Education Reform: Teacher Tenure and Collective Bargaining
July 2012
Report 380

Just four months after taking office, Governor Snyder issued a special message on education reform that contained his agenda for changing statutes and practices that directly affect public school teachers, and at six months into his first term, he had signed a series of bills into law that implement a number of his recommendations. This report is designed to help explain both the traditional and the more recently adopted public policies that affect teachers’ rights in our tax-supported schools.

This report on public policy related to teacher tenure, teachers’ unions and collective bargaining, and teachers’ salaries and benefits is the third installment under the general heading of “Education Reform: Teachers.” The first installment described various aspects of pre- and post-employment teacher training; the second installment described teacher performance management systems. This focus on teachers reflects both their importance in the education system and the 2011 changes to state statutes that affect teachers. Education Reform: Teachers is part of a larger series on education that includes descriptions of education governance, funding, non-traditional schools, early childhood education, and related issues.

Economic restructuring and net tax cuts have reduced tax revenues available to the State of Michigan, which is the primary funder of public schools. At the same time that efforts to improve education have recognized the importance of teachers, funding for public K-12 education has been reduced, criticism of the teaching profession has increased, and new legislation has been adopted that will restrict teacher collective bargaining rights and make firing tenured teachers easier.

Fiscal pressures and policy changes affect all of the approximately 105,000 Michigan public school teachers, but these pressures are not unique to Michigan. There are 3.2 million public school teachers educating 49.4 million children in U.S. prekindergaten through high school classes. Governing Magazine estimates that across the nation, over a quarter million educators may be laid off this year. Nor is Michigan unique in addressing collective bargaining rights and tenure: across the nation, changes have been adopted that reduce teacher compensation, restrict collective bargaining, tie teacher evaluations to student performance, and link evaluation results to tenure, pay, and promotions. Laws passed in Wisconsin, Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee and other states have eliminated or reduced collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees. Florida eliminated tenure and instituted merit pay for teachers. New evaluation systems and performance requirements are being imposed and protections offered by seniority and tenure are being challenged in many states.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is particularly identified with state efforts to reduce the wages and benefits of 500,000 public sector workers, especially teachers. New Jersey also achieved state employee health benefit changes through legislation rather than through collective bargaining. Governor Christie signed Chapter 78, P.L. 2011, effective June 27, 2011, changing state retirement system and state Health Benefits Programs operations, employee contributions and benefits. Not all of these changes have been accepted by the electorate: restrictions on collective bargaining championed by Governor John Kasich and adopted by the Ohio legislature were rejected by voters in a referendum on November 8, 2011.

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