NASHVILLE - Senate Republicans on Monday night narrowly muscled through legislation stripping teacher unions of their collective bargaining rights.
The bill passed in the GOP-controlled chamber on a largely partisan 18-14 vote after lengthy, often contentious debate. At least one Republican, Sen. Doug Overbey, of Maryville, sided with Democrats.
House Finance Committee members are scheduled to consider the same legislation today.
Currently, 92 of 136 school districts, including Hamilton County, have collective bargaining where they negotiate contracts on salaries, some benefits and workplace issues.
During Monday's debate, the bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, argued that the Tennessee Education Association, the state's main teachers' union, has stood in the way of education reform.
"Where's the problem? Ask the state School Board Association. Go ask our county commissioners," Johnson said. "They're the ones who brought us the bill. I've got a stack of just a handful of the lawsuits that have come from the teacher unions against our school boards."
But Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said the bill flies in the face of the bipartisan tone struck last year among lawmakers who worked with the 52,000-member Tennessee Education Association to make changes that enabled the state to win a $500,000 federal Race to the Top grant.
"Last year we had Race to the Top," Berke said. "This year we've dived to the bottom."
Berke charged Johnson's bill "divides and polarizes our community." Renaming it the Advancement of Student Achievement Act "fools no one," he said.
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said, "We're not throwing in the towel. We're going to make our voices here in the House committee tomorrow and see where it goes."
Noting the Senate bill allows for any teachers' organization or teacher to press school board members about their ideas, Winters predicted Senate Republicans "are just setting the stage for a chaotic situation."
Earlier, Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, said he is sure the bill "is not intended by some to be an attack on teachers. But I have yet to talk with a teacher who does not feel attacked by this legislation."
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.