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Senate Version of Ban on Teacher Collective Bargaining Advances

Republicans in the upper chamber have all along favored repealing local teachers’ ability to force school districts to negotiate labor deals with unions. But House GOP lawmakers have been more skeptical of the Tennessee School Board Association-backed legislation and have yet to take up the latest amendments to the bill.

As expected, Senate Republicans had no trouble approving the latest version of a bill to ban collective bargaining among Tennessee teachers.

The Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 Wednesday to adopt fresh wording requiring school boards to create a policy manual outlining how they’ll determine issues like teachers’ salaries and benefits in an attempt to alleviate concerns about cutting out teacher input.

“This will basically assure statutorily that the door cannot be closed on these teachers and they’ll have the ability to provide that input,” said Sen. Jack Johnson who is spearheading the push to eliminate unions’ ability to negotiate teachers’ working contracts.

The newest incarnation of the bill requires school boards to seek public comment on the policy manuals, which will outline the process for deciding labor issues, including pay rates, benefits, student discipline procedures, working conditions and leaves of absence.

The state Board of Education, Department of Education and Department of Human Resources will all have a hand in developing a sample manual local school systems can adopt.

Democrats remain unsatisfied with the bill, despite the new language. Sen. Andy Berke said the new bill swaps out voices of teachers for input from Nashville “bureaucrats.”

“It would be hard to imagine, but I actually think I like this version of the bill worse than I liked the first one, and believe me I did not think that was possible,” said the Chattanooga lawmaker.

Teachers feel betrayed, according to Tennessee Education Association Lobbyist Jerry Winters, who said the new bill creates “some illusion of input” from teachers.

“We view that no one really is a winner here. Certainly I don’t think school boards are a winner. I know that teachers are not a winner and frankly students are not winners here because what you are doing with this process is taking the biggest advocate for students who are their teachers and actually diminishing, significantly diminishing, their role in policy,” he told the committee.

Berke and the TEA both admit they can’t stop Senate Republicans from voting to ban collective bargaining. But House GOP members have been more skeptical of a repeal and have yet to take up the amendment. The House Finance Ways and Means Committee is set to hear the bill May 3.

The House version allows teachers unions to negotiate scaled-back labor contracts, a concession backed by Speaker Beth Harwell and Gov. Bill Haslam and designed to attract broader support from lawmakers hesitant to delete collective bargaining from state code. Harwell hinted earlier this month that she likes the Senate’s amendment.

Haslam said Wednesday he still hasn’t taken a position on the Senate’s amendment but plans to meet with legislative leaders Thursday to discuss it.

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