The media blitz surrounding a certain other education story overshadowed a recent court decision in Madison, Wisconsin with potentially far-reaching consequences. Last Friday, a judge in Dane County did what tens of thousands of protestors who swarmed the state capital in the spring of 2011 couldn’t: torpedo the law that significantly restricted public-employee-bargaining rights in the Badger State. The fallout from Judge Juan Colas’s decision to strike down portions of Act 10, Governor Scott Walker’s signature legislative accomplishment, on grounds that the law violated workers’ constitutional rights could be devastating on several fronts. In the short term, the ruling rips the scab off one of the uglier reform fights in recent memory and threatens to toss the state’s labor relations into disarray as unions scramble to redo the refreshingly sane contracts negotiated after the law’s passage—deals that have already saved districts boatloads of money. Even if Wisconsin’s attorney general succeeds in preserving the law pending the outcome of an appeal (the conservative-leaning state supreme court is apt to be more sympathetic than a liberal Madison judge), education-reform advocates all over need to keep an eye on the proceedings. The late unpleasantness in Chicago reaffirms how much public-employee collective bargaining handcuffs even the most ambitious government leaders. Losing hard-fought ground in Wisconsin just as its new law begins to pay dividends would be a far greater setback than the CTU’s win in Chicago.
RELATED ARTICLE: “Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Ruling Causes Confusion,” by Scott Bauer, The Associated Press, September 17, 2012.