Wisconsin teachers unions were faced with another disappointment as Gov. Scott Walker was reelected on Nov. 4. The teachers unions generally supported Walker’s Democratic challenger Mary Burke. Walker has been demonized for years by teachers unions due to the introduction and eventual passage of his Budget Repair Bill (BRB), also known as Act 10.
The legislation sparked historic protests at the state capitol in which thousands of people, filled the capitol rotunda. Many of the protestors were teachers who decried the bill as the end of public education.
Before implementation of Act 10, collective bargaining agreements dictated layoffs be based on seniority, not merit. As a result, newer teachers were frequently fired when budgets became tight. In fact, Megan Sampson, the recipient of the “outstanding first-year teacher” award for English for 2010, was laid off by the Milwaukee School District because the school board’s collective bargaining agreement prioritized seniority and the union was unwilling to make concessions on health insurance that would have saved hundreds of jobs.
Act 10 limited unions’ collective bargaining powers, school districts are now able to seek out competitive bids for health insurance plans. Previously, members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state’s teachers union, voted on their healthcare plan, often choosing WEA Trust, an insurance company with ties to the teacher’s union. This change in policy resulted in millions of dollars in savings for districts around the state.
For example, after opening its teachers’ health insurance coverage out to multiple companies for bids, the Appleton School District voted to retain WEA Trust as its insurer but saved $3.1 million on the exact same health insurance plan because WEA Trust was forced to bid competitively for the contract. Similarly, Kettle Moraine School District saved $600,000 by switching from WEA Trust to Humana, and the Baraboo school district saved approximately $660,000 dollars by switching from WEA Trust to Dean Care.
Wisconsin State Sen. Frank Lasee said, “Act 10 serves as an example to the rest of the country: an answer to successful education reform is not necessarily to increase spending. Commonsense reforms that empower elected school boards by giving them the flexibility they need to keep and reward their most talented teachers, use the competitive bidding process to save money. They prevent layoffs and do the most good for the most kids.”
Isaac Orr ([email protected]) is a research fellow for energy and environment policy at The Heartland Institute.
Image by Diane Miller.