On Tuesday, Feb. 15, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan convened hundreds of teachers’-union leaders and school-district leaders in Denver to discuss ways management and labor could work together better. Kumbaya!
Two days later, all hell broke loose in Madison, Wis. The flash point was Republican Governor Scott Walker’s plan to address the state’s budget gap by making public employees contribute more to health care coverage, coupled with a proposal to eliminate collective bargaining for most public employees — including teachers. Democratic state legislators went into hiding to thwart a vote on the measure, and schools closed as thousands of teachers left their classrooms to descend on the state capital.
The two episodes vividly illustrate the hope — and the reality — of labor-management issues in education today. As Madison becomes ground zero for the debate over government spending and public-sector reform, some hard questions are getting lost in political theatrics and overwrought rhetoric. Here are questions Wisconsin’s governor, labor leaders and President Obama should have good answers for but so far don’t.