Putting Education Reform To The Test

Why Florida Is Not Likely to Pick A Fight With Unions This Year

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Teachers and other union members camped out at the Wisconsin state house last year to protest a law stripping collective bargaining rights.

What a difference an election can make.

Last year Legislatures across the country — buoyed by a Tea Party sweep in 2010 elections — challenged teachers and other public employee unions over their ability to collectively bargain pay and other benefits. Florida Gov. Rick Scott wanted to limit collective bargaining in his initial 20-page education plan.

The battle was nationwide news in Wisconsin and later in the year in Ohio, where voters easily overturned a state law stripping collective bargaining rights for public employees.

That fight doesn’t appear to be coming to Florida this year, according to an education expert who previously advocated the legislation.

Patricia Levesque, director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, said she’s heard no talk of trying to strip collective bargaining rights in the Legislature this year.

“I don’t,” Levesque said when asked if she thought the issue would come up in the Legislative session that opened Tuesday. “I haven’t heard that the collective bargaining issue will come up.”

Levesque supported the idea as recently as August.

The issue is more complicated in Florida than other states because collective bargaining is a constitutional right. That means lawmakers would have to challenge all public employee unions — including politically popular professions such as law enforcement.

It also means that a supermajority of lawmakers and voters must approve a constitutional amendment.

Scott has struggled with low approval ratings since taking office a year ago, and has recently changed his approach toward schools by advocating for $1 billion in additional funding. Some suggest Scott’s support for schools is politically motivated.

Lawmakers are completing their once-every-ten years redistricting and dealing with a $2 billion budget shortfall. Florida is also hosting a possibly decisive Republican presidential primary at the end of January.

Add that all up and even advocates say collective bargaining is a fight best left for another day.


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