Mickelson Education Bills Undercut, Well Education [OPINION]
I’ve focused on what appears to be House Speaker Mark Mickelson’s strategy to undermine the influence of the electorate on the process with efforts to ban out-of-state money from the ballot campaigns, reverse voter-approved initiatives and eliminate the ability of the people to amend the state constitution.
He’s also leading a parallel campaign to undermine education in the state of south Dakota. Now, that’s not how the speaker would characterize a series of legislative proposals he’s connected to, but that’s the long-term effect.
The common theme to the package of laws is that Mark Mickelson really doesn’t like collective bargaining, which we call unions. Here’s where it manifests itself:
- Eliminate collective bargaining for all employees of the Board of Regents. That means all university professors and instructors.
- Eliminate collective bargaining for K-12 administrators. That’s the principals and vice principals at the elementary, middle school and high school level.
- Ban the use of school district funds to pay any expenses related to union work, which includes time a teacher may take off to represent another teacher, etc.
What is the end result of these proposals? To eliminate the unions, crush the ability of teachers and administrators to negotiate pay and benefits for themselves. Mickelson and others will portray this as fiscal responsibility, that in a state where dollars are tight, we’re all in this together and collective bargaining only inflates the cost of the labor.
That’s a flawed philosophy on many levels. But perhaps the most striking is that in a state where we already pay educators at the near the lowest levels in the country, the idea that educators on any level are overpaid is ridiculous.
They’ll also say it gives the state and local leaders the ability to react to needs in the system and reward top performers, etc., under some mythology that it will improve the quality of the instruction for students. Again, it’s a myth.
University faculty already aren't allowed to collectively negotiate salaries. But what it will do is allow the state to marginalize instructors who don’t agree with their political or social patriarchy. It suppresses dissent on campus. It homogenizes the demographics of the teacher class and it allows for the dark creep of gender imbalance, of racial and ethnic inequality, and eliminates the notion of recourse for educators.
But those are sub points. The single most egregious result of these proposals, if passed, would be to drive the best educators – elementary, middle school, high school and university level – either out of the profession or out of the state.
Long term the proposals are not good economics. Driving out quality educators will reduce the quality of education, which means a workforce less-able to adapt to the demands of an increasingly competitive global economy. To maintain our quality of life over the next generations we need to be better, smarter and more innovative. Not stagnant and satisfied with a archaic view that what was good enough for my parents is good enough for my kids.
We already have trouble recruiting university-level instructors and professors to South Dakota because of the low pay and benefits. If you’re a young, newly minted PhD looking for your first teaching or research position, why would you even consider a spot where you know the prospects going forward aren’t good. You will, but only if you can’t get a job anywhere else.
So what will South Dakota be left with going forward? A choice of the leftovers when all the other states and private institutions have picked over the candidates. We’re never going to pay competitive wages with Minnesota or Iowa, that’s true. And there are other elements that make people move to one place or another.
But if you basically start by telling professors that we don’t value what you do, then you’re increasing the chance that your professors won’t value you. Why should they?
Taken together, Speaker Mickelson’s agenda can be interpreted as nothing other than undercutting educators in our state under the guise of saving money. That’s not in our best interest.
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