Study: Rhode Island teachers unions 5th-strongest in the US

December 11th, 2012 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

A new study will give ammunition to those who say local teachers unions wield significant power in Rhode Island.

The two organizations – the National Education Association Rhode Island and the smaller Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals – are the fifth-strongest teachers unions in the United States based on a range of measures, according to an analysis [pdf] by the Thomas P. Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now, the nonprofit wing of Democrats for Education Reform.

The four states ranked as having stronger teachers unions than Rhode Island were Hawaii, Oregon, Montana and Pennsylvania. Connecticut ranked 17th and Massachusetts ranked 21st.

The authors say the study “represents the most comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions’ strength ever conducted,” and it suggests the Rhode Island unions’ are more involved in politics and have more resources than most of their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

At the same time – and perhaps contrary to popular belief – the study finds “state policies on teacher employment and the scope of bargaining are not completely union-favorable and recent [political] defeats seem to indicate that the unions, while still strong, face a political environment that has become more contentious of late, or at least more divided.”

Robert Walsh, NEARI’s executive director, said in an email the study “seems kind of sloppy,” noting a number of inaccurate details. But Walsh agreed that his union plays an influential role in the education debate and has some success in elections. He also said he wasn’t surprised by the study’s overall findings that Northeast and West Coast states have stronger unions, higher wages and better working conditions for teachers.

The study says 97% of all teachers in Rhode Island belong to a union, one of the highest rates in the country, and the unions’ annual revenue is $552 per teacher – a figure Walsh disputed as too high. He also said that Rhode Island’s high spending – $14,567 per pupil, more than half for salary and benefits – is skewed because it includes the unfunded liability for past pension benefits.

While per-pupil expenditure in Rhode Island from all sources (federal, state and local governments) is eighth-highest in the country, the amount contributed by the state is near the bottom, ranking 45th, though that is changing as a new funding formula gets phased in.

Rhode Island is one of 32 states that require collective bargaining and one of 25 where unions can automatically collect “agency fees” from non-member teachers covered by the same contract as members.

“But,” the study says, “despite its supportive stance toward bargaining in general, state law is fairly neutral about the specifics” – because only three of 21 items are subject to mandatory bargaining: wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment (including benefits). Teacher strikes are also illegal.

Nor do all state policies mirror traditional union positions. While charter schools are restricted, student achievement is “the preponderant criterion in teacher evaluations, and teachers are eligible for dismissal after multiple unsatisfactory ratings.” However, Rhode Island teachers are dismissed for poor performance “at a lower rate than in almost every other state,” nor does the state support for pay for performance.

Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk summarized the study’s overall findings as complicated.

“In general, unions in mandatory-bargaining states appear to be somewhat stronger than those in states where it is prohibited,” he wrote. “But for the most part, it unearthed no cut-and-dried patterns among the states, a finding that underscores the complex mix of factors that affect unions’ ability to shape policy and affect politics.”

Here’s the summary chart for Rhode Island:

​(map: Fordham Institute/Education Reform Now)

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5 Responses to “Study: Rhode Island teachers unions 5th-strongest in the US”

  1. Timothy Duffy says:

    It is true that there have been overall increases in state aid for education in recent years, but the formula is largely a balancing act with 19 communities witnessing increases while 17 districts are having their state aid reduced.

  2. Al Moncrief says:

    COLORADO COURT OF APPEALS CONFIRMS COLORADO PERA PUBLIC PENSION COLA BENEFITS AS CONTRACTUAL.

    The Colorado Court of Appeals has reversed and remanded an initial District Court ruling that denied the contractual status of public pension COLAs in Colorado. The Court of Appeals confirmed that Colorado PERA pension COLA benefits are a contractual obligation of the pension plan Colorado PERA and its affiliated public employers. A huge victory for public sector retirees in Colorado! The Colorado Legislature may not breach its contracts and push taxpayer obligations onto the backs of a small group of elderly pensioners.

    The lawsuit is continuing. Support pension rights in the U.S. by contributing at saveperacola.com. Friend Save Pera Cola on Facebook!

    In 1977, the (U.S.) Supreme Court clarified that state attempts to impair their own contracts, ESPECIALLY FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS, were subject to greater scrutiny and very little deference because the STATE’S SELF-INTEREST IS AT STAKE. As the court bluntly stated:

    “A governmental entity can always find a use for extra money, especially when taxes do not have to be raised. If a state could reduce its financial obligations whenever it wanted to spend the money for what it regarded as an important public purpose, the Contract Clause would provide no protection at all . . . Thus, a state cannot refuse to meet its legitimate financial obligations simply because it would prefer to spend the money to promote the public good rather than the private welfare of its creditors.”

  3. Bob says:

    Right to work is coming for ya!!

    1. Bunchoffools says:

      hope your right Bob. right to work would is needed here

  4. MICHAEL RILEY says:

    we also are the only state in the U.S. not to have economics part of the k-12 core curricula…
    congrats ri teachers