Family’s experiences in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin illustrate impact of political climate on education, unions

In an Education Minnesota article, Sparta, Wisconsin, teacher Lauren Cody says her mother’s involvement in the union as a Minnesota Education Support Professional has instilled in her a deep appreciation of the importance of the union for educators and students.

Lauren, a fourth-grade teacher in her second year of teaching, says she joined the union because she saw the benefits the union has provided to her mom, Deb Cody, as a paraprofessional in Caledonia, Minnesota.

“My mom is active in the union, and that is what motivated me to also get involved,” Lauren said. “I have learned a lot from her experiences. I have seen her work through numerous injustices, and it has really opened my eyes to how imperative it is to be part of the union.”

The article emphasizes the negative impact of Act 10 on educators and education in Wisconsin and also the impact of similar legislation in Iowa, where Deb Cody’s son, Kalyn, teaches. Deb says the experiences of her children in Wisconsin and Iowa illustrate how critical it is that educators in Minnesota work to maintain their much friendlier environment for unions and public education.

“I feel strongly and talk often to others about the benefits of being a union member,” she said.

Read the entire article:

Education Minnesota – Minnesota Educator

As a mom, Deb Cody is of course proud of her children. As a paraprofessional, she is even prouder that two of her children became teachers. As a leader in her local union in Caledonia, Deb is nervous about losing collective bargaining rights because she sees the effect it can have on the education profession with her daughter teaching in Wisconsin and her son in Iowa.

Participate in the Working People’s Day of Action February 24 in Madison!

Around the country, workers are taking a stand against the continued assault on the rights of working people! Join the Working People’s Day of Action, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Saturday, February 24, 2018, at the State Street side of the Capitol Square in Madison.

AFSCME Wisconsin invites you to stand with your union colleagues, fellow workers and advocates to show all those who have taken away the rights of working people that they will be held accountable.

Speakers at the rally will address the power workers have to demand fair treatment, the proud history of labor, and the Janus vs AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court case. Arguments in that case will be heard before the high court two days after the rally.

Open the Day of Action flier.

‘Janus’ case is not just an attack on unions, it is an attack on racial minorities

In this column, published by The Daily Beast, journalist Barrett Holmes Pitner says unions have consistently provided a pathway into the middle class for American minorities. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules this year in favor of the Janus case, it will undermine unions and severely impact the ability of minorities in particular to achieve fair wages and benefits.

“Championing unions formed an integral part of the civil rights movement in 1960s,” writes Pitner, a politics and race-and-culture journalist, and an adjunct professor in the department of Environmental Studies at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other civil rights leaders linked social justice to the strength of labor unions to provide minorities with employment opportunities and a livable wage. Public-sector jobs have historically provided employment opportunities for African Americans before the private sector did, and the employment opportunities created within them provided the black community with job opportunities that never existed before.

“These unions also brought new protections to valued professionals within the black community, notably teachers. From Reconstruction through Jim Crow and beyond, teaching was especially important, given that white educators simply wouldn’t teach black children in many parts of the country. Many of our best and brightest have flocked to this profession.”

Read the entire column by Pitner:

Unions Helped Integrate America. The Supreme Court Could End That This Year.

This month the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that threatens to severely weaken the collective bargaining power of America’s unions. This is not a column about the merits and demerits of public-employee unions.

Wisconsin Supreme Court bars access to public records created during union recertification elections

From Madison Teachers Inc.

Madison Teachers Inc. filed an action in Dane County Circuit Court in 2015 challenging the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission’s (WERC) refusal to release voter lists during annual Union certification elections. Dane County Judge Peter Anderson ruled in favor of MTI and held that the WERC was required to produce the certification voter lists requested by the Union under the Public Records Law during the election period. The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the ruling in a decision released this morning, essentially adopting a new court-made exemption to the state’s broad Open Records law.

In a blistering dissent. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley stated:

“Despite Wisconsin’s longstanding public policy favoring transparency, for the third time in three years this court continues to undermine our public records law. Yet again, this court overturns a lower court decision favoring transparency of records to which the public is rightfully entitled. Once more we must ask, ‘[w]hat has the majority achieved with its opinion grounded in speculative, abstract, and unsubstantiated fears?”’”

The decision blocks the union’s access to a public record of the employees who have voted as of the mid-point of the 20-day election period. MTI was not seeking a record of “how” employees voted (that is rightfully kept confidential), but only a list of voters who had cast a ballot.

Since Act 10 was enacted, which requires public employee unions to stand for recertification elections every year, the WERC has provided the union with the information on who has voted only after the election was over. The decision will uphold the secrecy of WERC’s recertification elections, which it conducts entirely by electronic balloting.

Historically, and under WERC’s election rules, unions have a right to observe and monitor certification elections. As a result of the Court’s decision, unions will as a practical matter have no effective way to monitor the WERC’s administration of the elections or to track voting, as they would if WERC conducted elections at a physical polling place.

The Court’s decision will have far-reaching consequences for the Open Records law and is a blow to transparency and open government.

Spotlight on Locals: Tomahawk Education Association

WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen presents Ann Swenty, Tomahawk EA Co-President, and Jon Marin, Tomahawk EA Treasurer, with a certificate recognizing them as a strong local affiliate.

By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President

I interviewed Co-President Ann Swenty from the Tomahawk Education Association to ask her how her local has maintained strength holding steady with a membership of 77 teachers of their 100 teachers on staff.

“First and foremost, you must have a strong leadership team,” Ann told me. She credited her long-time treasurer Jon Marin for his “conscientious dedication to the union” and Angie McPherson, their local secretary, for her follow-through. “Angie gets things done, and she is always a voice for our members.”

Ann also discussed the local’s decision to switch to a Co-President team, training Allison Shantz to take the reins when Ann steps down. Allison has been teaching in Tomahawk for just a few years and was eager to not only join the mission of the local but to become a leader.

Tomahawk EA has a structure that trains building representatives to be leaders who are informed about policy and legislation that will affect them. Ann said it is part of the mission of their local to develop new members because no one will teach forever. If we can involve our new hires in the work of our local, our future will stay strong.

Ann also discussed local visibility as a key factor in their strength. She discussed how the local needs to be engaged in conversations with colleagues about their work. Ann also mentioned that the Tomahawk EA still meets regularly, one time a month, to discuss what’s happening. The leaders and members know that our union meeting is a place to discuss needs in their classrooms and their school buildings. The members know the regular meeting schedule, which is clearly publicized and shared with them, starting at the opening day luncheon for all teachers, hosted by the Tomahawk EA.  Even if the meeting only lasts 10-20 minutes, it’s a place for listening and information-sharing.

As part of their push for additional visibility in their tight-knit community, the Tomahawk EA launched a shop local campaign this past Fall. Each member of the Tomahawk EA has a card offering special deals to their members. Ann said that teachers are leaders in her community, with many serving as members of their churches and local boards. She said that she is often reminded when shopping locally when business owners say, “Where’s your card?” In this small community, they recognize Ann as a teacher and a supporter of their community.

Finally, Ann discussed the need for unity to maintain strength in her local. She cited the network of other leaders within both the region and the state that she and her fellow leaders can rely on for training and support, noting that leaders of the Tomahawk EA attended the WEAC Summer Leadership Academy this past summer at UW-Eau Claire to connect and broaden their network and to offer further training to Allison, her Co-President.

Ann encourages others who are struggling to reach out and to not go it alone. Ann said it is difficult to do this work as an educator with a full plate, but the support of her colleagues in her local, region, and state keep her going every day to be her best for her students.

Teachers say they are overwhelmed by constant policy changes

Nearly all respondents to an Education Week survey — 86 percent — said they had experienced new changes or reforms in the past two school years, and 58 percent said the changes are “way too much” or “too much.”

The teachers surveyed were most likely to say they’d had changes to their teacher-evaluation systems. Other common areas for reform were curriculum, professional development, and state testing.

About one-third of respondents said the amount of reform was “just about right,” but most teachers (84 percent) agreed that as soon as they get a handle on a new reform, it changes.

Read entire report in Education Week:

Majority of Teachers Say Reforms Have Been ‘Too Much’

Change is hard-particularly for teachers, who are generally taking dozens of students along for the ride. Yet the majority of teachers say they’ve faced major changes-related to what and how they teach, as well as how they’re evaluated-over the last couple of years in their schools and districts, according to a recent survey by the Education Week Research Center.

Closing gaps in teacher quality depends on fixing the root causes

A report claiming gaps in access to high-quality teachers is due to a labor shortage misses the point, a review shows. Instead, the root causes of the gaps must be addressed, like rigorous but alternative pathways to teaching and incentives for attracting and keeping educators in hard-to-staff schools.

Read the Review

The issue of gaps between the experience and quality of teachers in different areas of Wisconsin and the nation is on the minds of state leaders, policymakers, school leaders and communities. Research shows many schools face challenges in retaining high-quality teachers, especially urban school districts and small, rural school districts. Studies have also shown when schools don’t have access to high-quality teachers on a consistent basis these gaps can negatively impact students.

The Education Trust published recommendations for state leaders to close gaps created when experienced, highly qualified teachers shy away from working in urban and rural schools. The review of the Ed Trust recommendations showed the report missed an opportunity to address the root causes of the nation’s teacher retention problem and failed to explain the impact of previous federal and state policies on teacher recruitment and retention.

The review also found the report contained significant omissions and relied heavily on think tank reports to support its recommendations, including five of its own.

Furthermore, the report provided little or no guidance as to how to define, identify or access high-quality teachers. It did not provide tools or insights that help state leaders attract and retain high-quality teachers, nor did it identify ways for leaders to understand how to develop incentives and cultures that attract and retain high-quality teachers in high-needs schools.

The review was commissioned by National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes CenterWEAC partners with the Great Lakes Center to provide reviews of education-related studies. WEAC President Ron Martin sits on the Great Lakes Board of Directors and shares this academic review of a study about tackling gaps in access to strong teachers.

96 percent of WEAC local recertifications pass

Ninety-six percent of 2017 fall recertification elections for WEAC locals passed, results released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission show.

The overwhelming support for local unions mirrors similar results in recertification elections since 2011.

“In the local associations that chose recertification elections, educators continue to show tremendous support for the union,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, a middle school social studies teacher. “Unions continue to play a very strong role in their local school districts and partner with parents and their communities to ensure the best public schools for students.”

Recertification is a hoop created by the Legislature to limit employee rights. It requires that an association interested in being named the district “bargaining agent” pay for an annual election and the threshold for victory is half of the eligible voters voting yes, plus one. That’s a bar even the American president doesn’t have to reach to be elected. All educators, union members and non-members, vote in recertification elections and, if an educator does not vote, the state counts it as a vote in opposition.

Local associations across Wisconsin determine whether they will seek recertification based on their own unique circumstances. Whether or not a local chose to participate in recertification, and whatever the outcome of the vote, it’s important to stress that the union still exists. The union exists anywhere educators unite collectively to improve their schools for their students, expand their professional skills, and advocate for shared interests like school safety and opportunities for all children. No legislation can take away that right.

Wisconsin’s anti-collective bargaining law has significantly lowered teacher pay, increased teacher turnover rates and likely harmed student achievement, new study finds

From the Center for American Progress


Following the passage of Act 10, legislation championed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that eliminated collective bargaining rights and slashed benefits for public-sector workers, Wisconsin’s public education system has seen significant harm. Teacher compensation and experience have dropped drastically and turnover rates have increased — all warning signs to Congress and other states considering similar legislation.


Enacted in 2011, Wisconsin’s Act 10 virtually eliminated collective bargaining rights and slashed benefits for most public-sector workers. Now, the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund has unveiled new research showing how damaging Wisconsin’s Act 10 has been to the state’s public education system. In Wisconsin’s public schools, teacher compensation and experience have dropped significantly and turnover rates have increased — all of which negatively impacts Wisconsin families and students. The analysis was unveiled on a press call Wednesday with Wisconsin Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, Illinois Senate Pro Tempore Don Harmon (D), and Minnesota State Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL).

“Governor Scott Walker and Republican elected leaders in Wisconsin said that Act 10 would benefit schools and families alike. They couldn’t have been more wrong,” said David Madland, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, senior adviser to the American Worker Project, and co-author of the analysis. “What has actually happened is that Wisconsin’s public education system has suffered a major blow since anti-union legislation was enacted. An attack on teachers and other public sector workers doesn’t just hurt those employees — everyone in Wisconsin will bear this impact.”

“As a result of Act 10, teachers receive significantly lower compensation, turnover rates are much higher, and teacher experience has dropped significantly,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling. “Rather than encouraging the best and the brightest to become teachers and remain in the field throughout their career, Act 10 has demonized and devalued the teaching profession and driven away many teachers.”

The American Worker Project analysis used data collected by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and found:

  • Reduced teacher compensation. In the year immediately following the law’s passage, median compensation for Wisconsin teachers decreased by 8.2 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, with median benefits being cut by 18.6 percent and the median salary falling by 2.6 percent. Median salaries and benefits continued to fall during the next four years so that median compensation in the 2015-16 school year was 12.6 percent — or $10,843 dollars — lower than it was before the passage of Act 10.
  • Higher teacher turnover rates. The percentage of teachers who left the profession spiked to 10.5 percent after the 2010-11 school year, up from 6.4 percent in the year before Act 10 was implemented. Exit rates have remained higher than before, with 8.8 percent of teachers leaving after the 2015-16 school year — the most recent school year for which data are available.
  • Greater percentage of less-experienced teachers, and a decline in overall teacher experience. The percentage of teachers with less than five years of experience increased from 19.6 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 24.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year. Average teaching experience decreased from 14.6 years in the 2010-11 school year to 13.9 in the 2011-12 school year, which is where it remained in the 2015-16 school year.
  • Higher rate of interdistrict moves. Interdistrict moves — when a teacher leaves one Wisconsin district to teach at another the next school year — has increased from 1.3 percent before the passage of Act 10 to 3.4 percent at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
  • Possible reduction in student performance and outcomes. Peer-reviewed research on Act 10’s effects on student outcomes has yet to be published, but several academics have produced working papers examining the law’s impact on Wisconsin students. This research is consistent with the authors’ findings that Act 10 has led to reduced teacher experience, increased exit rates, increased interdistrict teacher transfers, and thus has likely reduced student outcomes. Indeed, a recent working paper found that Act 10 had reduced statewide student achievement on science and math.

The American Worker Project’s research is particularly relevant because members of Congress as well as state elected officials in Illinois and Minnesota are considering similar legislation to attack public-sector employees. Meanwhile, Governor Walker, who championed Act 10 in his first term, just announced his bid for a third term. The U.S. Supreme Court will also soon hear arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a case that could significantly weaken public-sector unions and teachers’ ability to collectively bargain.

Click here to read “Attacks on Public-Sector Unions Harm States: How Act 10 Has Affected Education in Wisconsin” by David Madland and Alex Rowell.

Nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk if Congress eliminates state and local tax deduction

From the National Education Association

As part of its $5 trillion tax plan giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations, the U.S. House Republican leadership bill eliminates most of the state and local tax deduction (SALT). Its elimination could blow a hole in state and local revenue to support public education and put nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk, according to a detailed analysis of the impact of House Tax Bill (HR 1) on funding for public education conducted by the National Education Association.

In Wisconsin, that would put 4,680 educator jobs in jeopardy and risk the loss of $4.6 million in support of public elementary and secondary schools over the next 10 years.

“The Republican leadership’s tax plan is another example of misguided priorities in Washington,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “The plan is a tax giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations paid for on the backs of working people and students. It would jeopardize the ability of state and local governments to fund public education. That will translate into cuts to public schools, lost jobs to educators, overcrowded classrooms that deprive students of one-on-one attention, and threaten public education.”

The NEA analysis also showed that the bill would lead to cuts of approximately $250 billion in support for public education over the next 10 years. Corporations, by the way, get to keep their state and local tax deductions. A cut of this magnitude is akin to eliminating the Title I and IDEA special education programs overnight. If enacted, the elimination of state and local tax deduction could have a negative, ripple effect on states’ and local communities’ ability to fund public services such as public education.

The impact of eliminating SALT on public education is nearly equal to the education jobs lost during the Great Recession. By most accounts, the country lost about 300,000 education jobs during that time. To cope with the economic crisis our country faced, schools made draconian cuts to public education funding that had a negative impact on students. In addition to losing teachers, school aides, and other key education support professionals, some school districts reduced the number of school days from five to four; and critical education programs (before and after school programs, kindergarten) also took a hit. Class sizes ballooned.

The Republican leadership bill comes as the nation also faces a teacher shortage. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, every state in the country was facing a teacher shortage. In addition, according to the Washington Post, school districts also are struggling to fill positions in math, reading and English language arts, as well as finding substitute teachers.

“It has taken years to recover from the Great Recession, and we’re not out of the woods yet, what with our country facing a national teacher shortage,” continued Eskelsen García. “We must ensure that our students have caring, qualified, and committed educators in order to succeed. Now here come the tax cuts for the rich paid for by students and middle-class families. This bill is terrible for the American people because it is a giveaway for the wealthy and corporations funded on the backs of students and the middle class – and Congress should soundly reject it.”

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