The legislative session has ended, and despite our service during the most challenging year of our professional lives, public education and public employees faced unprecedented attacks on the work we do every day, our benefits, and our pay.
But with your thousands of contacts to your legislators, a robust lobbying effort led by President Nick Archuleta, and a targeted multimedia campaign, North Dakota United successfully secured increases to education funding and public employee salaries. We fended off a last-minute broadside against our pensions and defeated several pieces of legislation, including three voucher bills, that would have harmed our schools, classrooms, and benefits.
However, some legislators succeeded in passing a bill deliberately attacking academic freedom on our university campuses and another that chips away at teachers’ right to bargain in what could be the beginning of a disturbing trend. Following their success this session, we can expect opponents of public education and public employees to double down in future sessions, and we need to be ready.
That said, all of us at ND United thank you for your outstanding advocacy in support of great public education, great public service, and the incredible public employees who provide them.
Together, We Secured Increases to K-12 Funding
As usual, education funding came down to the last days of session. After often contentious negotiations, the legislature passed the bill with everything advocated for by ND United. Our efforts helped secure a 1% increase in the K-12 funding formula in each year of the next biennium. In addition, the language we proposed declaring that 70% of all new monies would go to salary increases for teachers and education support professionals was also adopted. Considering that the House GOP pushed for 0% increases for each year of the biennium, the efforts of our lobby team and our members gave the Senate conferees the support they needed to stand firm.
While we continue to believe that the investment in public education should have been higher in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are confident that this package was the best we could get in light of the fact that there will be a significant impact made by the influx of federal dollars going to districts via the American Rescue Plan. Still, we must continue working together to educate legislators about the resources we need to address serous issues our schools face, such as teacher recruitment and retention.
Together, We Secured Public Employee Raises
After a year of public employees going above and beyond to keep North Dakota safe and served during the COVID-19 pandemic, we advocated for a 3% pay raise for each year of the biennium because ND’s dedicated public employees have definitely earned it.
We were successful in securing a 1.5% raise for the first year and 2% for the second, but we have more work to do to ensure legislators recognize the outstanding work public employees do every day. North Dakota public employees already make at least 7% less on average than their counterparts in the private sector, according to the Hays Group report from 2011. North Dakota has a long way to go before we pay our public employees equitably for the vital public services you all provide, and we are going to need your help to make that happen.
Together, We Protected Public School Funding by Defeating Voucher Schemes
Together, we defeated three voucher schemes that would have diverted tax dollars away from our classrooms to private schools and home schools. While we prevented HB 1281, HB 1369, and SB 2288 from becoming law this session, if trends from this year follow, we will see even more vicious attacks on public schools and our classrooms.
Together, We Fended Off Attacks On Our Pensions
Despite a lack of understanding about how the changes to our pensions could hurt our state long term, the House pushed a last-minute attack on the PERS retirement plan that would put new employees on a defined contribution plan. Particularly disturbing is that this plan came about because SB 2046, which we supported in the Senate, was hog-housed to amend out all the good language of the bill and replace it with language that would end the defined benefit retirement plan for future state employees.
Furthermore, it would have split the plan into one for state employees and one for political subdivision employees. SB 2046 was introduced late in the session, was not heard in a Senate committee with the amended language, and would have ended the defined benefit plan without an understanding of the ramifications to our members, the state, and political subdivisions. Equally disturbing is that the bill would have had been passed before an actuarial study could inform decision makers of the true impact of the bill.
The House tried to divide public employees by saying the switch would only affect new employees, but NDU members joined together to defeat the legislation that would further chip away at our retirement and benefits. Some legislators even indicated pension cuts could soon come for those not included in this proposal, such as teachers, higher ed, judges, and law enforcement.
The Legislature Put Your Freedom to Bargain at Risk
SB 2215 was an unprecedented attack on the freedom of teachers to bargain at the local level. Among other regulations, the bill added a new and arbitrary deadline that will shrink the amount of time for negotiating contracts starting in 2022. The new law disrespects the role of teachers advocating for pay, benefits, classrooms, and students while giving even more power to school boards.
We were successful in pushing the deadline for bargaining to end from June to July, which limits the threat on local negotiations. Please alert us if any school boards choose to take advantage of the new laws in bad faith by delaying negotiations.
Legislators Hijacked Challenge Grants to Dismantle Academic Freedom
What should have been a positive and noncontroversial bill to match state funding to challenge grants awarded to North Dakota universities became a knife to the heart of academic freedom. Because of SB 2030, any educator or administration official approving a grant that has even tangential ties to Planned Parenthood or similar organizations can be found guilty of a Class B misdemeanor and punished with a $1,500 fine, up to 30 days imprisonment, or both.
The legislation was aimed at a partnership between NDSU and Planned Parenthood for a sex education program that has nothing to do with abortion, and did not use a single cent of ND taxpayer money. To say that SB 2030, in its present form, will have a chilling effect on researchers currently in our system and those looking to come to North Dakota’s research universities is an understatement. NDSU members and allies valiantly rallied to oppose the bill, but it passed the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities. The Governor may still veto that section from the bill but has offered no indication that he will.