Cold enough for ya?

Welcome back for another week of North Dakota United’s Legislative Update. First off, apologies for opening this message by asking you about your impressions of the cold weather outside. Secondly, it is cold though, right? I’m not just imagining that? Certainly feels cold to me, and I’ve lived in North Dakota for 38 of my 40 years. The other two were in Minnesota, so yeah, I kinda know cold. This is it.

Best way to get through the cold is to just push through. On to the business at hand!

HB 1414 – “More Time to Teachers for Considering Contracts” Bill

We kick things off this week with an unexpected bill, which would erase a mistake that was made by the Legislature in 2015 and shortened the period of time that teachers had to consider signing their contracts, from 30 days to 14. HB 1414 would reverse that decision, and increase that back to where it was. A hearing was held this past week, and NDU President Nick Archuleta testified in support of this bill.

“The problem with only having 14 days to consider your contract is that you don’t really get a chance to look around the state to see what openings there might be,” President Archuleta said in our NDU Legislative Update Facebook Live video. “So, some of our teachers who might want to move to a different community that better suits their needs weren’t having that opportunity to, because they only have 14 days to decide whether to accept or reject the contract offer from their district.”

North Dakota United supports this bill, because we believed it shouldn’t have been changed to start with. “We had a great hearing,” Archuleta said, “and I guess we’ll find out what they’re going to do with it.”

HB 1531 – “Allowing Non-Licensed Individuals to Teach” Bill

NDU President Nick Archuleta testifies against HB 1531 in committee hearing.

We are currently facing a teacher shortage in our state, as well as across the country. There are a number of factors playing into this. The most important thing to consider is that fewer college students are pursuing degrees in education now than in the recent past. Why? Well, that’s the million-dollar question. Certainly, you could surmise that teachers are getting beat up a lot more now than before. Talk radio blames them for society’s ills. Popular culture, and pithy quotes like “Those who can’t do, teach,”  diminishes their profession. The costs of attaining a college degree keep going up and up, and the salaries that teachers receive have remained stagnant. Teachers don’t feel like they’re valued, despite polling data that tells us they are respected and beloved in their home communities.

How do we attract more people into the profession? Well, one answer is to lower the standards. Just hire anybody to come in and teach Little Tommy physics, and problem solved! Right?

Wrong. HB 1531 would allow “individuals who do not have a teaching license to teach noncore subjects upon meeting certain criteria.” North Dakota United testified against this bill in committee. “This is another one of those ‘anybody can teach’ bills,” said President Archuleta. “Anybody who has spent anytime in education knows that there is an art and a science to teaching. And what these bills would do is just allow anybody, any warm body with an interest in a subject area and some made-up qualifications, to teach. We know that our teachers have worked hard, studied hard to earn their degrees. Their diplomas mean something. And this bill would completely nullify the hard work that they’ve done, and the research they’ve done and the practices they’ve had to become great teachers. We are absolutely against this.”

HB 1287 – “Alternative Teacher Certification Programs” Bill

Similarly, HB 1287 addresses our teacher shortage by lowering the standards to allow teachers to get licensed by completing an online course, the American Board for Certification of Teaching Excellence. Heard of it? “It’s a business,” President Archuleta explained. “All the requirements are is that you have a canned curriculum that you take online. It’s all subject-area stuff. There’s nothing in there about classroom management. There’s nothing about adolescent psychology, about child psychology or pedagogy or any of that. And at the conclusion of one year, guess what? You get to go to a classroom! ESPB can’t even look at the tests they have to take because it’s proprietary. Where it’s in use across the country, it’s getting very, very poor grades, and we don’t want that here.”

If you want to increase the numbers of applicants to teaching jobs in communities across our state, we should be seeking solutions that lift up the stature of these positions, President Archuleta says. We shouldn’t seek the easy answer, and devalue the degrees, research and experiences required to get the jobs. “We don’t see communities doing everything they can to lift their communities up to make them attractive places for graduates to want to come and work,” Archuleta said. “The answer isn’t to lower standards.”

Weekly Call to Action

Every week, we’d like to ask all of you to help ND United to make our voices heard on an important issue. These past few weeks, we have been asking all of you for your help on HB 1347, a bill that would increase the probationary period for new teachers from one year to three years, and remove most of their rights to representation during that time. It’s a bad bill, in short.

“On the first page (of HB 1347), it took out all of the rights for teachers in their first three years of teaching,” President Archuleta said. “So, if you’re a teacher and you’re on this probationary status – which is extended now from one to three years, under this legislation – and during that time, you don’t even have to be told why you’re being fired. You don’t get a hearing in front of the school board, you don’t get to defend yourself. You don’t get to question witnesses against you or even for you. There’s no hearing at all.”

So far, 286 letters have been sent through our Action Network form directly to all of the members of the House Education Committee. And your voices are being heard, as the bill is being amended to take out language stripping teachers of their rights to representation and to receiving a hearing in front of the school board when their contract has been non-renewed. However, the increase of the probationary period for teachers still stands, and could go to a floor vote in the House this week or next.

Your call to action is to go to our website and sign up to be a NDU Member Activist. When we know that this bill is headed to the floor for a vote, we will send out a new Action Alert that will allow you to send messages to the two representatives in the House from your home district. Tell them to VOTE NO on HB 1347. But sign up to be a Member Activist now so that you are the first person we contact when that Action Alert is ready to launch!

VOUCHER BILLS ‘O PLENTY

In a spot of good news for the week, SB 2141, which would have set up “education savings accounts” for every baby born in the state of North Dakota to use toward educating their child, failed quite very badly in the Senate. That’s a voucher bill, but it’s gone now.

Still standing, though, are a couple of bills in the House. One is HB 1464, a “study of the feasibility and desirability of developing a school choice program.” Translation: study of vouchers. And there’s HB 1321, “relating to an income tax credit for taxpayers whose children receive nonpublic school or home education; and to provide an effective date.” Translation: voucher bill.

Here’s President Archuleta with a reminder of why we stand so strongly against voucher bills: “We believe, because the constitution tells us, that all public monies that are raised for public education should be spent on public education. It’s basic. … Our founders took it seriously enough to put it in the constitution of the state. I think we at least should offer some deference to that. I believe that this is bad public policy, and that’s why we testified against it.”

NDPERS Pension Bills

The 2019 North Dakota legislature is pretty well fixated on the PERS pension system. As we discussed last week, HB 1419 would have injected $20 million every year until … well, sometime … into the NDPERS defined-benefit retirement plan for state workers, with a goal of shutting down the defined-benefit plan for future hires and replacing it with a defined-contribution plan. In testimony, it came out that doing this would actually speed up the process of PERS becoming insolvent by 58 years, so we could take a benefit away from state workers. That bill got turned into a study by the Senate.

Three Senate bills on the PERS pension are coming up now for consideration: SB 2046, which would end the Employee Health Insurance Credit; SB 2048, which would increase employee and employer contributions into NDPERS by 1 percent, and help return the NDPERS fund to being fully funded in a gradual, responsible manner; and SB 2047, which would decrease the multiplier of the PERS plan from 2.0 to 1.75.

We are for SB 2048, but against SB 2046 and SB 2047, because they degrade a benefit to state workers. “We are opposed to that because our members have told us that they’re opposed to it,” President Archuleta said. “We can’t be for legislation that diminishes benefits for current or future public employees. We believe that benefits are an incredible tool to help recruit and retain these wonderful public servants who do this vital work that has to get done, and they do it so well.”

We support SB 2048 because “we’re willing to do what we can to bolster PERS and do what’s right,” Archuleta said.

Additionally, President Archuleta had some advice for the Legislature in his testimony on these pension bills. “The fact that we’re talking about PERS and all that should be a cautionary tale for legislators,” he said. “This is an issue that could have been addressed in 2011, could have been addressed in 2013 … 2015. But they kept kicking that can down the road. And now it’s a problem that’s bigger than what they anticipated. Although it wasn’t unpredicted. (Former NDPERS executive director) Sparb Collins said, eventually we’re going to get to this point where it’s going to require a large infusion of money, as well as contribution increases, and maybe cuts in benefits, to make sure that we get to fully funded status. Well, we’re here. My advice to the committee was that if we see something like this in the future that needs to be addressed, let’s just go ahead and address it while it’s a smaller problem before we wait until it snowballs into a huger problem.”

The Wrap-Up

OK, seriously. Even I’m tired of reading what I have to write. And I like me! A lot! Rapid-fire, here’s what’s upcoming.

SB 2228 — “Relating to teacher professional development conferences.” I set up a quick, two-question survey below:

PD Conference Survey

If you’re a teacher and reading these words, do us a favor and fill out this survey, and let us tell the Legislature about how you feel about professional development conferences.

SB 2320 — “Relating to free speech at institutions under the control of the state board of higher education; and to provide a penalty.” This is a gigantic bill, most of which is innocuous. But one section would regulate how higher education faculty can talk to students, and what information they can pass onto them. This is an unnecessary infringement on academic freedom.

HB 1536 —  “Relating to legislative authority to set tuition and fees at institutions under the control of the state board of higher education.” Basically, some members of the Legislature want to set tuition rates for our universities. And seemingly would like control over everything that is done on campus, probably including dictating what food groups faculty and staff are allowed to ingest during their lunch breaks. Oppose.

HB 1028 — “Relating to public employees retirement system self-insurance plans for health benefits coverage mandated health benefits; and to declare an emergency.” This would lay the groundwork for transitioning the NDPERS health insurance plan from its current hybrid status to being self-insured. We actually were self-insured in the 1980s, and that went belly-up. So, just be careful. Please.

Done. I’ve been Kelly Hagen, your NDU Communications Director, with this written update. Please, if you have a free 20 minutes in the coming days, take that time to watch the video version of this update, featuring NDU President Nick Archuleta and Director of Public Affairs Tom Gerhardt. They do a great job, and spend a whole lot of time each week at the Capitol, talking to legislators on your behalf. If they weren’t doing that, legislators would spend way more time thinking about how they can protect straws and plastic bags, and less time thinking about recruiting and retaining the quality workforce we have in place in public education and public services in our state. I guarantee.