SB 5246 Exposes How Union Power Hurts Neediest Students

SB 5246 Exposes How Union Power Hurts Neediest Students

SB 5246 Exposes How Union Power Hurts Neediest Students

A recent tug-of-war in the State Senate shows how the interests of adults are different from the interests of students, and how making important decisions in secret collective bargaining sessions can harm students.

The Senate on Tuesday (Feb. 18) considered legislation to address how teachers are evaluated and how staff assignments are made. The current practice is defined in collective bargaining agreements between school boards and union officials in school districts across the state.

Union-won contracts almost always require district mangers to allow teachers to choose where they work based upon seniority. Of course adult employees want the luxury of moving to the fun jobs and easy schools once they have enough seniority, but this practice does not serve students well.

Research suggests that high-poverty schools and classes for students falling behind have the least experienced educators and the highest staff turnover. If a district leadership team wanted to make the school workplace more like the rest of the world—where the employer decides where employees work—that district might face an illegal teacher strike and a public smear campaign.

This is exactly what happened in Tacoma in 2011. Union leaders neglected to tell the public their strike was to protect experienced teachers’ ability to flee poor neighborhoods.

Since local control has not solved this problem, well-meaning lawmakers proposed Senate Bill 5246 to require that “seniority must only be used as a tiebreaker.” The legislation also requires that uses various student learning growth measures be used to evaluate and rank teacher effectiveness.

The reaction from the union was predictable, and the legislators they funded voted against the proposal. A few Republican senators joined them in voting against the legislation, some pointing out that solutions designed in Olympia can be clunky and trample local control. This partnership assured the legislation’s defeat, with 19 Senators in favor and 28 against SB 5246.

The real solution, which preserves local control while ensuring employee demands don’t harm services to students, would be to change the laws to reduce union influence over decisions about services to students.

Senators who voted “No” on SB 5246: 
Benton, Billig, Brown, Chase, Cleveland, Conway, Dansel, Darneille, Ericksen, Fraser, Frockt, Hargrove, Hasegawa, Hatfield, Hobbs, Keiser, Kline, Kohl-Welles, Liias, McAuliffe, McCoy, Nelson, Padden, Pearson, Pedersen, Ranker, Roach, and Rolfes.

Senior Policy Analyst
Jami Lund is the Freedom Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst. From 2004 to 2011, he developed legislative policy as a research analyst for the Washington House Republican Caucus. Prior to that he worked for the Freedom Foundation as the Project Manager for the Teachers Paycheck Protection project, shepherding the development of the Foundation’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court case to protect teacher rights. Jami is an accomplished speaker and researcher, one of Washington state’s top scholars on education policy and finance.