The attacks on teacher unions are not new to politics. With President-elect Trump’s Department of Education nomination of Betsy DeVos, I don’t see that trend ending anytime soon. However, we don’t need to look to Washington to see the backhanded attempts to diminish the role of teacher unions in education policy. We can look at what is taking place right here in North Dakota.
The interim Education Committee met on July 22nd in the Roughrider room of the ND Capitol. What seemed to be a “house-keeping bill” turned into a little more. The bill was intended to simply update all references of the “North Dakota Education Association” (NDEA) to the organization’s new name, “North Dakota United” (NDU). The change in title resulted from the 2013 merger of the North Dakota Education Association and the North Dakota Public Employees Association. This merger changed the makeup of its membership.
There are a few instances where NDEA was referenced directly in North Dakota Century Code that members of the committee wanted to clarify. For instance, if there were an appointment to a working group, committee, or board that was specifically education-related, it would be an “educator member” of NDU considered. The idea was to avoid the possibility that they would appoint a public employee unfamiliar with education policy. The committee proposed an amendment to resolve this.
That is when Anita Thomas, current Legal Council for the North Dakota School Board Association (NDSBA) and former Legislative Council employee of the Legislature, questioned why an organization that only represents a “portion” of the teachers gets a spot on these appointments. According to Nick Archuleta, there are 6,790 current teachers who are members of NDU. Rep. Mike Nathe, Chair of the House Education Committee during previous regular legislative sessions, was quick to make the change pushed by Thomas.
Of course, Anita Thomas and the legislators who approved the amendment didn’t seem to have an issue that references to NDSBA and NDCEL remained in the bill draft and therefore North Dakota Century Code even though not all school boards or administrators belong to those specific organizations. It appears to me Thomas only wanted to pull out the teachers union. And it worked.
Thomas accomplished this, mind you, as a lobbyist paid for by tax dollars. The NDSBA membership dues come from property taxes that fund our public schools. Thomas said it herself in the meeting minutes (see page 5) when asked by Senator Flakoll. Membership to NDU is voluntary and dues are collected from private individuals. I know, because I’m a former member.
If the committee wanted to eliminate references to specific organizations or associations they should apply that rule fairly and across the board. Rather it appears they are picking sides in a deeper ideological debate taking place across our education policy decisions.