Tennessee Legislature Votes to Nix Collective Bargaining for Teachers

by James Sherk

Wisconsin is not alone. To little national fanfare, the Tennessee legislature voted to end collective bargaining in public schools late Friday night. Unlike Wisconsin, cost cutting did not drive these reforms —Tennessee does not have a budget crisis. While the changes will improve the state’s fiscal health, the legislature’s main goal was to remove a major barrier to quality education.

Unions exist to get more for their members. That often conflicts with giving children a good education. Former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein recently explained what unions want:

[L]ifetime job security (tenure), better pay regardless of performance (seniority pay), less work (short days, long holidays, lots of sick days), and the opportunity to retire early (at, say, 55) with a good lifetime pension and full health benefits … The result: whether you work hard or don’t, get good results with kids or don’t, teach in a shortage area like math or special education or don’t, or in a hard-to-staff school in a poor community or not, you get paid the same, unless you’ve been around for another year, in which case you get more. Not bad for the adults. But it’s just disastrous for the kids in our schools.

Education unions push — hard — for public schools to serve the adults who run them. But government should serve the public, not the other way around. Now, in Tennessee, it will.

The legislature replaced collective bargaining with “collaborative conferencing.” School boards must meet with designated teachers’ representatives and discuss working conditions. They have the option of signing binding memoranda of understanding. However, in contrast to collective bargaining, they do not have to. School boards have the final say if they disagree with teachers’ unions. They can adopt policies that serve children’s needs, whether the union likes it or not.

The Tennessee Education Association has lost its power to block educational reforms. Soon Tennessee schools will be able to reward excellent teachers and remove failing ones — a great victory for Tennessee’s children.

James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

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