By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON, Mich. – By the time the election dust clears on Wednesday morning, we should have a better idea of how much clout teachers unions have with the public these days.
Education debates have been raging in states and communities throughout the nation, and voters will be asked to solve many of those disputes at the polls tomorrow.
The issues range from acceptance or rejection of sweeping education reforms, proposed tax increases to finance public schools, the future of collective bargaining privileges for teachers unions, the existence of charter schools, the ability of one state to forcibly manage failing schools, and the ability of citizens to control runaway public employee pension costs.
State and national teachers unions have been active in all of these debates, and have spent a great deal of money to either promote or defeat various proposals on Tuesday’s ballots.
Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ballot proposals around the nation involving public education and teachers unions.
Education reform measures
In Idaho, voters will be asked to approve or reject Proposals 1, 2 and 3, which all involve education reforms recently imposed by the state.
Proposition 1 will decide the fate of a 2011 law limiting teachers union collective bargaining to issues involving salary and benefits and phases out teacher tenure.
Proposition 2 is a referendum on a law that provides performance pay to public school teachers based on general student performance, student performance on state tests, and the need to attract teachers in hard to fill subject areas like science.
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Proposition 3 is a referendum on a law that provides laptop computers for students and creates more online classes for high school students.
The teachers unions are desperate to defeat all three laws. The National Education Association has dumped more than $1 million in the effort to overturn the laws, while its state chapter has pitched in about $280,000.
In South Dakota, voters will have the final say on Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s education reform package which would eliminate teacher tenure, provide bonuses for high performing teachers, provide bonuses for teachers in hard-to-fill math and science positions and create statewide principal and teacher evaluations.
Daugaard’s reform package – on the ballot as Referred Law 16 – is opposed by the South Dakota Education Association.
In Michigan, the unions want voters to overturn the state’s emergency manager law, claiming it unduly usurps the authority of local officials. The state has used the law to appoint emergency managers to control operations in several failing school districts, most notably Detroit Public Schools. The managers do not need the approval of elected school boards or teachers unions to impose policies.
A “yes” vote on Proposal 1 would support continuation of the emergency manager law. A “no” vote would express a desire to kill it.
Public school funding
In California, voters will determine the fate of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which would increase income taxes by 1-3 percent for those making more than 250,000 per year, and sales taxes for everyone, to increase revenue for public schools and community colleges.
The California Teachers Association has contributed a reported $8.8 million to promote Prop. 30. The California Federation of Teachers has chipped in $1.8 million.
California voters will also have to determine the fate of Proposition 38, another education funding proposal. Sponsored by wealthy lawyer Molly Monger, this proposal would raise income taxes for everyone, based on a sliding scale, to provide funding for public schools and early childhood development programs.
If both 30 and 38 pass, the one with the most votes will take effect.
In Arizona, voters will express their wishes on Proposition 204, which would extend the life of a one cent sales tax to fund various education initiatives. The tax was originally approved by voters in 2010 and is set to expire next May, unless voters give it new life.
In South Dakota, voters will pass or kill Initiative Measure 15, which would implement a one cent sales tax increase to help fund education and Medicaid providers in the state.
In Florida, voters will decide on Amendment 8, which would repeal the state’s ban of public dollars being used by religious groups.
The measure requires 60 percent voter approval for adoption.
Florida teachers unions and their allies have framed the proposal as a backdoor attempt to reinstate a private school voucher program struck down by the state’s courts in 2006. They say such a program would steal necessary funds from public schools.
Proponents argue that Amendment 8 is about preserving vital faith-based social service programs that do business with the state by scrubbing the Florida constitution’s Blaine Amendment, which prohibits state support for religious institutions. Amendment 8 will have no impact on K-12 education if approved by voters, supporters say.
In Washington state, voters will decide whether to join 41 other states and allow the existence of publicly funded charter schools. Voters rejected similar proposals three times in recent years, due largely to union opposition.
The proposal would allow up to 40 charter schools in the state over the next five years. It also includes a “parent trigger” provision that would allow parents and teachers in any given school to band together and demand conversion to a charter school.
In Georgia, voters will decide whether to adopt Amendment 1, which would recreate a state board that would have the power to approve new charter schools whose applications have been blocked at the school board level. Supporters claim that school boards routinely refuse to allow charter schools to open in their districts because they don’t want competition for students and the state funds that follow them.
The role of unions
In Michigan, voters will determine the fate of Proposal 2, which would enshrine union collective bargaining privileges in the state constitution and make the provisions of collective bargaining contracts immune to present or future state laws.
Michigan public sector unions have been pushing this proposal as a way to prevent state officials from taking away their collective bargaining power through legislation, like the Republicans did with Act 10 in Wisconsin. The teachers unions have contributed heavily to promote the proposal, with the Michigan Education Association chipping in $585,000, the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan giving $460,000 and the MEA Professional Staff Association giving $300,000.
A union umbrella PAC called Save Our Jobs has contributed more than $8 million.
In California, Proposition 32 would ban corporations and unions from contributing directly to the campaigns of state and local political candidates. It would also ban the use of union dues taken through payroll deductions for political purposes.
This proposal has drawn the wrath of unions, particularly the politically-active teachers unions, which use large campaign contributions to purchase a great deal of influence in the state capitol. The California Teachers Association has kicked in $22 million to help defeat the proposal, while the American Federation of Teachers has contributed $500,000.
State employee pension reform
In Illinois, voters will consider HJRCA 49, a proposal that would require a three-fifths majority of any Illinois government body to increase employee pension benefits. The measure was proposed to help put a cap on the state’s runaway public employee pension deficit.
A union umbrella PAC, “We Are One,” has contributed about $550,000 toward defeating the ballot proposal. The coalition of unions includes the National Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.