TEA, tea party face off today at state Capitol

TEA, tea party face off today at state Capitol

March 5th, 2011 by Andy Sher in News

NASHVILLE-Teachers from across the state are coming to the state Capitol today to march in opposition to Republican lawmakers' attempts to end collective bargaining by educators.

But Tennessee Education Association members, who expect at least 2,000 educators to attend, will find company at the Capitol in the form of tea party activists, who plan a dueling rally in support of stripping away collecting bargaining powers and other legislation attacking the teachers union.

The two groups disagree on most points but do have one thing in common - National Weather Service forecasts are calling for heavy rain that could depress turnout.

"We'll be buying ponchos," observed Hamilton County Education Association President Sharon Vandagriff, who said 200 to 300 county teachers are expected to come, weather permitting.

She said the purpose of the march and a subsequent rally is to "show the General Assembly and the public that educators and community members stand together for the future of schools. We're facing basically what we call attacks on teachers."

The bad weather should be about right, joked Chattanooga Tea Party organizer Gregg Juster.

"Everything is clashing," he said.

But more seriously, the activist said, the sides have "two completely opposing ideals of the way things should be done. And that's really what this has come down to."

In November, "people voted for less government, for less spending on government, and we need to give the support and we need to be there," he said.

The bill stripping away teachers' ability to bargain collectively is one of several that Republicans are pushing nationally. But in Tennessee, the effort is being led by legislative Republicans, who are the majority in the Senate and House.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is pushing his own bill to toughen teacher tenure which, along with boosting charter schools, is at the center of his education agenda.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, is helping spearhead the anti-union measures, which include doing away with automatic union-dues checkoff for teachers on their government paychecks.

"I think it's extremely important that we don't have public employee unions negotiating union contracts that tie local governments into these contracts," Ramsey said.

Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, recently said the anti-collective bargaining legislation "does not raise a single test score; it does not create a single job, which is what we've been talking about for years now."

"To me, it's an attack against the teachers union under the veil of improving test scores and making education better," he said.