldn’t be empowered to negotiate collectively against the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

Therefore, the watered-down House bill should be strengthened to match the Senate bill, and the legislation should be passed in both bodies. Then Gov. Bill Haslam should sign it into law.

As Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has correctly stated: “Last November, Tennesseans issued a mandate to the Republican majority to institute bold and meaningful education reform. ... [The bill] to outlaw locking taxpayers into funding union contracts is a prime example of the kind of reform Tennesseans have requested.”

He is exactly right. When you consider that even a liberal state such as Wisconsin has recognized the harm and high cost of collective bargaining with teachers unions — and has voted to end it — surely conservative Tennessee can do so.

Separately, the governor’s proposal to restrict tenure for teachers is commendably moving forward. Tenure is supposed to protect teachers from unjust or arbitrary dismissal. Obviously, we should hope that any firing in any line of work will be handled fairly. But it is too easy for tenure to become a way to protect ineffective teachers. Students can ill afford that.

The dedicated teachers in our public schools deserve support from parents and school administrators, and cooperation by students — plus reasonable pay.

But the goals of educating students and keeping spending under control are not advanced by tenure and collective bargaining.

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Leaf said...

Government employees are still citizens. They pay taxes and should have all the same rights as anyone else. They do things like protect citizens, teach children, fight fires and build roads. Many of them are motivated by the desire to help their communities. I'll bet some of your family, neighbors and friends are government employees.

The demonization of teachers that has occurred just in the last few months is nothing more than a smokescreen for lawmakers to use to cover their own failings. Teachers are not the only ones to blame for our failing educational system, but they are the easiest targets because they aren't generally rich and connected.

Who is to blame for underfunding education for the last twenty years? Who is to blame for educators inability to discipline for fear of lawsuits? Who is to blame for leaving failing urban schools to fend for themselves while spending millions on the athletic programs of suburban schools? Not the teachers.

Hey, good luck fixing the educational system if you've made the job of teacher seem even less attractive to future college grads.

March 25, 2011 at 3:44 p.m.
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