Wins in Iowa, Washington
It doesn’t hurt to have a former teacher in the governor’s mansion. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver signed a bill that will take Iowa teacher salaries from 40th in the nation to 25th by the 2008—09 school year. Over the next two school years, the state will put an extra $145 million into teacher salaries. That means each of the state’s 36,000 teachers will receive total average increases of $5,400. The bill puts into law several of the Iowa State Education Association's (ISEA) priorities, including an increase in minimum salaries by $1,000, and provisions for children to have access to a school nurse, librarian, and counselor. In Des Moines, a new contract provides a nearly 10 percent increase in salary and benefits over the next two years. Des Moines teachers continue to receive fully paid health insurance premiums, a benefit unique among metro-area districts. Alan Young, president of the Des Moines Education Association (DMEA), says health benefits helped convince many teachers to stay in the city instead of moving to the suburbs. In Washington state, the recently approved two-year state budget grants $5,000 annual bonuses for National Board Certified Teachers, with an additional $5,000 if they teach in high-poverty schools. In addition, K—12 educators will receive a voter-mandated 3.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment. The Washington Education Association (WEA) was instrumental in guiding passage of the budget, which also provides new funding for community and technical college faculty salary increases and salary equity for part-time instructors.
Missouri Breaks 60-Year Precedent
The Missouri Supreme Court overturned a 60-year legal precedent when it ruled recently that teachers and other public employees have a constitutional right to engage in collective bargaining with their government employers. The ruling stated that although governments aren’t bound to reach work agreements with labor unions, once they do, they cannot back out of the contracts. The decision resulted from a labor dispute involving the Independence School District, though members of Missouri NEA (MNEA) say it will have broader implications. Missouri has 68,500 teachers in 524 public school districts that can now more effectively join unions to negotiate salaries, benefits, and workplace rights with local school boards. MNEA currently represents about 33,000 teachers and education support professionals.
Virginia, Oregon Boost Benefits
Gains in benefits during the last legislative session left the Virginia Education Association (VEA) in good health. The bill VEA helped to pass provides additional dollars to all current and future recipients of health care credits. For a teacher with 30 years of service, the credit increased from $75 per month to $120 per month. Meanwhile, the Oregon Education Association (OEA) is helping the state manage health care costs for education employees by working with a broad coalition on a bill that establishes a statewide health insurance savings pool for public school employees. The bill encourages the state’s school districts to pool their resources and purchase health care service in bulk. The money saved by reducing fees to insurance brokers and other special interests will stay in local districts. The bill also eliminates duplication of administrative fees and other services.
Plan Dispute Goes to State Supreme Court
A dispute over the merger of West Virginia’s two teacher pension programs will be decided by the state Supreme Court. Members of the state Consolidated Public Retirement Board voted to appeal a county circuit court ruling that derailed the merger. In 2005, the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) supported a bill in the legislature that would offer a one-time chance for all participants in the state’s newer defined-contribution plan to return to the old Teachers Retirement System, which guarantees benefits based on salary and years of service. Though most enrollees voting in a special election in 2006 endorsed the merger, about 1,000 account holders sued to block it. The circuit court judge ruled that the newer plan’s individual investment accounts are the enrollees’ private property, barring them from being combined into the older plan’s general fund.