A committee in the state Senate passed Senate Bill 341 by Bob Ballinger (R-Ozark) earlier this week. Michael Wickline’s story said the bill passed in a voice vote “with no audible dissenters.” Yesterday, it passed the full Senate almost as smoothly. Now it’s onto the Arkansas House.
Sen. Ballinger says the bill applies to state-level governments such as agencies, departments and universities. Also the courts and—note well—school districts. (It would not apply to cities or counties.) Frustrated taxpayers have long watched teachers’ unions elect school boards and then negotiate with the people who owe their positions to those very same unions. It’s like negotiating salaries and benefits with yourself. It’s a nice gig if you can get it. Most people can’t. But most people, being taxpayers, certainly foot the bill(s).
The executive director of the Arkansas Education Association spoke out against the bill, which surprised few people. She said SB341 “directly targets our educators who have shown up every single day at schools and in every way possible teaching students, transporting them and serving them meals since the beginning of the pandemic, knowing they are putting themselves and their families at risk. They should be respected, not attacked.” Put aside, if you can, all those stories about teachers who—well before the pandemic—were considered “chronically absent.” Pre-covid-19, the papers noted that a considerable number of core teachers at J.A. Fair, Hall High and others would miss five days or more in a single school quarter.
But put that aside. This bill doesn’t “target” educators, or even their unions. Only the power of collective bargaining, which smart school districts are getting rid of anyway: “They can have a union,” Rep. Ballinger said. “They have their association. But as far as collective bargaining, we are prohibiting it from a policy standpoint as a state.” That is, if the Arkansas General Assembly approves and the governor signs. And they should.
School districts should work for the students first, then the community as a whole. Teachers are an important priority, but collective bargaining too often makes them the first priority, if not the only priority.
It’s going to take bold, determined, courageous action to take on the unions, even now. But that’s the nature of leadership. And education. And life.