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Education Reporter

Ed Reform is Sweeping the Nation
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The elections last November greatly changed the political climate of many states. Republicans took over 21 previously Democratic state legislative chambers and now hold a majority in 57 of the 98 chambers. This change in party control, coupled with tight state budgets, set the stage for sweeping education reform. This spring, a majority of states passed some form of legislation attempting to improve education and cut costs at the same time. Teachers' unions bore the brunt of this reform, having their powers stripped to make room for budget cuts and new employment standards.


Wisconsin was the first state to draw big crowds of union protesters with its restrictions on the power of teachers' unions to impose their employment standards. But the law has withstood the opposition and was upheld by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on June 9th. Indiana

Indiana's Governor, Mitch Daniels, signed into law an unprecedented expansion in school choice. The new law will make vouchers available to middle income families earning as much as $62,000 a year. Depending on income level, students will be eligible to receive from 50% to 90% of per-child public school funding. The number of available vouchers will grow from 7,500 this year to 15,000 next year, and will be unlimited in three years. Indiana has already passed legislation limiting collective bargaining and now has teachers' unions fired up again. The new education reform will bring the "last in, first out" policy to an end, using a new evaluation system based on student performance instead of teacher seniority.


Teachers' unions are suing Idaho Governor, C. L. "Butch" Otter, the state, and State Superintendent Tom Luna over the constitutionality of Idaho education reform legislation. The new law will end tenure and retirement bonuses for teachers, and will vest power in elected school boards instead of teachers' unions. Another part of the plan is to take money from teacher salaries to create a merit-based payment plan and fund new technology for classrooms. Idaho teachers' unions plan to fight back in court, and are petitioning to have the law put to popular vote on the 2012 ballot with $75,000 in funding from the NEA.


As in Idaho, the NEA is hoping to overturn Ohio education reform laws by calling for a vote of the people. The new law will establish teacher seniority based on merit instead of tenure, and will restrict teachers' ability to contract for entitlements.


Maine authorized charter schools for the first time last month, becoming the 41st state to allow them. The law authorizes ten charter schools to start and operate over the next ten years, and allows funding to follow students from public schools.


The Republican dominated legislature in Tennessee has brought collective bargaining under the control of school boards. Using "collaborative conferencing" instead, teachers will meet with local school boards to express their wishes on salary and benefits. Tennessee has also replaced tenure with performance-based evaluations.


Florida's education reform legislation will extend vouchers of about $3,100 to students, expand charter schools, allow students to transfer from failing schools, and make online schooling available. Another bill will replace teacher tenure with a merit-based plan.


Democrat-controlled Illinois was able to garner support for laws that will link teachers' benefits to their performance in the classroom. The law, though not supported by the Chicago Teachers' Union, did gain the approval of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.


Even in union-friendly Massachusetts, legislation is on its way to the governor's desk that would take certain privileges away from state employees. Unions would lose their power to control their healthcare benefits in an effort to curb state spending. Despite staunch opposition from unions, the measure passed overwhelmingly in both Houses. Unions are reeling at the betrayal by their Democratic representatives, but if the governor signs the bill, Massachusetts will save $100 million in the next fiscal year.


Under a new law, teachers will no longer be able to benefit from collective bargaining. Teachers will be rated according to objective evaluations of their skills and will enjoy continued employment based on performance rather than length of employment. Tenure will take longer for teachers to gain, and even then it will not ensure against probation.

Other states that passed school reform legislation this year include Arizona, Oklahoma, Minnesota, New Mexico, Utah, New York, Louisiana, Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina. With the momentum created by last November's elections, many states have been able to cut spending and send students into the next school year with the hope of a better education. (www.wisconsinreporter.com, 6-14-11; Wall Street Journal, 5-06-11; Associated Press, 4-28-11; www.mpbn.net, 6-29-11; National Review, 5-23-11; www.blog.heritage.org, 6-30-11; www.articles.boston.com, 5-27-11; Las Vegas Sun, 7-01-11; Education Week, 5-25-11)

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