By Kyle Olson
WASHINGTON, D.C. – StudentsFirst, the organization launched by former Washington, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has demonstrated its commitment to meaningful education reform by spending $500,000 to defeat Michigan’s Proposal 2, an initiative that would enshrine collective bargaining privileges for government employees in the state constitution.
Andy Solon, StudentsFirst’s Michigan director, told the Huffington Post, “When you look at Proposal 2, from issues that are important to us, it would set Michigan back tremendously. It would undo important education reforms. Many of them have not had an opportunity to even be implemented. We think this is about adults protecting their own interests.”
Doug Pratt of the Michigan Education Association (the state’s largest teachers union) has a different view. “They’re silencing the voices of the practitioners in the classroom. Their backers don’t want teachers to have a real voice,” he sniffed.
By having a “real voice,” Pratt means unions should have the continued ability to bully school boards into giving them whatever they want in collective bargaining agreements. And under Proposal 2, provisions in collective bargaining agreements would take precedent over existing or future state laws.
For example, the current Bay City teachers contract allows teachers to come to school under the influence of alcohol five times before being fired. Under Proposal 2, that language could not be overturned by any state law, now or in the future. Many people and organizations, including StudentsFirst, believe that’s too much power in the hands of organized labor.
StudentsFirst’s main concern is the potential roll-back of dozens of education reform laws passed in Michigan in recent years, including the trashing of the old “last in, first out” policies and changes to the tenure system to make teachers more accountable.
If Proposal 2 passes, many foresee a lot of ugly fights as Big Labor tries to assert authority around the state and reasonable citizens fight back.
As Harrison Blackmond of Democrats for Education Reform says, “It’s going to be mediation and litigation up the wazoo if this passes.”