What our Education Reform Idol contestants accomplished this year on collective bargaining and benefits reform

Which of the five states competing to be America's next Education Reform Idol did the most to collective bargaining and benefits during the 2011 legislative session? Consider our analysis below, and attend our event Thursday morning (8:30-10:00AM) to see key players in all five states defend their records in front of a panel of ed-reform celebrity judges?Jeanne Allen, Richard Lee Colvin, and Bruno Manno. And click here to cast your vote for Education Reform Idol.

Florida

This year, Florida required public employees to start contributing to their retirement plans. Workers are only asked to kick in 3 percent, but it's a start. (This was enough to spur a lawsuit nonetheless.) The state also increased the retirement age and applied other technical fixes to reduce its liabilities. Overall, the plan is expected to save the state nearly a billion dollars. Collective bargaining was not on the table in 2011, and likely won't be anytime soon. The right to bargain is?enshrined in the Sunshine State's constitution. (That being said, Florida's constitution also frames the state as right-to-work. For teachers, this means that they cannot be required to pay union dues?or strike.)

Illinois

Illinois saw no action on pension costs or collective bargaining this year. Not a surprise for a Democrat-dominated legislature. The Land of Lincoln?did enact pension reform last year, but the state still faces huge unfunded liabilities. Last year's reforms also soaked new workers,?dramatically limiting the benefits they'll receive compared to workers currently in the system (and compared to workers receiving Social Security, which Illinois teachers do not).

Indiana

The most far-sighted state in 2011's round of pension reforms is likely Indiana, which began implementation of a defined-contribution (DC) plan for all public employees. Indiana also made great strides on collective-bargaining reform, barring districts from bartering away their rights to evaluate teachers and restricting the scope of most deals to wages and salary-related benefits.

Ohio

Ohio was the site of massive protests by teacher unions over proposed changes to the collective-bargaining process.?The state's Senate Bill 5 empowers local school districts by restricting the scope of bargaining dramatically (for example, removing health-care benefits from the collective-bargaining table), giving them options in the case of fiscal emergencies, and requiring that the state's or district's ability to pay be made part of the negotiation process. No major changes were made to retirement systems in the state, and SB 5 will be put to a referendum this fall.

Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker's ambitious changes to the public sector touched off a firestorm earlier this year, inspiring some and angering many. Some union supporters even compared the governor to?Hosni Mubarak and?Adolf Hitler. In the end, the legislature passed a law that significantly reduces the scope of collective bargaining for teachers, restricting it to wages only. The new law also requires unions to be recertified every year by a vote of their members. Despite backlash, Walker's?law has survived legal challenges and is pending implementation. The Assembly also ended a practice by which employers paid for their employees' required share of retirement contributions, a move which is already helping to alleviate district budget strains (and reduce layoffs).

Which state was the "reformiest" in the 2011 legislative session?

Read why each state thinks they should be considered the 2011 Ed Reform Idol:

Florida

Illinois

Indiana

Ohio

Wisconsin

?Chris Tessone

Correction: Advance Illinois' Robin Steans pointed out to us after the event that Illinois' recent reforms increased requirements for the Chicago teacher's union to strike, from 51 percent of voting members to 75 percent of all members. This clearly impacts the environment in which Chicago's district leadership bargains with teachers. I regret the omission.

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