Collective bargaining reforms were attacks on children, Wisconsin Democrats and public-sector unions argued earlier this year. GOP Gov. Scott Walker's labor-busting ambitions would destroy the state's schools, protesters cried while turning Madison upside-down.
After much drama and litigation, those reforms finally took effect last week. So are Wisconsin school districts collapsing on top of defenseless kids? Not yet.
In fact, Gov. Walker's law is giving some districts the fiscal and operational flexibility to benefit students and teachers.
As a direct result of the law, most state workers, including teachers, now cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance premiums and contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state's pension system -- reasonable requirements considering the much higher health care costs of private-sector taxpayers, who largely lack pensions.
At the Kaukauna School District, a projected $400,000 budget deficit became a $1.5 million surplus thanks largely to those increased contributions. Additionally, because teacher medical benefits were administered by a union-created trust, and Gov. Walker's law enabled other providers to compete for the plan, the trust slashed its prices to keep the contract.
The school district plans to use the savings to hire more teachers. Meanwhile, the elimination of burdensome work rules enacted through collective bargaining allows the district to require that secondary educators teach an extra class and spend more time on campus each day. The highest-performing teachers at the Kaukauna School District will be rewarded through a new merit pay program.
It's worth noting that Kaukauna teachers were willing to make concessions that would have achieved similar savings, but their offer would not have been brought forward if Gov. Walker lacked the legislative votes for his reforms. The union saw the writing on the wall.
Other Wisconsin school systems haven't been nearly as cooperative. Because Milwaukee School District teachers have a contract through 2013, any changes still require union approval. When school workers rejected a School Board proposal to have them contribute 5.8 percent of their pay toward pensions, the board last week was forced to lay off 519 employees, including 354 teachers.
The success in Kaukauna and the bloodbath in Milwaukee underscore the need for Gov. Walker's law, known as Act 10. The benefit changes and revocation of many collective bargaining rights aren't rooted in a desire to punish public employees, but to let elected officials regain control of the entities they oversee from the unions that have sent taxpayer costs skyward.
Nevada taxpayers would benefit greatly if such reforms were enacted here. They should be a focus of the 2012 elections and the 2013 Legislature.