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Idaho Petition Drive One of Many Challenges to New Bargaining Laws

An Idaho teachers' union has launched a statewide petition drive to try to overturn a package of controversial new education laws approved by the state's Republican governor and lawmakers this year.

That effort is just the latest in a series of legal and political challenges to laws pushed through statehouses that place restrictions on collective bargaining and other teacher job protections. Two of those new laws—in Wisconsin and Ohio—drew major public protests from public workers, including teachers, and they now face challenges in the courtroom, and potentially on the ballot.

The Idaho effort, like those in Wisconsin and Ohio, will no doubt lead some political observers to question the wisdom of leaders moving so quickly to pursue such dramatic overhauls of teachers' bargaining rights—as well as changes to tenure, seniority, pay and evaluation. The governors and legislatures had the votes they needed, and one way or another, they managed to get their measures into law. So from a legislative standpoint, they won. But at what cost?

Before those laws can take effect, it appears they'll have to overcome a succession of legal and political hurdles. And if they do take effect, they'll be implemented in school districts where many teachers, and even some administrators, are skeptical of them and worry that the new measures will sow division in schools, and in the community.

Of course, the counter argument is that opponents of those laws would never have agreed to the kinds of changes sought by governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Ohio's John Kasich, and Idaho's C.L. Otter. Walker and Kasich, for instance, have said that in signing into law those measures, they were making the kinds of changes that voters demanded, and that those changes will bring educational and financial benefits to schools—regardless of whether they're political popular right now.

These competing tensions make the ongoing effort in Illinois—where lawmakers and teachers' unions have touted their ability to work cooperatively in coming up with a proposal to make changes to tenure, seniority and bargaining—all the more intriguing. If the Illiniois measure makes it into law&mdash (it's still moving through the legislature) will the apparent consensus behind it give it more staying power?

This past weekend, the Idaho Education Association announced to teachers that about 45 different events across the state were being held where they could sign petitions to have an item placed on the ballot to overturn the three new laws—Senate bills 1108, 1110, and 1184.

The Idaho Statesman has reported that the union has received a $75,000 contribution from its parent organization, the National Education Association, to support the petition drive. The Idaho Education Association had already challenged the constitutionality of the new laws, as we reported last week.

And so I'll now ask for your forecast.

Three years from now, or five years from now, will new laws in Ohio, Wisconsin, Idaho, and other states have significantly changed the bargaining rights of teachers, and the rules for how they're paid and evaluated? Or will they have been undone by a court ruling, a ballot item, or recall election before they get off the ground?

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