(Assemblyman Pat Hickey) – NEWS FLASH—by a vote of 112 to 1, a bill passed this week that linked teacher tenure to student achievement, based layoffs on performance instead of seniority and made it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers. Where you ask did this happen, in Carson City? No. It was in Illinois and had the full support of Chicago Mayor-elect, Rahm Emanuel.
Over the objections of the teachers unions, the bill passed the Democrat-controlled legislature. It is now on its way to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who by the way is also a Democrat. If lawmakers in Illinois can pass such sweeping school reforms in the hometown of President Obama, you might think similar education reforms will certainly succeed in low-performing Nevada—or will they?
Education reforms from both Republican Brian Sandoval and Democrat Debbie Smith have run into snags set by the teachers union. The union has opposed virtually every one of the Governor’s bills (which include the essential elements of the Illinois reforms). The same teacher’s group (NSEA), by the addition of numerous amendments, has sought to marginalize many parts of Democrat Debbie Smith’s education bills (AB 222, 225, and 229) that adopt many of the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force that she and Elaine Wynn worked tirelessly on.
Unions provide much of the money and legwork that goes into electing Democratic legislators. While Republicans and Democrats like Assemblywoman Smith get support from business networks such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Las Vegas and Reno-Sparks chapters of the Chamber have supported a path toward restructuring the state’s tax system if certain reforms get passed. The business community’s flexibility has to do with their statewide perspective. Businesses get that government revenues will increase as the education system and economy in the state improves.
Unions on the other hand, have the primary mission of protecting the well-being (salaries, seniority, and benefits) of their own. Reforms seen as threatening to their bottom line are usually DOA at the Legislature. This dynamic, coupled with small businesses resistance to taxes during Nevada’s near-Depression, makes negotiations between the two parties all the more difficult, especially with so little time left in the 76th Session.
Nevertheless, talks have begun. Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford invited me to his office for a chat this past Friday. Until now, most of the “negotiations” have taken place within the parties themselves. With three weeks left in the regular Session, the key to any success will be to talk to (and not just at) each other.
I attended a gathering of parent leaders of school-age children in my district last night. Education reforms loom large as a part of any late-session funding solutions cobbled out by legislators, especially with so little time left.
(Assemblyman Hickey is a Republican representing District 25 in Washoe County.)