Week Four, and Attacks on Tenure in Higher Education, at the N.D. Legislature

By Tom Gerhardt, NDU Director of Public Affairs

Good afternoon and happy Friday, NDU members! There’s some good news as we prepare to bid farewell to another January. We’re gaining daylight — 20 minutes in the next week alone (Thanks be to the National Weather Service Bismarck for that information. — editor’s note). So it makes sense to hold some of this week’s legislation up to the light and leave what we don’t like out in the cold.

But enough North Dakota weather small talk. Let’s get to the issues.

One of the biggest stories of the week impacting our members took place in 11 locations across the state of North Dakota and not at the Capitol. The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education met Thursday to discuss revising Policy 605.3 (Nonrenewal, Termination or Dismissal of Faculty), which would impact tenured faculty all across the University System .

If approved, the drastic policy revision would allow colleges and universities to dismiss tenured faculty with a three month notice instead of one year during times of financial exigency. That’s a fancy way of saying “when they’re broke.”

NDU President Nick Archuleta testifies in front of the State Board of Higher Education at Bismarck State College on Jan. 26, 2017.

The Board ultimately voted 6–2 to approve the first reading of the proposal but it came with the decision to form a hybrid committee, including faculty representation, to study the proposed revision ahead of their next meeting February 23. It was clear not all Board members are comfortable with the policy change.

North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta testified strongly against the policy at the meeting, saying, “If passed, this revision will, without a doubt, cause leading scholars at our colleges and universities to seek employment elsewhere, and will dramatically decrease our ability to recruit new faculty to the state.”

We will continue to stand arm-in-arm with our NDU members and faculty across this state as this process continues.

Bills this week:

I’m happy to report SB 2250, which relates to early childhood education programs, passed the Senate floor by a 45–0 vote. President Archuleta testified on the bill, saying in part, “The research overwhelmingly indicates that young learners who experience early childhood education are far more likely to experience long-lasting success throughout their academic careers.”

SB 2180 was introduced by Senator Oley Larsen, and its intent was to refuse federal education funding tied to federal mandates. It very quickly became apparent to everyone in the room (except for Oley, probably. — editor’s note) that schools can already refuse federal funding, but they still have to comply with mandates. ND xPlains picked up the story, calling it “misguided.” The bill fell flat on the Senate floor with only three senators voting in favor, including Larsen.

SB 2243 is another important bill we are following closely, and it relates to student loan forgiveness for teachers. As the bill stands, teachers would qualify for loan forgiveness in geographical locations identified as having a teacher shortage or critical need. If a teacher met both criteria, a teacher could receive $30,000 of loan forgiveness. However, the Senate Education Committee is working on an amendment to the bill that would cap the maximum lower than $30,000 and “claw back” monies if a teacher left a school before fulfilling the agreement.

President Archuleta also testified in support of SB 2243, and we will know more about what’s been decided Monday.

SB 2272 is a massive, 16-page bill introduced by Senator Donald Schaible that, in his words, ”fulfills the promise of Measure 2 in protecting foundation aid to schools in case of budget shortfalls.” Sen. Schaible says the bill takes three different school construction loans and eventually consolidates them into one place at the Bank of North Dakota.

On the House side, we had our eyes squarely on HB 1382, introduced by Rep. Rick C. Becker. He calls it an education savings account bill. We refer to it as a voucher bill. However you slice it, HB 1382 would use public tax dollars for private schools.

Tell your representatives to VOTE NO on HB 1382 by clicking here!

The bill brought up more questions than answers. NDU President Archuleta had to wipe off “20 years of dust” from his testimony against the bill (after former Rep. Mark Dosch took a cheap shot at NDU from the podium), calling it “a cookie cutter voucher bill, crafted somewhere outside of North Dakota and introduced here as if there was a great human cry for legislation whose only purpose is to derail funding for public schools.”

Chairman Owens is allowing the hearing to continue on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. after Rep. Becker said he would have more testimony to support his bill from outside experts. Prairie Public Radio http://news.prairiepublic.org/post/lawmaker-proposes-school-savings-account-bill-says-its-school-choice reported on the story as did The Bismarck Tribune http://bismarcktribune.com/news/local/education/educational-savings-account-bill-generates-opposition/article_55d61a4f-4eb7-515e-b3f9-157f1702f82e.html .

Shark Week is popular on television (It’s bigger than Christmas in the Hagen household! — editor’s note). We had Gun Week at the Capitol with eight bills introduced Thursday and a couple more Friday in front of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Seems like an odd placement for committee assignment (Sort of like when they place the bread for sale in the hardware section of a store, which almost never happens. — editor’s note).

North Dakota United is certainly not against guns, but in two cases, we feel the need to stand up for the desires of our members. That includes bills that would allow guns in public buildings, and guns in schools.

HB 1310 was introduced by Rep. Dwight Keifert and would allow guns in schools if passed. While we share Rep. Keifert’s desire to keep out students safe, we stand by our members who want guns only in the hands of highly trained School Resource Officers (SROs), not teachers and administrators with minimal training.

On Thursday, HB 1278, which would allow guns in public buildings, was brought up for discussion. NDU is against this bill as well. In his testimony, President Archuleta stated, “Guns at work in the hands of anyone but trained law enforcement do not make public employees feel safe.”

We are told a sub-committee is being formed to look at the group of gun bills. We will know more about that in the coming days.

Bills in Brief:

HB’s 1406 — Public employee benefits (NDPERS), would move the contract terms to two years beginning on Jan. 1 of an even-numbered year.

HB 1407 — Mandates public employee uniform group insurance contract for health benefits coverage must be done every two years instead of every six.

HB 1420 — Requires history majors have to take a US History course, has been turned into a study bill.

HB 1029 — Relating to acceptance of federal funds, received a “Do Pass” out of committee.

That’s a pretty good sampling. There’s a lot going on, so if there’s something you’d like to know about that wasn’t mentioned, I’d love to hear from you. I work for you, so please email me any time at tom.gerhardt@ndunited.org with any questions, comments, concerns, or to say hi to our much-appreciated editor of everything, Kelly.

(Hello! You can’t see this, but I’m totally waving at you from Bismarck. — editor’s note)

Finally, we’re hosting our NDU Advocacy Conference, tonight and tomorrow, at the Baymont Inn in scenic Mandan. I’ll be hosting a special “This Week in the N.D. Legislature” with NDU President Archuleta, which we hope to stream live on our Facebook (In front of a live studio audience, if Kelly can figure out how to use cameras correctly. — last editor’s note, I promise). Be watching your FB feeds for that tomorrow, and check out our regularly scheduled Facebook Live presentation at 4:30 p.m. CST on Mondays.

United together, we can make a difference!