Wisconsin teacher busting, Texas style

I posted an item about House Bill 400 last week, but this antiteacher piece of legislation is so bad it deserves more attention. The bill by House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler was approved by his committee last week and may be debated on the House floor late this week or next.

HB400 allegedly was drafted to give local school boards and superintendents “flexibility” to deal with the budgetary shortfall. In truth, the bill has very little to do with the budget and, instead, is a blatant attempt to make it easier for districts to fire teachers or cut their pay by repealing educators’ salary safeguards and due process employment rights.

It’s basically the Texas version of Wisconsin union busting. Unlike their peers in Wisconsin, Texas teachers don’t have collective bargaining rights for antiunion superintendents and lawmakers to attack. But Texas educators do have some employment protections, most of which will be wiped out – along with an important classroom quality standard if HB400 becomes law.

The classroom standard is the 221 class size limit for kindergarten through fourth grade. It has been law since 1984 because it has worked to enhance the learning environment for Texas’ youngest students and, in turn, has helped improve student performance. HB400 would replace it with a 221 districtwide class size average and a new, 251 cap in K4.

Although superintendents and school board members claim their push for the higher cap isn’t motivated by a desire to fire teachers – or to make teachers the first victims of the budget crunch – the ONLY reason for repealing 221 is to make it easier to lay off teachers. And the more teachers who lose their jobs, the more kids who will be crammed into overcrowded classrooms and the poorer the learning environment.

Districts already can seek waivers from 221 from the state in cases of severe financial hardships.

Legislators, including Eissler, claim they want to protect teachers’ jobs. But HB400 would do the opposite. Legislators who really want to protect educators’ jobs should vote against it.

Here are some other provisions that make HB400 an attack on unions, not a temporary budget solution.

# It permanently repeals the current law that prohibits school districts from paying teachers less next year than they earned this year. And, it eliminates the state minimum salary schedule, which has been on the books for years. If superintendents simply want to be able to temporarily cut teachers’ pay to help make it through the budgetary crisis, why make that change in law permanent and why repeal the salary schedule?

# It permanently changes the date for a district to notify a teacher that his or her contract won’t be renewed for the next school year from the 45th day before the end of instruction to the last day of instruction in the spring semester. Districts may need some more flexibility now, but why make this change permanent? All it would do is add insult to injury by making it more difficult for a laid off teacher to find a new job for the next school year.

# It permanently eliminates the use of a neutral hearing officer in cases of midyear teacher terminations. The discharged teacher, instead, would be offered a kangaroocourt style hearing before the school board.

# It permanently allows a school board to furlough teachers for as many as seven noninstructional days a year and reduce their pay accordingly. Again, why does this change need to be permanent if it is supposed to merely give districts some temporary budgetary “flexibility”?

# It permanently deletes seniority as one of the factors used in determining who is terminated during a reduction in force. This, of course, would allow districts to fire the most experienced, highest paid teachers without regard for the negative effect on the classroom.

# It permanently allows a district to declare a financial exigency (emergency) at any time for any reason in order to perform a reduction in force.

Those are a lot of “permanentlys” for what supposedly is a shortterm fix.


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