Sue now, or forever hold your peace. That is, effectively, the request Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has made of teachers unions that want to fool Coloradans by holding off on a lawsuit until after voters decide on a big tax increase in November.
At issue is the proposed Amendment 66, which would raise taxes by about $1 billion a year. Proponents insist it will generate revenue for teachers and students and will fund implementation of education reforms the Legislature created with SB191 in 2010. The reforms tie tenure, which gives teachers contractual job security, to a teacher evaluation system based in part on student performance and test scores. In other words, the privilege of contractual job security - a stability seldom enjoyed in the private sector - would result from merit.
Teachers unions have linked passage of Amendment 66 to successful implementation of the classroom reforms because doing so might inspire voters to raise their taxes. The Gazette learned recently that union leaders have quietly plotted to end the reforms - those which they pretend to support - with a lawsuit shortly after the election.
The Colorado Board of Education, which would be the defendant in the anticipated suit, agreed to an unusual extension of the statute of limitations for filing suit. By doing so, the board facilitated unions in creating an illusion of support for classroom reforms before the election while protecting their option to stop the same reforms in court. Taxpayers on both sides of the Amendment 66 debate should be outraged by the attempted deception.
After The Gazette unveiled the scam, nonunion supporters of the tax hike - such as Hickenlooper - tried negotiating with unions to scrap their plans for a post-election lawsuit. In a statement issued Wednesday, Hickenlooper said he was "deeply disappointed" that negotiations failed. He said the Colorado Education Association feels "duty-bound" to file suit against SB191.
"No amount of further discussion or negotiation or mediation will change that," Hickenlooper said. "We want to make it clear to the people of Colorado that we are determined to protect the foundational reforms embodied in SB191."
There's no good reason to doubt the governor's commitment to preserving the classroom reforms established by SB191. Alas, there is plenty of reason to doubt the ability of Hickenlooper or anyone else who supports the improvements to stop a legal challenge that might succeed. But the governor's best intentions to preserve SB191 may fail, meaning Amendment 66 money would have no true nexus to anticipated improvements in teacher performances and classroom results.
Furthermore, the disingenuous nature of unions pretending to support that which they seek to destroy is enough to make anyone question almost anything promised in the campaign to pass the tax increase. If they'll lie to us about this, they'll lie to us when promising the taxes aren't merely an underhanded means of funding the public school system's troubled pension program.
After negotiations failed, Hickenlooper called on the state Education Board to rescind the deadline extension and force the unions to file a lawsuit now. By doing so, the governor is at least trying to create a more honest dialogue regarding Amendment 66. A suit would let all voters know that teachers unions - perhaps the most dedicated backers of Amendment 66 - don't support classroom enhancements that have been used to sell the tax. If they don't sue while they still have a chance, voters will have reassurance that SB191 remains law for the foreseeable future.
The unions are wise to link a big tax hike to popular classroom reforms that will improve education. They are dishonest to do so in conjunction with plans to end those reforms.