A few days ago, Fox News personality Ann Coulter sparked outrage when she asserted that kindergarten teachers "have useless jobs," and suggested their work be turned over "to vouchers, to charter schools. They fight for every last dime, they get summers off, they're off at two, and they make more money than most of those pipefitters who no longer have jobs."
Coulter is known for saying outrageous and provocative things, but she has a canny way of revealing the vicious thinking that actually seems to be driving some of our policies. Because over the weekend we heard an urgent call of distress from teachers in the state of Michigan. A letter from activist Dan Quinn was posted Saturday at Fred Klonsky's blog. At Dan's request, I am sharing part of it here.
It is hard to believe that things in Michigan could get worse than they already were. 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. Tell me how any of these improves education or improves the unemployment situation in Michigan.
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. Tell me how any of those improves education or improves the unemployment situation in Michigan.
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!
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.
(Note: You can read more about the "Right to Teach" bill here.
Many states have "Right to Work" laws that prevent unions from collecting dues from bargaining unit members. These states, not coincidentally, have weak union representation.)
It appears that these lawmakers are seeking to take away from teachers one of the means we have to affect the decisions that are made about our schools - our ability to be organized into a union. As Quinn explains, the Michigan Education Association has been active in back recall efforts targeting certain politicians that have been hostile to teachers.
This push, and the rhetoric from Ann Coulter, is similar to the drive that took place last spring to strip Wisconsin teachers of their collective bargaining rights. Then, as in this case, teachers are accused of being greedy for wanting the basic rights we once took for granted. Affordable health care benefits and a decent retirement are forms of compensation that have been won over the years through collective bargaining. The fact that many private sector employees have lost these over the past decade is a disaster, but we should be seeking to expand these benefits for all, not strip them from the last vestiges of our middle class.
What do you think? Are our colleagues in Michigan in danger of losing important rights?