Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Wisconsin failed its students with Act 10; Supreme Court could bring the same policies to Minnesota

Marty Momsen

It happened on a Monday during my second year of teaching science in a Wisconsin public school. The Packers had just won the Super Bowl and my colleagues were rubbing it in when someone came up to me and said, “Have you heard about Act 10?”

Act 10 was the legislation that stripped away the collective bargaining rights of unions of public employees in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature passed the law in the fall of 2011 – my third year of teaching. Everyone in education immediately felt it. 

I had due process protection, or tenure, for two weeks. I went from a $0 co-pay on my insurance to having a $2,000 deductible, to having a $4,000 deductible. My administrators cut my prep time in half, so I had to rush to set up experiments. Sometimes we just skipped labs altogether. That’s no way to teach science.

The memories of my experiences under Act 10 in Wisconsin came flooding back when I heard the U.S. Supreme Court would hear the case called Janus v. AFSCME. The National Right to Work Foundation is asking the court to overturn decades of precedent and force unions of public employees to offer the benefits of a negotiated contract free of charge.

It happened in Iowa too

If the court agrees, I’m sure it will hurt unions everywhere. Weakened unions create the conditions for state legislatures to enact their own versions of Act 10. It happened in Iowa earlier this year. It took just 10 days. It could happen in Minnesota, too.

Back in Wisconsin, I remember our negotiated contract became a handbook. The politicians told us we were now “free agents.” They said, “Go negotiate your own compensation!” But when I asked my superintendent what he could do for me. He said, “Nothing.” The law said we could negotiate for only our base salaries – and no increase could surpass inflation.

The law and the big-money ad campaign that went with it completely decimated morale in my district. We felt we were being blamed for everyone else’s problems. When they take your dignity, teaching isn’t fun anymore. As teachers retired, the districts wouldn’t hire anyone to replace them. The duties and workload increased for the rest of us.

It all hurt students in the end. I don’t think anyone even tries to deny it anymore.

I was able to find work in Minnesota, but I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my colleagues had invested in a home in their community, had kids going to school in the district. It’s a big deal to uproot your family for a new job. I had the opportunity to leave and I did.

In Houston, Minnesota, a raise and hope

In 2012, I returned to the district in Houston, Minnesota, where I had spent a year before my time in Wisconsin. I immediately received an $11,000 raise, but it wasn’t really about the money. Sure, I had bills to pay just like everyone else, but it was about more than that. It was about hope.

A negotiated contract gives you control over some things in your work environment. It gives you a say in your benefits and class size. It comes with a degree of professional respect. Taking that away has a trickle-down effect on communities, schools and classrooms.

The middle class is in decline in Wisconsin. Median salaries are down 14 percent. Many veteran teachers have retired, midcareer teachers are fleeing the state and enrollment in teacher licensing programs is down almost 30 percent from 2010. I saw what happened to my own students.

While there’s not much an average Minnesotan can do about what happens at the U.S. Supreme Court, we do have some control over who becomes the next governor. We need to ask all the candidates what they think about what happened to unions of public employees in Wisconsin and Iowa. If the politicians won’t support the people who work for the public good, what good will come from supporting those politicians?

Marty Momsen teaches science in Houston public schools.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Comments (18)

Join the millions who saw their health insurance

double and triple. Doesn’t feel very good does it? Long before Act 10, the educational system let the students down. We spend Billions of our tax dollars to educate our children and the results put us 35th in the world in effectiveness. This article did nothing to show me how Act 10 is hurting students anymore or less than than the last 40 years of the Department of Education has. We were no.1 in educating our children 40 years ago, what happened? Did Act 10 start 40 years ago?

Once the educational system puts preparing our children for life after 18 first, I may then worry about you being represented by a union or not!, Until then, I am way more concerned about our children than you or teachers who want to be unionized. Unfortunately, our hard earned tax dollars are being wasted by the Department of Education with the avalanche like fall in results for our children worldwide educationally. Get our children in the top 5 worldwide educationally, then ask for a raise. Failing and asking for a raise usually doesn’t work, at least in the private sector, it doesn’t!!!

Pay up

Minnesota students rank very highly when compared to nations often cited in international comparisons. Are you ready to advocate for that raise you suggest the author ask for? On top of that, Minnesota's economy is humming along, far outpacing nearly every other state, powered by our K-12 and post-secondary educated work force. I expect you'll insist that your local legislature put checks in the mail to Minnesota teachers.

We the United States of America

are 35th in the world in educating our students. Get to top 5 in the world and get your raise. We compare from state to state and find one state is marginally better than another but our children are falling behind the rest of the world in education. So until we understand the comparison is not between Minnesota and Mississippi, it is between our children and th3 rest of the world. We were number 1 in education until we shipped the education of our children to DC. Let’s compare the USA to South Korea in education. The USA is one of 14 countries that lost ground in education from 1995-2014. Not a good sign. No raise for you!!,

The drop in education funding

Was completely the result of Pawlenty’s shabby treatment of schools from 2002-2010. Had to steal from the schools to pay the rich. Short memory Smith?

Minn vs Wisc

Is this why US News 2017 rates Mn #3 and Wisc #16 and in education Mn#11 and Wisc #17 for 2017. Pre K-12 Mn# 8 andWisc #17 and all education Mn#11 and Wisc#17. In healthcare Mn#3 and Wisc# 21, sounds like Wisc is a failing state.

State High School Graduation

State High School Graduation Rates for All Public School Students 2015

Minnesota: 81.9%
Wisconsin: 88.4%

State High School Graduation Rates for Low Income Students 2015

Minnesota: 67.2%
Wisconsin: 77.3%

http://www.governing.com/gov-data/high-school-graduation-rates-by-state....

The facts do not support this author's story.

Reasoning

How do these '"facts" which are really statistics, not facts, say anything at all about the author's article? These statistics might easily suggest that Wisconsin's quality of education is lower than Minnesota's because it's easier for children to pass. Ever hear of grade inflation?

Initially, Minnesota's

Initially, Minnesota's Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma (GRAD) reading and writing tests to qualify for a high school diploma included a math exam, but faced with dismal passing rates, the 2009 legislature scrapped it.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin...

On December 11, 2013, 2013 Act 63 was enacted by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. The changes impact graduation requirements under s. 118.33 (1)(a), Stats. Specifically, the changes require an increase in the number of science and math credits required to graduate and provide additional options for students to earn math and science credit through career and technical education (CTE) courses and computer science courses.

That looks like requirement inflation to me.

Teaching to the test

Looks like comparing apples to oranges to me. You're talking about passing a standardized test, versus getting passing credits in STEM type classes. The problem with standardized tests that I've heard from educators is that they force educators to "teach to the test" without improving learning or learning skills.

Wisconsin's law as you've described it is something else altogether. Increasing STEM credits for graduation is not "requirement inflation" but sounds like a stricter graduation requirement. I'd like to know a little more about what qualifies for STEM type credits under this law before making any comparisons or judgments. Plus, the law qualifies credits through "career and technical education". What does that mean? Does that mean a book keeping class at a technical college is equivalent in credit to algebra 101?

Maybe the Wisconsin (mostly Republican) legislature wants to sound more serious about improving education in the state than it really is. Whether they will get there if they cannot attract enough qualified teachers is another question. The law only was enacted in December, 2013. Your statistics were from 2015. I'd say it's little early to measure what impact, if any, those supposedly stricter requirements have had on graduation rates.

That's assuming graduation rates have anything to do with quality of education, teaching or learning in the first place. Wisconsin has done far more than many other states to destroy public schools through vouchers and creation of rip-off charter schools. What do people expect from their public schools anyway? My impression is that quite a few, maybe not a majority, but still quite a few, expect no more than a place to dump their kids for 6-8 hours a day until they become 16 . "Failing children upwards" often starts at home.

"Looks like comparing apples

"Looks like comparing apples to oranges to me."

Looks like comparing a system that is working to improve, and showing results to one that has rated near the top of the a national achievement gap for the last decade, and failed to graduate nearly 40% of its students for the past 20 years....despite ranking near the top in teacher pay and per pupil funding.

"The problem with standardized tests that I've heard from educators is that they force educators to "teach to the test" without improving learning or learning skills."

Yeah, I've heard that excuse too. You're describing a failure by the teachers. The tests are created to test proficiency in learning the curriculum. You're saying teachers focus on a few questions, and don't bother with the curriculum. That's a fail in my book.

"Maybe the Wisconsin (mostly Republican) legislature wants to sound more serious about improving education in the state than it really is."

Documented results withstanding...

"The law only was enacted in December, 2013. Your statistics were from 2015."

Read the data. I posted the latest numbers, but the data shows WI has been taking MN to school since 2006.

"Wisconsin has done far more than many other states to destroy public schools through vouchers and creation of rip-off charter schools."

Teachers unions and their leftist enablers have done more than enough to destroy public schools. The list of outrages is miles long.

"What do people expect from their public schools anyway? My impression is that quite a few, maybe not a majority, but still quite a few, expect no more than a place to dump their kids for 6-8 hours a day until they become 16 ."

Maybe so. But is so, thats the job, then. If the schools can't work with the "material" they have, they are a failure. We can fail for a lot less money, why kid ourselves?

False statistics.

"top of the a national achievement gap for the last decade, and - Cause Minnesota has higher performing white students.

" failed to graduate nearly 40%" - False. Not according to this
http://www.governing.com/gov-data/high-school-graduation-rates-by-state....

"Maybe the Wisconsin (mostly Republican) legislature wants to sound more serious about improving education in the state than it really is." - False. Wisconsin in that statute raised the standards from an "Alabama" standard to a Minnesota standard (math from 2 credits to 3 credits). Not something to crow about. Go read the statute your self.

"Teachers unions and their leftist enablers have done more than enough to destroy public schools" - Ah yes. Lets try conservative nirvanas like Alabama and Mississipi to see where they stand in public education without all those pesky liberals. Wait. Never mind.

Not Seeing How It's Faliing Students

This is more about emotion of a changing work environment than how students are being 'failed.' No one wants to see bad things happen to people but the unions seem to always put its membership and the mighty dollar ahead of everyone and everything else. Unions are the ones that have caused their decline by their constant antagonism and bully to get their way. This guy should be mad at the union leaders for leading them into a path where legislators finally met people that decided to fight back.

What a Joke

Union membership has declined since the passage of Taft-Hartley took away unions' best tools for organizing.

Just as one example, it is illegal to fire an employee for concerted (organizing) activity. The process outlined by the NLRB is slow and cumbersome. It takes months and often over one year for the investigation and hearing process to be completed. That' a long time to go without a paycheck. But wait, there's more! The illegally fired employee is obligated to seek work in the mean time. And if the employer is found to have illegally fired said employee any back wages dues, but, get this, the employer is allowed to deduct any wages the employee earned. Imagine if I robbed a bank of $10K, but by the time I was found guilty I showed they'd made profits of over $10K while I awaited trial so I get off scot-free. Ya think there'd be more bank robberies under those circumstances? Labor law violators suffer a slap on the wrist, by design. You have the right to organize. Plenty of anti-union lawyers can show your boss how to get rid of you.

Look at any chart of union membership in 'Merica and it will show a steady decline since 1948 & Taft-Hartley.

I guess according to some it is no longer .....

necessary for workers to collaborate to protect their salaries, benefits and keep work conditions safe and sane. As it has been said things have gone down since Taft Hartley. Ever wonder the reason why the minimum wage is actually below the current poverty level. Your can exptrapollate a lot from the comments posted here. It is about raising all boats but for some it’s about their own boat and nothing more. If your healthcare costs have gone up it maybe that you were either not part of a union or worked for yourself. There is a reason it is called collective bargaining. The idea is that everybody does better. Management does everything it can to cut costs and fill their own coffers or those of their investors. That is the situation under which most people work. Commenters give some thought to the fact that in the number of workers unionized increased the pendulum could swing to things improving for moreworking people. Leap outside your confines.

Immigrants

We can look at cherry picked metrics all day. Minnesota bested Wisconsin in ACT scores in 2016.
https://blog.prepscholar.com/act-scores-by-state-averages-highs-and-lows

Take a look at state immigration data for both states. Minnesota has MANY more immigrants, and therefore many more children of immigrants. And while many ELL students work hard and are dedicated to getting a diploma, they often cannot do so in four years, which is the metric most states have used for quite some time as it was required by No Child Left Behind.

https://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/state-immigration-data...

The fact is that better bargaining for teachers can lead to more and better teachers wanting to work in those states, giving districts more choices.

Cherry picking and hair

Cherry picking and hair splitting...

From your link:

"So who wins? Minnesota, with a 21.5 average composite score. The runner-up is Colorado, with a 20.8 average composite. Wisconsin is in third with a 20.5 composite average."

So, for allll the crying and chicken little tantrums, there is 1 point difference between WI and MN. That, my friend is a debate fail.

Also, one might question the wisdom of taking in large numbers of hard to teach immigrants when MN public schools have been already been failing their native born minority student populations for decades.

But that's a debate for another thread.

False Use of Statistics again

" Minnesota, with a 21.5 average composite score. The runner-up is Colorado, with a 20.8 average composite. Wisconsin is in third with a 20.5 composite average."" - A 1 point difference in ACT at that range is approximate 6-8 percentile difference. So much for "chicken little tantrums".

For all the large immigrant intake, by your own admission, ACT scores in Minnesota are higher than Wisconsin by almost 6 - 8 percent. And you're crowing about how wunder bar Wisconsin is. Really ?

And once again the last sentence is ignored !

Talk about debate failed point !