Should Teachers Need Big Labor Permission to Earn Higher Pay?

Rick Muir, the top boss of the American Federation of Teachers Indiana union (AFT/AFL-CIO), just helped kill S.B.10, legislation that would have empowered school superintendents to offer salaries above union scale in order to attract and retain teachers who are qualified for hard-to-fill positions without having first to beg for Big Labor permission. “I just see it as opening the door for school districts . . . to start bargaining with teachers individually,” he explained. Image: Randy Rendfeld/The Herald Bulletin (Madison County, Ind.).

It’s just common sense.  If a school district is having trouble finding a qualified educator to fill a vacant teaching position, or to persuade a hard-to-replace employee to stay in his or her current position, school officials ought to have the flexibility to offer a salary higher than the union-negotiated rate.

Unfortunately, in the Big Labor-dominated world of K-12 public education, common sense is far from common.

A nonpartisan study prepared by Dr. Michael Hicks of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Muncie’s Ball State University and released last October confirmed there are shortages in Indiana and elsewhere of teachers in certain disciplines, such as special education, English as a new language, math, science, and world languages.

At the same time, Hicks found there is no general shortage of teachers in Indiana. In fact, statewide there are roughly 39,000 certified teachers working in other fields.

The key reason for the shortages that do exist is the so-called “single salary schedule” that largely determines teacher pay rates across Indiana. Officers of the statewide and local subsidiaries of the National Education Association (NEA) teacher union in Indiana, like other teacher union bosses around the country, strongly favor perpetuation of the single salary schedule, even though it harms many educators as well as schoolchildren, parents and taxpayers.

The single salary schedule does not allow school officials to offer higher pay for hard-to-fill positions without union bosses’ permission. And such permission is virtually never granted.

The fact is, teachers across the country with specialized knowledge in math, science, and certain other fields  can command much higher salaries in the private sector than they can in public education. This would not be a big problem if school districts had the flexibility to offer higher salaries for the relatively small share of K-12 positions for which they have trouble recruiting teachers.

Of course, the only reason school administrators’ hands are tied in Indiana is the state’s teacher monopoly-bargaining law. It gives union bigwigs effective veto power over policy changes in how educator salaries are set.

This abusive system could have finally been modestly reformed, if legislation that died this week in the Indiana House of Representatives had become law.  On Monday, in a 7-4 vote, the House Education Committee gave the green light to S.B.10, legislation that would have empowered school superintendents to offer salaries above union scale in order to attract and retain qualified teachers for hard-to-fill positions without having first to beg union bosses’ position.

This reform had already been adopted by the state Senate. If the full House had approved S.B.10 without making any changes, it will have gone straight to GOP Gov. Mike Pence’s desk.

But over the past few weeks, the hierarchies of the Indiana affiliates of the NEA union as well as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) union have orchestrated intense media campaigns to block S.B.10 and H.B.1004, a similar bill that was approved by the House, but died last month in the Senate.

As the AP news story that is linked below makes clear, Big Labor’s intimidation tactics ultimately carried the day in the Indiana House as well as the Senate. On Thursday, Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) informed the media that he and other GOP House leaders had decided to let S.B.10 die in their chamber without a floor vote.

While this measure would have represented a step in the right direction, what’s actually called for is complete repeal of government-sector union monopoly bargaining. This would enable school districts to offer significant recruitment and retention incentives for hard-to-fill positions without imposing additional burdens on taxpayers.

That’s partially because, in addition to dictating far-below-market pay rates for some teachers, the Big Labor-perpetuated single salary schedule mandates automatic, uniform teacher pay raises after every year of employment, even for teachers who fail to meet minimum performance standards.

Making currently automatic annual pay raises contingent on evaluations showing that teachers are at least doing their jobs adequately, along with other simple reforms, would easily free up sufficient funds to increase pay for hard-to-fill teaching positions.

Unfortunately, even in Right to Work Indiana, most elected officials are still reluctant to support complete revocation, or even a rollback, of teacher union bosses’ monopoly-bargaining privileges.  It will take intense pressure from parents, taxpayers, and other concerned citizens to make comprehensive public-sector labor-law reform possible.

Teacher-pay bill dies on sidelines in Indiana House | 2016 …