Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Negotiating the Great Recession: How Do Teacher Collective Bargaining Agreements Change in Times of Financial Duress

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 10:15 AM
Flamingo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Katharine O. Strunk and Bradley Marianno, University of Southern California
Since teachers’ unions began representing teachers in American public schools in the early 1970’s, the collective bargaining agreement (CBA, or contract) has become one of the most important documents governing local district policy, dictating a wide range of workplace procedures including teacher compensation, class size, leave policies, seniority and staffing and general working conditions.

There are two competing arguments about the impact teachers’ unions and their CBAs may have on educational outcomes. Detractors argue that teachers’ unions are rent-seeking, improving working conditions and compensation for members through negotiating restrictive CBAs without providing any commensurate benefit to schools or students (Moe, 2001). Supporters argue that teachers’ unions and the contracts they negotiate protect the rights of teachers and of students in ways that will improve student outcomes (Bascia, 1994). Much of the extant research supports the rent-seeking hypothesis, finding that unions and their CBAs drive up local district spending without improving (and possibly harming) student outcomes (e.g., Hoxby, 1996; Moe, 2009; Strunk, 2011).

If administrators and unions are working together to meet district and student needs, CBAs should change substantially during times of financial duress. In particular, collaborative teachers’ unions should negotiate less constraining CBAs that provide administrators with greater flexibility to cut costs while still maintaining student learning. Since costs are largely driven by teacher compensation (a function of salaries and class sizes), CBAs negotiated during periods of budget constraint might include higher class sizes, lower compensation packages, and reduced benefits and leave policies. To compensate unions for these losses, districts may negotiate improved working conditions in other areas.

This paper uses a unique longitudinal district-level dataset that includes measures of overall and sub-area contract strength as well as individual provisions found within contracts from the 2005-2006, 2008-2009, and 2011-2012 school years to explore if and how teacher CBAs in California changed in response to the Great Recession. We estimate difference-in-difference models pre, during and post-recession to compare contract outcomes of districts that rely heavily on state funding for their operating budgets (and thus were heavily affected by the recession) to a control group of “basic aid” districts that are effectively protected from state budget fluctuations because the local tax revenue exceeds the state-determined revenue limit.

We find that CBAs in districts facing financial hardship do not grow significantly more or less restrictive overall, relative to those in districts where there are fewer budgetary pressures. However, specific elements of CBAs do change as a result of recession-induced pressures: both negotiated class sizes and average teacher compensation decrease in impacted districts, but salary returns for veteran teachers increase. In addition, teachers in heavily budget-impacted districts are given greater non-compensation concessions in post-recessionary CBAs, including greater access to leaves and enhanced rights for union leaders. All of these changes suggest that CBAs do change in the face of budget restrictions, particularly in ways that indicate trade-offs between average compensation and other working conditions.