Ohio voters just gave public school teachers something they haven’t received in a while — respect — by overwhelmingly approving a referendum to repeal a law that limited the collective bargaining rights of public sector employees.

Voters made it clear to their Republican governor, John Kasich, that they don’t like the law he signed in March, known as Senate Bill 5, which, among many provisions, restricted the bargaining rights for more than 350,000 public employees in Ohio, banned strikes and eliminated teacher step pay increases.

Voters collected more than a million signatures to start the process to put the referendum on the ballot, and then on Tuesday voted almost 2 to 1 to get rid of the unpopular law.

It was a rare victory in these tough financial times for the unions that represent teachers and other public-sector workers and which fought hard against SB5.

Public school teachers have become a target for education reformers and politicians who have sought to limit or eliminate bargaining rights and tenure, link teacher evaluations to student test scores over the warnings of assessment experts who say it is a bad idea, denigrate the value of veteran teachers, and more.

Though the Obama administration has pushed some of the reforms that teachers generally oppose, such as test-driven evaluation, it was opposed to Ohio’s Senate Bill 5. Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney supported it.

The assault on teachers has been so overt that it prompted a hysterical piece by Jon Stewart earlier this year on The Daily Show, when he went after hypocritical attacks on “the greed” of public school teachers by critics on Fox News who insist on sacrifices from the public sector but not the private sector. He showed film clips which Republican commentators first moaned that folks in the financial sector earning $250,000 a year are practically poor but teachers earning $50,000 a year, with benefits, are overpaid.

Whether this is the start of a movement to walk back some of the extreme actions taken against teachers remains to be seen. But it does show that there are some lines that voters don’t want their leaders to cross when it comes to restricting the rights of public sector employees. They recognize the importance of the public sector and don’t want to see it decimated.

A statement released by the National Education Association quoted Ohio kindergarten teacher Theresa Foster, who identifies herself as a staunch Republican and whose husband is serving in Afghanistan, as saying:

“Attacking educators and other public employees is not what I expected and it’s not what the Republican Party stands for,” said Foster, who teaches at Glendening Elementary School in Groveport, Ohio. “I took a pay cut like many educators and have shared in the sacrifices. I’m disappointed in the leaders of my party, and I’ll be watching them here on out.”

Public school teachers across the country owe Ohio voters a big thank you.


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