State Representative Ken Rizer (R-Marion) during floor debate.
Photo credit: Iowa House Republicans

After three days of intense debate, on Thursday I was proud to vote for public sector collective bargaining reform. I voted for this bill for one overriding reason: to save Iowa’s public schools.

Iowa’s collective bargaining law has hurt our schools. Since passage in the early 1970’s, this law’s lack of teeth regarding arbitration has forced school districts to accept annual collective bargaining settlements well above what the districts received in revenue. Whether the state increased K-12 funding annually by 1%, 2%, 4% or even 6% didn’t matter, as the structure of Iowa’s law ensured that settlement amounts were greater than the districts took in. Given that 80-85% of a school district’s expenses are in that collective bargaining agreement, this was simply unsustainable.

As an example, the four school districts I represent (Marion, Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids, College Community) have received revenue increases the past 2 years of 2.25% and 1.25%, well above the inflation rate and in line with the average .5% annual increase above inflation that our districts have gotten since the early 70’s. Yet all four of those districts had collectively bargained annual increases of approximately 3.5%. No organization, whether an Iowa family, a non-profit, a private company or a school district can survive by perennially increasing expenses by 1%-2.25% beyond revenue. So how did these districts manage, given that expenses were increasing beyond revenue? They did so by firing new teachers, cutting programs, slowing hiring, and taking other actions to afford the settlements. The results were larger classroom sizes, fewer educational options for our kids, and stressed-out teachers.

I don’t blame anyone or any group for this unsustainable circumstance. Union bosses are doing what union bosses do, looking out for their members. Superintendents are doing what superintendents do, leading their districts in a fiscally responsible way to better educate our kids. School boards are doing what school boards do, overseeing an educational enterprise the best they can within the law. Teachers are doing what teachers do, selflessly serving our kids with an intense desire to help kids learn. Parents are doing what parents do, paying taxes and entrusting their children to a system they expect will provide a top notch education. And legislators are doing what legislators do, increasing spending for K-12 in real terms with the intention of such increases leading to educational improvements.

So if everyone is doing what they should do, why is the system so broken? It starts with a flawed arbitration law, which I’ll illustrate in a real-world example.

Imagine that a school district and a union begin their annual collective bargaining. The state passes a 2.25% increase for K-12. The school district then puts an offer on the table of a 2% increase and the union asks for 4%. If the parties can’t agree, they go to mediation and then arbitration. Under current law, the arbiter is limited in what he or she may consider. In addition to the two offers, the arbiter considers 2 primary things: comparable increases across the state & previous agreements. To stack the deck in arbitration, union bosses in Des Moines use a “Rule of 100” strategy. They allow unions in pro-labor districts to bargain while restricting those in less labor-friendly districts to delay. Once they get 100 of the 333 school districts with high settlements, say an average of 3.5%, they give the unions in less labor-friendly districts the green light to bargain.

These districts are now stuck. If they don’t agree to something near 3.5%, which is both the state precedent for comparables and close to last year’s settlement, then they’ll go to arbitration. In arbitration, the arbiter may only select one of the two proposals. Given that the comparables and previous year settlements are closer to the union’s offer of 4%, the arbiter will lock the district in with a 4% settlement. Knowing that the deck is stacked against them, the district settles for 3.5%, well above the 2.25% increase they’re receiving. This goes on year after year, inflating settlements beyond whatever the state passes for K-12 increases. It is unsustainable and is hurting our schools.

I’m proud that my legislative colleagues and I are finally saying, “No more!” We’re changing binding arbitration so that the highest settlement an arbiter may award is the lowest of the Midwest Consumer Price Index or 3%. This ensures that our teachers will never get less than a cost of living increase but it rebalances the scales so that school districts have greater leverage to control costs.

The benefits of this change are many. Rather than being forced to cut teachers and programs to balance their budgets, school districts will now have more money available to hire new teachers and create new programs, decreasing class sizes and increasing educational opportunities. Combined with our upcoming passage of home rule, they’ll have the authority to innovate, to better attract and retain top teachers in science and math, and to create student-centered literacy programs, among other things. In sum, we’ll improve education and more effectively use hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

Before the Governor has even signed this reform, it’s having a positive effect on my school districts back home, most of which settled this week. The leverage of this bill has ensured that the settlements are still fair increases but significantly more affordable than previous ones. This will allow our districts to improve education in a measurable way.

I look forward to the day in the future, when Iowa is once again the top state in the nation in education, to look back at this vote and know that I did my part for my kids, grandkids, and all Iowans.

17 comments
  1. Thanks for the propaganda. If binding arbitration was the only thing that this bill fixed that would be one thing. But the truth is that is not all this bill did is it, Representative Rizer. To push the narrative that it was only about binding arbitration is intellectually dishonest. It basically gutted everything good in Chapter 20 so Republicans could pay back ALEC and give Governor Branstad a going away present. And on top of that it was done in secret behind the backs of Iowans, as Senator Schultz admitted. There was no mounting crisis that required this to be done in the rushed manner it was done in. The only crisis was Branstad’s imminent appointment as Ambassador to China. And on top of that you and every other Republican on both sides of the legislature ignored the people of this state when they collectively said no. So thank you for showing who you really represent in the end. It is not the people of Iowa and certainly not the people of your district. Instead you represent ALEC and Koch brothers, who sponsored this legislation just as they did in Wisconsin.

  2. IF this is what the school districts wanted why did so many of them rush through the negotiation process and sign contracts before your wonderful reform law was passed? The people are speaking, unfortunately most of our republicans aren’t listening. I’m done voting republican.

  3. Ken Rizer knows very little about how collective bargaining actually works. I have been involved in bargaining for almost 40 years and wanted to point out the errors in his statement.
    First, Rizer is confusing settlement figures with the funderstanding schools receive from the state. He uses percentages to back his argument when he should be using total dollars. A school district’s total budget is a much larger number than the amount they pay teachers. School districts may only receive a 2% increase in funding, but that is 2% of a very large number. The percentage increase in salary is applied to a much lower number so a 4% increase of a small number may not generate as big of a number as a smaller percentage of a very large number. Even if it does, the districts usually have additional income from interest and carry-over dollars from previous budgets. As I mentioned earlier, I have bargained for many years, and using Rizer’s logic, I should have left a trail of bankrupt schools.
    Rizer applauds thr fact that under this new law teachers can only receive an increase equal to the cost of living or 3%, whichever is less. However, you don’t have to go very far back in history to find inflation rates that were much higher than 3%. Under the Republican plan it’s very likely that public employees will lose purchasing power. Rizer says teachers will never get a raise smaller than the CPI, but under this plan it simply isn’t true.
    Yes, school districts have been cutting teachsrs, but those cuts aren’t related to excessively high salary settlements. Instead, it’s directly related to schools being underfunded by the legislature for thr last seven years.

    1. Underfunded????

      Please. Schools get an increase every year, education funding makes up over 60 percent of the general fund budget of which most is supplemental school aid, and that doesn’t include property tax money and sales tax money schools receive.

      You are at the wrong place to complain about funding.

  4. “Today at a Superintendent meeting one of my Democratic colleagues read my post and then asked the Supes what they thought. One w courage spoke up and said it was 100% true. You call it propaganda but then fail to rebut anything in the piece, instead falling back on attacking me personally for my intentions, my alleged supporters, etc.

    I stand tall behind what I wrote. ” – Your reply

    Actually I did rebut everything in the piece. If it was just about arbitration as you say, why did you take away the right to negotiate over some many items. Why did you make it harder to recertify unions? Why did you add to the penalty if unions strike? All of these things are in the bill you say is just about arbitration. I called out that your narrative is intellectually dishonest and that the bill is sponsored by ALEC. I can show you on their website where busting public sector unions is a high priority. If you are not a member of ALEC then publicly deny it otherwise, we all know where you got you orders from. And I notice you do not address the statement on record by Sen Schultz that this was done behind the back of Iowans. Do you deny that is true also? I never once personally attacked you Representative Rizer. I asked you to tell the truth that arbitration was not all this bill was about. Instead you choose to evade the question. That is not my problem, that is yours. And again I will ask point blank, is arbitration the only thing this bill addresses?

  5. “My piece was about why I voted for the bill. I recommend watching the following to understand our perspective on the other elements of it:” – your reply

    Again you are not answering the very easy questions I asked about the bill, Representative Rizer. Answer my questions. If the only thing that is about is arbitration, why are there are so may other things in it. Your video is not convincing as it directly contradicts what Senator Schultz said. Again prove your point or admit that I am right.

  6. If you voted for this bill to save public schools, then I will expect a No vote for the ESA (voucher) bill.

  7. This does not just involve teachers. It includes hospital personnel, DOT, and all state employees. It also limits negotiating other items, such as evaluation procedures, sick leave, and other items that do not cost anything.

  8. I just read this from a friend that shared this from Iowa. I live in Georgia where I am prohibited by law from collectively bargaining as a public school teacher. Does the Representative believe our schools are the model for excellence in public education?

  9. I notice you use an increase in state funding of 2.25%. It would be nice if you’d ever approve that much, but you seem to want to give the big money to corporations, who then take that taxpayer money and pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of Republicans running for office. It’s almost like the elections are being funded by Iowa taxpayers. We’ll remember to get more for our money from now on.

  10. If arbitration is so favorable to unions, why do only about 1% of contracts go to arbitration?
    If the old system was causing teachers to burn out, why did they defend the old system?
    When you said you would illustrate with a real world example, why did you give an imaginary example?

Comments are closed.

Get CT In Your Inbox!

Don't miss a single update.

You May Also Like

Iowa’s Late Term Abortion Ban (HF 5) Voted Out of House Government Oversight Committee

It’s kind of like watching sausage get made. The bill, HF 5,…

The Last Stop–Iowa Tea Party Bus Tour Concludes on Saturday with Michele Bachmann

From the Iowa Tea Party Bus Tour site: The Iowa Tea Party…

Don’t Believe the IPERS Lies

Jack Whitver: The scare tactics Democrats are using to suggest there is a secret plan to make sweeping changes to IPERS are purely false.

The Des Moines Register Must Hate Homeschooling

The Des Moines Register once again attacks Iowa homeschooling families and the new freedom they enjoy under independent private instruction.