In 2011, a discussion about public employees’ right to collective bargaining was launched into the national consciousness when Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and unions that represent teachers, law enforcement agents and firemen were pitted against one another. With Governor Walker’s recent recall election win, many public sector unions—particularly Wisconsin teachers unions—are sure to be dealt a final deathblow. This limiting of collective bargaining for teachers may result in better funding for public schools and Wisconsin’s top online colleges.
Currently online schools are battling their reputation of having profits, not students in mind. However, as the number of programs continues to rise and traditional education starts to deteriorate, distance learning programs are slowly becoming more reputable. Further, as technology continues to explode, it will be necessary for laborers to update their skill sets which may not be possible at a traditional institution with a hefty price tag.
Budget constraints are also hurting traditional schools. Reduced involvement by teachers’ unions affects overall school budgets in a variety of ways. First, limited collective bargaining rights reduce the overall power of unions, allowing school administrators to distribute annual budgets completely by their own accord.
Limited collective bargaining also allows school boards and administrators to cut excess funds spent within their districts by restructuring benefits and employee regulations that were previously governed by teachers unions. For instance, according to The Wall Street Journal, school districts in Kenosha, Janesville and Milwaukee had the largest number of layoffs in the state—teachers that would have been protected under collective bargaining. These dismissals accounted for 40% of all the state’s layoffs, but the fired teachers only educated about 12% of Wisconsin’s students.
Similarly, health insurance and pension reform has saved the state of Wisconsin a lot of money. Prior to limiting collective bargaining rights, only union-affiliated insurance agencies could provide health coverage to teachers. As private insurance agencies bid for large school contracts, insurance is offered at competitive and reduced rates compared to union-backed agencies. For instance, the state’s New Berlin school district has reduced insurance costs by $2.3 million, while the Shorewood School District shaved off $537,000.
All of these cuts and reforms have had big results in classrooms. According to City Journal, union contracts have historically done little to increase excellence in the classroom and instead “reward mediocrity.” This theory is being tested as reforms in Wisconsin have led to a redistribution of funds previously hemorrhaged by teachers’ unions. For instance, the New Berlin school district has seen a reduction in class size and instituted new programs subsequent to the limiting of collective bargaining rights.
But the students aren’t the only ones benefitting from union reform. Teachers who previously had to pay large premiums under union-backed insurance agencies are now seeing reduced costs associated with health care and pensions.
Many teachers’ unions have balked at the reforms in Wisconsin and claim that unions have always advocated on behalf of public school students. For instance, in June of 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union called for a strike should negotiations with the Chicago Public School system fail to improve various conditions for students, including reduced class sizes and an increase in art, music, language and physical education class offerings.
An end to collective bargaining has been a contentious issue across the nation, but the results found in Wisconsin are hard to ignore. By limiting the negotiating power of public sector unions, funding is being channeled back into the groups of people that need it most—children.