The collective-bargaining component of Walkerís plan has yielded especially large financial dividends for school districts. Before the reform, many districtsí annual union contracts required them to buy health insurance from WEA Trust, a nonprofit affiliated with the stateís largest teachersí union. Once the reform limited collective bargaining to wage negotiations, districts could eliminate that requirement from their contracts and start bidding for health care on the open market. When the Appleton School District put its health-insurance contract up for bid, for instance, WEA Trust suddenly lowered its rates and promised to match any competitorís price. Appleton will save $3 million during the current school year.
Appleton isnít alone. According to a report by the MacIver Institute, as of September 1, ďat least 25 school districts in the Badger State had reported switching health care providers/plans or opening insurance bidding to outside companies.Ē The institute calculates that these steps will save the districts $211.45 per student. If the stateís other 250 districts currently served by WEA Trust follow suit, the savings statewide could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the outset of the public-union standoff, educators had made dire predictions that Walkerís reforms would force schools to fire teachers. In February, to take one example, Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad predicted that 289 teachers in his district would be laid off. Walker insisted that his reforms were actually a job-retention program: by accepting small concessions in health and pension benefits, he argued, school districts would be able to spare hundreds of teachersí jobs. The argument proved sound. So far, Neradís district has laid off no teachers at all, a pattern that has held in many of the stateís other large school districts. No teachers were laid off in Beloit and LaCrosse; Eau Claire saw a reduction of two teachers, while Racine and Wausau each laid off one. The Wauwatosa School District, which faced a $6.5 million shortfall, anticipated slashing 100 jobsóyet the new pension and health contributions saved them all.
The benefits to school districts arenít just fiscal, moreover. Thanks to Walkerís collective-bargaining reforms, the Brown Deer school district in suburban Milwaukee can implement a performance-pay system for its best teachersóa step that could improve educational outcomes.