Professionalizing the Teaching Profession

Under two proposals just introduced or possibly coming soon in the Michigan Senate, public school teachers would be treated more like highly skilled professionals and less like interchangeable cogs in a factory assembly line.

Senate Bill 618, introduced by Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, would allow school districts to contract out for teaching services provided by a company, nonprofit, union or other entity. The instructors provided under such a contract would not be subject to the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement between the school district and the union representing employees hired directly by the district (most of which are negotiated with little input from those employees).

Among other things, this would free schools to offer all sorts of creative compensation packages, instead of imposing a one-size-fits-all single salary schedule. This could potentially pay big dividends to school districts, students and teachers. For example, under a standard union collective bargaining agreement, a school seeking to improve its science department by hiring specially trained science teachers is forced to offer candidates the same compensation as regular grade school instructors, gym teachers and guidance counselors. By sidestepping the union contract, a district could attract the scarce science teachers it needs with higher starting salaries or other incentives.

Under one interpretation of SB 618, it would also allow a teacher to contract with the school district on his or her own behalf, rather than being covered by a union collective agreement. This would represent a form of “right-to-work” for teachers. Even if that interpretation proves not to be correct, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said in a TV interview this week that he now essentially supports right-to-work for public school teachers, suggesting that under this bill or another to be introduced later, the reform could soon be taken up by the Michigan Legislature.

Specifically, here’s what Richardville said on public TV’s “Off the Record” program: “They (unions) could still offer their membership; it wouldn’t be a forced membership. They (unions) would have to recruit and do their work off campus.”

Under current law, Michigan public school teachers are forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. While school employee unions will probably try to characterize repealing that mandate as “radical,” it would simply align Michigan with many other states, including Indiana, Iowa and Kansas, to name a few. Teachers could make up their own minds on financially supporting school employee unions, would have more career flexibility, and would not be beholden to anyone one but themselves — all hallmarks of a true professional.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.