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.

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.

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.

Legislative Update – December 11

Preempting local government from determining local rules. A GOP bill, SB634 would preempt local governments from enacting or enforcing ordinances related to various employment matters. Under current constitutional and statutory home rule provisions, a city or village may determine its own local affairs subject only to the Wisconsin Constitution and to any enactment of the Legislature that is of statewide concern and that affects every city or village with uniformity. This bill states that all of the following matters are matters of statewide concern requiring uniform enforcement at the state, county, and municipal levels:

  • Requiring any person to accept certain collective bargaining provisions or waive its rights under the National Labor Relations Act or state labor law.
  • Local regulation of employee hours and overtime, employment benefits, wage claims and collections, an employer’s right to solicit salary information of prospective employees, employment discrimination, and professions regulated by the state.

The bill was referred to Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform. There is no companion bill at this time.

Revenue limit adjustment for workforce development improvements. This bill, AB 729 / SB 613, would create a school district revenue limit adjustment for workforce development improvements to support vocational or technical education. Any school board that receives a petition and adopts a resolution to initiate workforce development improvements may increase its revenue limit by the amount the school district spends on the improvements in a school year, including amounts spent for debt service on a bond, note, or state trust fund loan used to finance the improvements. The term of the bond, note, or trust fund loan may not exceed 20 years. The petition must be filed jointly by the president of a local chamber of commerce or a chamber of commerce that serves the geographic area encompassing any portion of the school district and the executive director of a regional workforce development board. The Assembly version was sent to the Committee on Local Government, while the Senate version is in the Education Committee.

AUDIT ON ETF RELEASED. The Legislative Audit Bureau has released on report on the Department of Employee Trust Funds.  Briefing Sheet and Full Report. According to the report:

  • The WRS fiduciary net position increased from $88.5 billion on December 31, 2015, to $92.6 billion on December 31, 2016. A 4.6% increase.
  • The net position of the State Income Continuation Insurance (ICI) program declined from a negative $25.6 million on December 31, 2015, to negative $28.4 million on December 31, 2016.
  • ETF increased 2017 premiums for the State ICI program.
  • ETF is seeking statutory changes for the State ICI program.

Prohibiting aiding and abetting sexual abuse of students by school personnelAct 130 implements in state statutes provisions already included in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act to prohibit aiding and abetting sexual abuse of children/students by school personnel. State law now states that it is immoral conduct for a DPI licensee (e.g., a teacher, administrator or HR director, etc.), or a school board, private school governance or privately run charter operator to assist a school employee, contractor or agent to obtain a new job in a school or school district if the licensee knows or has reason to believe that the person committed a sex offense against a student or a minor.  A violation could subject the licensee to potential loss or his or her DPI license.

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.

New report illustrates how strong unions make stronger communities

A new report, Strong Unions, Stronger Communities, details more than a dozen examples from across the country of how working people who belong to strong unions are making their communities stronger and leveling the playing field for everyone. The report was released Wednesday by the NEA, together with its union partners AFT, AFSCME and SEIU.

The report illustrates how strong unions are making important and often invaluable contributions to our communities every day, whether it is training young people to pursue careers in nursing, or negotiating with employers for better equipment and staffing levels to reduce emergency response times.

“Through better public services, good jobs and better opportunities for students, labor unions are key to making sure that working people have a chance to get ahead in an economy rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful,” the report states.

“What makes these contributions possible is the freedom of public service workers to come together and pool their resources so they have the strength in numbers they need to speak up for their families, their co-workers and their communities,” it says.

“But that freedom is under attack at the Supreme Court in a case called Janus v. AFSCME that aims to diminish the ability of working people to stand in strong unions to advocate for the things our communities need. We hope that by writing op-eds, letters to the editor, statements and by posting to social media, you will draw renewed attention in the face of this unprecedented attack to the value our unions add to our communities.”

Click here for a toolkit to help you weigh in and lift up the examples in the report.

Read the entire report:

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Teachers’ mental health declining due to job stress, political discourse, survey finds

The growing stresses of teaching, coupled with the coarseness of the nation’s political debate, is taking a heavy toll on the mental health of teachers, according to a survey released Monday by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association, a grassroots organization focused on social justice.

Well over half of the educators surveyed – 58% – said their mental health was “not good” for seven or more of the previous 30 days. That is up from 34% just two years ago.

The summary of the survey – titled “2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey” – says safe, welcoming, healthy schools flourish when teachers and school staff are empowered by support and respect on the job.

“Educator working conditions have a direct effect on the learning environment of our students. Teaching is a difficult job, and working conditions are a strong predictor of teacher turnover — more so than other factors like teaching in a high-poverty school,” its says.

“Studies have shown that teachers in high-poverty schools with good, supportive working conditions are likely to stay. The people who know teachers best — those who are part of their school and local communities — respect them the most. There’s a large and growing body of research that shows that community engagement and collaborative practices in schools and districts improve student outcomes. We can ensure safe, welcoming, supportive learning environments for kids when communities, parents, educators and administrators work together to build supportive working environments for teachers and school staff.

“Fostering safe, welcoming environments in schools is even more critical in our current political climate. A study released by UCLA in October 2017 shows that since January’s presidential inauguration, high school teachers across the United States are reporting more stress, anxiety and bullying among their students than before.”

Randi Weingarten, AFT president, is quoted in USA Today as saying that over the past few years, teachers have swapped one kind of stress — an intense national focus on standardized skills tests — for another, the nastiness of our political debate.

“This notion that being coarse and tough and enabling hate is OK is highly, highly, highly disruptive and problematic in schools and goes completely against what parents and teachers know is absolutely important for kids, which is a safe and welcoming environment,” Weingarten said.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • The people who know teachers the best — parents, co-workers and students — showed much more respect for teachers than elected officials and media members, many of whom rarely set foot in a classroom.
  • While educators felt most respected by their colleagues, they also indicated that their direct supervisors showed them much more respect than their school boards, the media, elected officials and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (86 percent of respondents did not feel respected by DeVos).
  • While the majority of educators felt they had moderate to high control over basic decisions within their classroom, their level of influence and control dropped significantly on policy decisions that directly impact their classroom, such as setting discipline policy, setting performance standards and deciding how resources are spent. This lack of voice over important instructional decisions is a tangible example of the limited respect policymakers have for educators.
  • Policies that support healthy interactions in schools are tremendously important. The survey found that educators experience workplace bullying at a much higher rate — more that three times as high — than other workers. While most educators reported that their schools have workplace harassment policies prohibiting bullying, a smaller proportion of respondents said that their schools or districts offered regular training on bullying.
  • These and other factors contribute to an unhealthy work environment. Teachers reported having poor mental health for 11 or more days per month at twice the rate of the general U.S. workforce. They also reported lower-than-recommended levels of health outcomes and sleep per night.
  • The stressful workload, the feeling of having to be “always on,” the lack of resources, and the burden of ever-changing expectations take a toll on educators, and the health problems educators face are compounded by deficient building conditions, equipment and staff shortages, and insufficient time to prepare and collaborate with colleagues.
  • Respondents overwhelmingly agreed that strong educator unions are vital.

Read the USA Today summary:

Survey: Teachers’ mental health declining amid job stress

A long list of anxieties – around school budget cuts, bullying, coarse political discourse and the shaky status of immigrant students – is taking a toll on teachers, a new survey shows, with more educators now saying their mental health is suffering than just two years earlier.

Read the entire survey report:

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Bill would weaken grievance process for teachers

A bill that is being circulated in the Legislature –  SB 419/AB  503 – threatens teachers’ rights to access the statutory grievance procedure that includes review by an impartial hearing officer.

WEAC has issued an Action Alert.
Tell the bill’s authors about your concerns!

Note: Teachers in the Milwaukee Public School System would not be impacted by this bill, because they are not covered by the nonrenewal statute.

“The proposed change to the statutory grievance procedure would create a number of inequitable situations,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “Treating teachers unfairly results in low morale and will only worsen the teacher shortage, and that hurts students.”

Current law requires local government units, including school boards, to have grievance procedures in place that address employee terminations, employee discipline and workplace safety. The proposed change would essentially preclude access to the grievance procedure for teacher nonrenewals and any form of discipline where there is not a financial consequence – such as a letter of reprimand.

The current laws governing grievances and nonrenewals provide separate and independent rights. Under the nonrenewal law that applies only to full-time teachers, teachers have the right to a private conference with the school board prior to a decision to nonrenew. Under the grievance statute, employees must have access to a review process after a decision has been made, including a hearing before an impartial hearing officer, which allows the employee additional time and opportunity to prepare and submit testimony and evidence related to the nonrenewal. Therefore, it is critical that the legislature allow teachers access to both procedures.

Allowing teachers who have been nonrenewed access to the grievance procedure is crucial considering the stigma associated with nonrenewal. School district employers make hiring decisions based upon whether an applicant has been nonrenewed. Applicants for teaching positions posted on the Wisconsin Education Career Access Network (WECAN) are required to complete the WECAN Standard Application which asks: “Have you ever been non-renewed for reasons other than budgetary or program elimination?” Being nonrenewed suggests a teacher’s employment was ended for performance reasons or misconduct, and affects that teacher’s future employability. Thus, access to the grievance procedure is vital.

The bills have been referred to committee, and no public hearings are set. Read the fiscal estimate.