Education News

State News Roundup for June 26, 2011

picture from the recent rallies in Trenton, NJ courtesy of NJEA

New Jersey – Assembly Vote Strips Public Employees of Rights

NJEA President Barbara Keshishian issued this statement following the Assembly’s passage of legislation that diminishes collective bargaining for public employees and reduces pensions for current and future retirees:

“Today marks a new low point in the attack on New Jersey’s school employees and other public workers.  With their action today, the 46 Assembly members who voted ‘yes’ sent a clear message that their promises aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

“By stripping even currently retired public employees of their promised and earned cost-of-living adjustments, these legislators signaled that no promise they make should ever be believed by any New Jersey voter.

“Retirees who count on their pensions for a modest level of security after a lifetime of public service will suffer because of today’s vote.  NJEA will challenge these illegal actions in court.  We cannot and will not allow this outrageous raid on retirees’ pension checks to stand.  This pension raid would reduce many retired workers’ pensions by 40% or more by the end of their lives.

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Wisconsin – Supporters of Freedom Teachers Pack Board Meeting

More than 130 Freedom teachers, community members, WEAC members from other communities and other supporters crammed into a Freedom School Board meeting Monday night to ask the board to come to the table and negotiate a fair contract. In March, the entire Freedom teaching staff of 120 was given layoff notices, and now the district is refusing to negotiate.

The board only allowed district residents to speak at the meeting: two teachers who live in the district and  four parents and one student addressed the board.

Student Logan Jadin, who was a student representative to the board this past school year, explained how he was taught in middle school what a bully is and how to prevent bullying. He then asked the board members how they can interpret what the board is doing to the teachers to be anything other than bullying.

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Pennsylvania – Proposed Changes to Charter School Law Undermine Public Education and Local Control

Some members of the state House of Representatives are making a last-minute push to pass new legislation to allow the state to award charters to for-profit companies to take over hundreds of public schools, diverting even more funding from programs that students need.

House Bill 1711 would allow a state board to impose charters on districts, taking decisions about the schools in a community away from local taxpayers.

PSEA President Jim Testerman calls on state legislators to allow for meaningful public review of legislation that would dramatically expand the number of charter schools, after a bill not even formally introduced has been quietly pushed for a fast-track floor vote.

Testerman pointed out that the General Assembly is winding down the number of available session days before adjourning for the summer. Testerman urged leaders of the state House of Representatives to slow down long enough to answer serious questions about House Bill 1711.

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Illinois – Capitol Report for June 23, 2011

The main reason that the General assembly was back in session yesterday was to deal with SB 2414. The capital bill needed legislative action in order to prevent the stoppage of capital and road projects across the state. The amended version of the bill, which was supported by IEA, would have generated an additional $430 million in revenue for education and human services. At the end of the day, the House was opposed to any additional spending and therefore the revenue limits which were set at the beginning of the session remained intact. The bill passed the Senate 52-0.  It now awaits the Governor’s action.

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Florida – FEA Sues State Over Pension Pay Cuts

The Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit today in Circuit Court in Tallahassee seeking to stop the 3 percent pay cut on teachers, school employees and other workers imposed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

The lawsuit asserts that the Legislature enacted legislation that was unconstitutional when that body required that 3 percent of the salaries of active members of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) be taken from such employees to serve as “contributions” toward their retirement benefits. The lawsuit further contends that the actions by the Legislature to reduce the cost-of-living benefits of those employees were also unconstitutional.

“This pay cut was used by legislative leadership to make up a budget shortfall on the backs of teachers, law-enforcement officers, firefighters and other state workers,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “It is essentially an income tax levied only on workers belonging to the Florida Retirement System. It’s unfair – and it breaks promises made to these employees when they chose to work to improve our state.

“While the state of Florida may make the policy decision to ask future employees to contribute to their retirement, it may not unilaterally change the covenant it made with current employees,” Ford said.

The lawsuit alleges that Florida law expressly provides that the Florida Retirement System is one in which employees do not have to contribute part of their salaries and describes that as a contractual obligation of the State. The suit claims that the Legislature’s action unconstitutionally impairs those contractual rights.

The FRS collects retirement money for more that 900 state and local government employers in the state, covering 655,000 active employee members and providing benefits to 219,000 retired members. It has been a non-contributory plan since 1974.

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