Public school officials throughout Wisconsin can move ahead with plans to minimize the impact of pending cuts in state aid, now that the state Supreme Court has dismissed a lower court’s restraining order preventing Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill from becoming law.
Walker’s law severely limits the scope of teachers union collective bargaining in public schools. That was necessary because labor costs, largely tied to collective bargaining agreements, had been dominating school budgets for several years. And union officials around the state had displayed little willingness to accept contract concessions to help school districts save money.
Under the new law, the unions will have no power to interfere with school boards as they unilaterally eliminate labor costs and dedicate the savings to student needs. School boards will be able to dump many labor perks, like automatic annual salary increases for teachers, without laying off as many teachers or cancelling student programs.
Labor officials are accusing Gov. Walker and the legislature of attacking public education by cutting state aid to schools. But by limiting collective bargaining, the Republicans gave local school boards the tools they need to blunt the impact of state budget cuts and meet their basic responsibilities to students.
The only losers in the equation are the teachers unions, and they deserve whatever they get. For years the unions have used their collective bargaining muscle to overwhelm school districts with expensive perks and contract provisions. In most public school districts, labor costs consume between 75-85 percent of the total budget.
Over the past few years, as the economy has weakened and schools have been forced to tighten their budgets, the unions have displayed little interest in sharing in the sacrifice to help schools save money. Most of their expensive perks were protected by collective bargaining agreements, so school boards had no power to eliminate them.
That obstruction to necessary cost-cutting was hurting students, and Gov. Walker and the legislature acted to remove the obstruction.
Suddenly the loss of a percentage of state aid is no longer a severe threat to schools. They once again control their own budgets and are free to spend more money on students and less on labor expenses.
The Supreme Court decision is a huge victory for public schools and students in Wisconsin. Local school boards will now be able to dedicate their resources to student needs instead of labor union costs. Education will become more student-based rather than labor-based.
The teachers unions abused their collective bargaining privileges for years, and their demands became a huge drain on public school budgets. But now school boards finally have control of their own budgets, and can act in a manner appropriate to the needs of their students and taxpayers.