While Republicans in The Badger State Have Finally Gained a Backbone,
Some Wisconsin Teachers Have Failed Their Students
by Aaron Biterman
Recent protests in Wisconsin have captured the attention of residents in that state and anyone paying attention to politics nationally. Governor Scott Walker, elected in November after many years of total Democrat control, proposed what he calls a budget repair bill to close the $3.6 billion shortfall. The legislation, which has support from large majorities of the Republican-controlled House and Senate, will significantly curb the collective bargaining rights of public employees in the state and would require most government workers to contribute to their pensions and health care premiums.
Specifically, if passed, state employee wage increases will be in conjunction with inflation such that employee pension contributions will rise to 5.8% of each employee’s salary, health insurance premiums will rise to 12.6% of their total premium, state workers could opt out of paying union dues after current contracts expire, and union dues could no longer be collected automatically.
Governor Walker says that these items are necessary to prevent furloughs while also reducing the $137 million deficit, but the Wisconsin Educational Association (WEA) and President Obama claim that Walker is using his political power to take away worker rights while reducing union power in the state. Of course, as the 2012 election moves closer, Democrats nationwide are concerned about Wisconsin – a key swing state – and rightfully so. Democrats receive 65% of union contributions while Republicans receive roughly 1%; roughly 34% is given to non-partisan causes.
The WEA and the Wisconsin Federation of Teachers have a combined annual revenue of nearly $30 million, according to the Center for Union Facts. Additionally, while nearly 10% of private school teachers are fired due to poor performance annually, less than two percent of Wisconsin teachers are let go as a result of inadequate performance. This is because Wisconsin public school teachers are virtually untouchable after three years of service, after which they receive tenure.
Now Wisconsin teachers have taken to the streets of Madison to protest the budget-balancing act of their newly elected governor. Meanwhile, the 14 Democrats who are members of the Wisconsin State Senate decided to leave their state and their constituents to block the Walker budget repair bill. By hiding out in Illinois, the Senate Democrats have blocked the 20 votes needed to obtain a quorum because Republicans only have 19 State Senate votes to pass the bill.
Ironically, from 2006 to 2010, when Democrats controlled the legislature and governor’s office, the same Democrats who fled their state also spearheaded controversial legislation that Republicans were not able to block, including, but not limited to:
▪ State borrowing of nearly $1.5 billion despite an unemployment rate less than the national average;
▪ Raising taxes to the tune of $900 million on cigarettes, hospitals, oil companies, and real estate in 2007;
▪ Raising taxes with a $1.1 billion tax package in 2009 which broadened the corporate tax base, increased the top personal income tax rate, reduced the capital gains tax exclusion, and increased hospital taxes; and
▪ Each of these tax hikes was in conjunction with increases in spending.
In these examples, Republican lawmakers chose to show up and make their arguments in opposition to the Democrat majority. They did not flee to another state as the 14 Democrat State Senators have.
This brings us back to the sad truth about the Wisconsin union protests: Many teachers have left their students behind for their own self-interest.
That’s right; some teachers in Madison and Milwaukee have skipped school to enhance their own wages despite the fact that 90% of black fourth-graders in the state are not proficient readers, thereby making them last in the nation in this demographic group according to the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. In 2009, 19% of Wisconsin high school students failed to qualify for service in the U.S. military as a result of their poor scores on the Army’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Student achievement in Wisconsin is disparate with mediocre results, yet some teachers had the nerve to leave their students in the dust to picket at the Capitol for days at a time.
When it comes to teacher quality, Wisconsin’s results are even worse than its student achievement rates. The National Council on Teacher Quality gives Wisconsin a “D” (with “F” meaning a total failure) in four out of five categories from its 2009 “State Policy Yearbook.” The state fails to deliver well-prepared teachers, expand its pool of teachers, identify effective teachers, and remove ineffective teachers. Specifically, the study concluded that Wisconsin “fails to make evidence of student learning the preponderant criterion in teacher evaluations” and “lacks an efficient termination process for ineffective teachers.”
The essential truth about the budget repair bill is that teacher union bosses across the country are watching Wisconsin. They know that if a Democrat-leaning state like The Badger State reduces the special privileges of its state employees, they could lose tens of thousands of forced dues dollars, some of which are earmarked for the campaigns of politicians like President Obama. States like Alabama, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia are considering following Governor Scott Walker’s lead on this issue to nip their budget shortfalls in the bud, too.
Freedom of association is a constitutional right and workers should be free to come together to organize. By the same token, teachers who don’t show up to class, legislators who run to another state, and doctors who write false sick notes should be held accountable. Thank you to Wisconsin’s teachers who continue to show up for work. These are the teachers that Wisconsin students can look up to as examples. Those who are not showing up have embarrassed themselves and their profession, and that’s the sadness in the Wisconsin union uprising.
Assuming the budget fix moves forward, there are some positives in the situation, too: the budget may finally balance, other states could follow the Wisconsin model, and a much-needed discussion about the special privileges that union power wields for public sector employees will have entered the public cognizance. We owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Walker and the Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature for their collective backbones.
Aaron Biterman is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is a certified teacher in The Badger State. In 2007, he moved from Wisconsin to Virginia, where he currently resides. He is an Advisory Board member of the Northern Virginia Tea Party and is Vice-Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.