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Decisive Teacher-Policy Wins for Unions in S.D., Idaho

Unions were among the big winners in several teacher-policy-related ballot referendums on tickets last night.

Despite a disappointing failure to secure constitutionally protected bargaining rights in Michigan, unions provided key aid in other contests, scrapping several efforts to change pay systems and tenure rights.

As my colleague Jason Tomassini reports, Idaho voters effectively overturned a series of measures passed last year that restricted collective bargaining to wages and benefits and opened up bargaining sessions to the public; ended teacher tenure in favor of annual contracts; required districts to set up performance-pay plans; and mandated online learning experiences for all K-12 students. Unions were opposed to the reforms, which were colloquially known as the "Luna bills."

Less high-profile, but certainly important, was the defeat in South Dakota of a proposal that would have created bonuses for math and science teachers, created a uniform, statewide teacher-evaluation system, allowed school boards to set up merit-pay programs, and made teacher tenure a school board option, rather than a state requirement.

Unions influence seemed on the wane over the last few years as state lawmakers, backed by new advocacy groups, pushed for revamped teacher evaluations, curbs on collective bargaining, and differentiated pay. But as always, the elections serve as a reminder that the making of policy happens in more places than in statehouses—and that effective messaging and public communications remain potent tools in their arsenals.

Make sure to check out colleague Andrew Ujifusa's great reporting on the State EdWatch blog on other major developments in which unions played a part, ranging from the ouster of schools Superintendent Tony Bennett in Indiana to the passage of California's Proposition 30, which establishes a surtax to fund schools in the Golden State.

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