The Idaho Legislature has approved a bill that would phase out tenure for new teachers and limit their collective-bargaining rights, marking a victory for lawmakers seeking union reforms in state capitals across the country.
The bill went to Gov. Butch Otter's desk after it was approved by the House on a 48-22 vote, with nine Republicans joining Democrats in opposition to the GOP-backed measure after hours of debate.
The measure is part of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's plan to reform the K-12 education system in Idaho. It would restrict collective bargaining agreements to salaries and benefits while also phasing out "tenure" for new educators and current teachers who have yet to attain it. New educators would instead be offered one- to two-year contracts following a three-year probationary period.
"Through this plan, we are going to attract and retain more quality teachers in Idaho by offering a two-year contract, increased pay and the opportunity to earn bonuses," said Republican state Rep. Bob Nonini, according to Fox 12 in Idaho.
Supporters of the legislation contend the plan will hand over more power to Idaho's locally elected school boards when it comes to labor relations.
But the Idaho Education Association bemoaned passage of the legislation to limit the union, saying it will gut teacher rights. The group planned protest rallies across the state on Wednesday, when the House is expected to take up another piece of Luna's reform plan and vote on a bill that would introduce merit pay.
"One person's medicine is another person's Kool-Aid and I refuse to drink it," Democratic state Rep. Brian Cronin said, according to Fox 12.
Teacher tenure is a longstanding benefit for public school teachers and college professors dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. The campaign for tenure sprung out of other workers' rights movements and was tied to the push for broader women's rights -- it was meant to keep experienced teachers safe from the whims of administrators and cultivate talented instructors.
But over the years, teachers' unions have pressed for expanded rights, and critics of tenure -- which in some cases can be earned in just two years -- say it's morphed into a tool to keep bad teachers from being fired.
Under the Idaho proposal, teachers with seniority would no longer be safe when school districts reduce their work force; a program that provides cash incentives for teachers to retire early would be eliminated; and Idaho school districts that lose students would no longer get to hold on to 99 percent of the state funding that came with that student for another year to avoid teacher cuts.
"There are parts of it that I think are going to create more problems than they solve," said state Rep. Shirley Ringo, a Democrat and retired teacher.
The House will next take up legislation that would tie some teacher pay to student achievement and award bonuses for those who take on leadership roles or hard-to-fill positions.
The biggest piece of Luna's reform package remains stalled in the Senate. That legislation would boost technology in the classroom, require online courses and increase the minimum teacher pay from $29,655 to $30,000. It would also increase classroom sizes in grades 4 through 12 to pay for a bulk of the education reforms, including the pay-for-performance plan that will go before the House carrying a $38 million price tag in its first year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.