A few days ago, this letter from Michigan activist Dan Quinn was posted on public school teacher Fred Klonsky's blog:
Dispatch from Michigan: Urgent. 'All hell is breaking out here.'
In it, Quinn describes the increasingly dire situation facing Michigan public school teachers. He writes,
As you already know, Michigan has been under assault all year long. It began with the passage of the Emergency Financial Manager package, continued with the taxing of pensions for retirees, and culminated in the defunding of almost a billion dollars of education funding from K-12 schools; in exchange for $1.8 billion in corporate tax cuts. . .
This summer we also saw the attacks intensify with a tenure 'reform' package that eliminated due process and just cause for dismissals, eliminated seniority, added a list of prohibited subjects of bargaining, and imposed an evaluation system that will require 50% of a teacher's evaluation be based on test scores. . . .
And last week, the Governor signed Senate Bill 7 which requires all education professionals and municipal employees to pay 20% of their health care, regardless of income or previous concessions to keep health care for members. Eventually, health care will cost some support professionals more than they take home in salary. Insane!
The attacks on public education intensified this week with yet another package of bills designed to erode democratically elected school boards, increase privatization, and destroy collective bargaining rights for workers.
The package of bills unleashed this week will do the following: allow for the privatization of all educators, removes the 150 charter school cap, allows community colleges to charter in Detroit, expands 'cyber' schools and seat time requirements for students, creates and defines 'conversion' charter schools (parents can petition for their school to be a charter school), expands the list of services that public schools can provide to parochial schools, and expands schools of choice.
In addition there are bills that were introduced this week which prohibit districts from deduction of union dues, and that create a third tier of retirement where new hires will only be allowed to be part of a defined contribution plan (eliminating pensions from employees hired after July 2011). . . .
And on Thursday, it was reported that Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville plans to introduce something called 'Right to Teach' which is a right to work law aimed just at teachers.
A "right to teach" law would make teacher membership in the Michigan Education Association voluntary rather than mandatory. No bill has been proposed yet, but one is expected this fall.
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville also supports pending legislation that would prohibit school districts from taking union dues out of teacher paychecks. The Michigan state House of Representatives passed a comparable bill today on a 55-53 vote; it now heads to the state Senate.
Richardville has commented on what he terms "Freedom to Teach" legislation on his website. Money going to union dues, he argues, "belongs to the teacher that earned it. It is up to them to contribute based on personal choice, not because the school district extracts it from paychecks and deposits it in the hands of the union bosses." He then goes on to acknowledge the sacrifices that teachers in Michigan have recently been forced to make - "salary reductions, concessions, paying more in health care costs, and in some cases, lay-offs." These changes (all of which have come at the hands of Republican legislators) embolden Richardville to claim that this new proposal will benefit teachers by making sure that they get to keep more of their salary. Furthermore, he argues that this rather unabashed attempt at union-busting "is truly a reform to help middle-class families keep more of their hard-earned money."
The Michigan Education Association has posted a response to Richardville's position on their website. MEA President Steven Cook states, "That any lawmaker would so willfully use their power to attack a group of people for exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and participation in the democratic process is unconscionable."
In his September 9th "Weekly Message," Cook outlines the raft of education reform legislation recently proposed by the state Senate, and responds to Richardville's stance on "right to teach."