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Teachers Caught in the Middle of Issue 2 Campaigns

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Saturday, October 29, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Pamphlets supporting and opposing Issue 2 have been filling Ohioans' mailboxes over the last few weeks.

Voters in Ohio have been seeing a lot of ads telling them which way to vote on Issue 2, the ballot measure that could overturn a law passed in the spring that limits public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights.

Organized labor, including the teachers unions, is spending heavily to defeat the measure. But at the same time, educators are also a key component among supporters campaigning for the measure.

[audio href="" title="Issue 2 Ads About Teachers Can Get Confusing"]But the teachers unions have been showing their true muscle behind the scenes.[/audio]

By now, Ohioans have seen this ad many times. It shows a young blond teacher surrounded by doting students in her classroom, as she makes her case against Issue 2.

“Thousands of teachers across Ohio oppose Issue 2 because we care about the kids we teach. Issue 2 will restrict teachers' rights to bargain collectively for smaller class sizes, up-to-date text books, even negotiating on school safety issues. And Issue 2 can mean even more standardized testing and less time on classroom learning. Teachers know what our students need to succeed. Don’t let the politicians take away our right to speak up for Ohio’s children. Vote No on Issue 2.”

Moments later, Ohioans might catch this ad, with a robust young man in a baby-blue button-down shirt speaking in an empty classroom, and scenes of several other teachers hard at work, as he makes his case supporting Issue 2.

“Opponents of Issue 2 are saying it’ll harm education. But as I tell my students, you can’t believe everything you hear. The truth? Issue 2 will improve education. Good teachers will finally be rewarded for the job they do and the results that they achieve in the classroom. Not getting raises just for showing up. Not all teachers want this change, but isn’t it about time the educators who teach our children get paid to deliver? Vote Yes on Issue 2.”

Then there are the pamphlets that have been flooding mailboxes. One reads, “because our children deserve it.” Another says “great teachers can make a world of difference,” and yet a third warns “they fired some of Ohio’s best teachers.” These are all urging voters to approve Issue 2.

Cleveland teacher Tracy Muniach has been spending her free time campaigning against Issue 2.

But right after reading that pamphlet your phone might ring, and you might here this: “Hi, my name is Tracy and I’m calling to ask you to vote no on Senate Bill 5 this November to repeal Senate Bill 5. Are you familiar with Issue 2?...”

Cleveland teacher Tracy Radich has been spending her spare time cold calling and canvassing voters, urging them to vote against the measure. She says it’s an assault on teachers unions.

Teachers, it turns out, are playing a big part in both sides' approach to the issue.

The “We Are Ohio” group, looking to overturn Issue 2, has been using an emotional approach. That hasn’t been hard to do, says Robert Higgs, editor of Politifact Ohio at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Particularly with education, you can tug on those heart strings because they’ll present it as ‘this is going to affect your children,’” Higgs says.

Meanwhile, the “Building a Better Ohio” group that supports Issue 2 has been framing the law as a way to purge Ohio’s classrooms of teachers who don’t work hard, but cash in on lavish benefits packages.

University of Akron Political Science professor John Green says teachers have been critical to the campaign against Issue 2.

“I think there is a hierarchy in the way people view public employees,” says University of Akron political science professor John Green.

Police, firefighters, and the army are the top of the public employee pyramid, he says. The bulk of the ads have focused on these safety forces because they are admired for their heroism and providing an essential public service.

Green says teachers are probably somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy, because “they’re seen as very positive in some respects, but there’s a sense that maybe public education has its problems.”

That skepticism is one of the reasons the pro-Issue 2 forces can effectively use educators on their own side as well, says Green. But for the most part, teachers have been essential to the opposition's efforts behind the scenes.

“Teachers unions have provided a lot of money, a lot of the organizing effort to put the campaign together. Individual teachers have been very, very active first in collecting signatures, then going door to door, then campaigning with their friends in their neighborhoods,” Green says.

[related_content align="right"]School employees make up the bulk of public employee unions in Ohio. Many have added extra fees onto their membership dues to contribute to the “no on issue 2” campaign. And remember that phone call? The Cleveland Teachers Union says its phone bank has made about half of all calls in the state on behalf of the opposition.

Professor John Green says that has been significant, because “there wouldn’t be as effective a campaign if it weren’t for the teachers unions and the involvement of the individual teachers in the campaign.”

As of the last filing deadline, We Are Ohio -- opposing Issue 2 -- raised $19 million since July. Building a Better Ohio reported raising close to $8 million in that same time period.

Green says he wouldn’t be surprised if the total cost of campaigns about Issue 2 exceeded $30 million or even $40 million. That is pretty steep for a ballot issue in an off-year election for Ohio.

The teachers unions' efforts may be paying off. The latest polls show a sizeable majority of Ohioans plan to vote no on Issue 2 next month.