Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee school districts would no longer have to engage in negotiations with teachers' unions under a measure that is headed for a full Senate vote despite opposition from hundreds of state teachers.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Jack Johnson of Brentwood passed the Senate Education Committee 6-3 along party lines on Wednesday. The committee room was packed with educators, who spilled out into the hallways of the Legislative Plaza across the street from the Capitol and watched on flat screen televisions.
House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart, who is sponsoring the companion bill, said in a statement after the vote that it's a "strong move toward real reform in Tennessee."
"As this legislation moves forward in the Senate, I will work tirelessly to make sure we follow suit here in the House," she said.
Johnson said collective bargaining actually stifles teacher input. With education reforms proposed across the state and nation, he said, "it is more important than ever that all teachers have a seat at the table" and not have their voices filtered by a union.
Supporters of the legislation point out that none of Tennessee's neighboring states require collective bargaining with teachers, and that the teachers' negotiating rights are unique among public employees.
"No other entity in the state has mandatory collective bargaining except for teachers," Johnson said.
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters testified before the committee that the legislation would create "chaos." He said "people need a collective voice to express their concern."
Democratic Sen. Charlotte Burks of Monterey agreed.
"This bill is terribly bad timing," said Burks, who voted against the measure. "I think the teachers need to feel that they have every bit of support they can muster."
Winters said the legislation, as well as other education reform proposals this session, unfairly targets teachers. He said lawmakers should focus more on issues such as school safety and parental involvement.
"They're setting teachers up to fail," he said. "Let's at least pat people on the back a little bit and say job well done."
Christy Daniels, a 9th-grade English teacher in Coffee County, attended the committee meeting. She said the legislation is unnecessary and agreed that teachers are being given a hard time.
"It feels like every time I turn around they're taking another shot at us," she said.
Johnson, however, said at a press conference after the meeting that's not the case.
"There are some angry teachers out there," he said. "But the ... teachers I've spoken to personally about the bill, while at the end of the day they may not agree with what we're trying to do, they at least understood that we're not trying to harm teachers. We're trying to help teachers."
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to release his education reform plan this week. Johnson said he spoke with Haslam and was given approval to move his proposal.
Haslam has said his proposals will likely seek to make it more difficult for teachers to achieve tenure, lift a cap on the number of charter schools in the state and focus on using more student testing data to improve schools.
Read SB0113 at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/
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