The battle in Ohio over Senate Bill 5 is largely deemed as a debate about fiscal responsibility and the role of unions in the public sector, though the true impact of the legislation that curtails collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees may be felt most acutely in K-12 classrooms across the state.
If the legislation remains on the books after a Nov. 8 statewide referendum, Ohio public school students may have a tougher time attaining academic success.
Senate Bill 5 not only restricts public sector employee’s rights to bargain for wages and benefits, but for teachers, it will also take away their power to negotiate for smaller classrooms, better supplies and professional development days, among other things, all issues that impact students’ ability to learn.
“Of course the student’s education is going to suffer. There’s no doubt about that,” said Sue Taylor, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “The state as a whole will be hurt. Students, of course, will be at a disadvantage. There will be more students in classrooms. There will be fewer resources that we can try to protect that our students need for their education.”
Ohio, being a Rust Belt state trying to reinvent its economy, can hardly afford to fall behind other state in educationally. Because of Senate Bill 5, that is all too real of a possibility, Taylor said.
“There are new teachers who are coming out of college already that are going to states that don’t have the kinds of conditions that we have here in Ohio,” said Taylor. “What teachers want is to have a degree of respect to be able to provide the best professional input and be able to have that factored in. If you have teachers who feel as though they are being treated as second- and third-class citizens in schools, the morale will suffer.”
Taylor believes the state is not only losing some of its best and brightest young people that could be shaping even younger minds, but some of the more seasoned educators in the state, too.
A combination of the poor economy and the provisions in Senate Bill 5 have led to more teachers retiring, she said.
This year, a record-setting number of over 6,500 teachers are expected to tap into the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, an increase of 63 percent over the 2009 levels, according to Mary Ann Cervantes, a health and retirement consultant for the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
“I think that there are people that are fearful of the future and fearful of safeguarding their retirement and are tired of fighting,” Cervantes said. “It’s taken the joy out of teaching for some teachers.”
In Wisconsin, where similar legislation was recently passed, teacher retirement jumped to 4,935 in 2011 from just 2,527 in 2010, according to an Associated Press report.
Losing experienced teachers in Ohio could have a devastating impact on K-12 education in the state. Oftentimes, as with most other jobs, it is the seasoned veterans that groom the young rookies.
“Who saved my life was that experienced history teacher that would sit down with me after school a couple of days a week and go over materials and ideas with me,” Taylor said of her days starting out as a teacher. “If we have a rush to the door of experienced teachers, the mentoring they provide -– both officially and casually -– new teachers are going to really lose the benefits of those kinds of situations.”
For Maureen Reedy, a teacher in the Upper Arlington School District in Central Ohio, and her colleagues in Ohio, SB5 is about much more than the right to bargain collectively for pay and benefits.
“We negotiate for professional development days, for time as a staff to collaborate and hone our craft and learn new approaches. You take away our voice, and you take away the voice of the children. We are there also to advocate for our students and what they need,” she said.
“It’s like taking a doctor away from having input on surgical equipment to perform a heart bypass.”
Correction: The story originally linked lowering SAT scores in Ohio to teacher instruction time. While the two could be tangentially linked, it’s difficult to directly correlate lowering scores to instruction time. Lowering scores have more to do with more students taking the test, for instance. TAI apologizes for making such a characterization.Tags: Collective bargaining, k-12 education, Ohio Federation of Teachers, public employees, SB5