Unions promote tenure reform law, until they don’t

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Brad Jones Contributor
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Colorado’s largest teachers’ union will very likely sue to block a new tenure reform law, but not until after voters decide on an income-tax hike earmarked for education.

Organized labor, primary backers of the tax hike initiative, argue the extra billions are required to implement the reforms they plan to nullify in court.

Even more curiously, the state board of education, with a Republican chairman opposed to the tax hike, voted to extend the deadline to sue until after November’s election. The move has been interpreted by opponents as giving unnecessary cover to the union.

Amendment 66 would alter Colorado’s income tax structure from a fixed rate to a progressive system where higher-income earners pay a higher rate, up to 27 percent more than at current.

Among the reasons cited by the pro-tax campaign, Colorado Commits to Kids, for the fresh influx of cash is “…that new money is used only for education reforms or enhancements to existing programs.”

Two years ago, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 191, the most sweeping reform to Colorado’s education laws in recent memory. Unions opposed the law at the time, but a coalition of Republicans and pro-reform urban Democrats midwifed the law which more closely ties tenure and teacher compensation to student performance outcomes.

Though two years old, SB 191’s changes didn’t take effect until this school year, and a legal deadline for the unions to sue was close at hand. Despite a majority of the state’s board of education being supportive of the law, members voted in a closed-door meeting to extend the unions’ deadline to sue.

As reported by the Colorado Springs Gazette, board chairman Paul Lundeen justified the move in that it allows the law to take effect for at least a semester before unions could seek an injunction against its implementation.

“It was a situation of hold your nose and give the union the potential to sue later, understanding these policies stand a better chance if we allow them to roll out for an entire semester,” he told the Gazette’s editorial board.“The political calculus from the union’s perspective is they get past the election in November without the voters seeing their opposition to something they use as a justification for needing this money.”

In 2012, Colorado Education Association president Karrie Dallman wrote, “our strong objections to parts of the law that caused us to oppose the bill are still unresolved.”

The union’s posturing toward a lawsuit to block the reform law has caused at least one influential business group, Colorado Concern, to move from neutral to actively opposed to the tax.

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Brad Jones