We have a looming teacher recruitment and retention crisis in North Dakota that is growing worse because of added pressure and burnout. We need to act now to defend the promise of great public education for the next generation.

A recent survey by North Dakota United revealed that just 50% of North Dakota teachers expect to retire as teachers, a dramatic drop from 83% who started their career planning to retire in the profession. The statistic shines an ominous spotlight on the efforts of some state legislators to divert critical funding from public schools and silence the voice of teachers.

As we have seen in years past, there are an array of voucher schemes that could divert dollars raised for public purposes, including K-12 education, to private schools and homeschools. Other threats are new, such as those proposed in SB 2215 to restrict the ability of teachers and school boards to negotiate, an unprecedented change that would ignore the principle of local control.

Most importantly, the measurement for all education policy should be what best serves students. We know that fair negotiations are critical to creating outcomes that attract young people to teaching and encourage talented people to remain. And we know that when good people are drawn to teaching and talented people are encouraged to remain, the ultimate winners are the children and communities that teachers serve.

So, any changes to collective bargaining should make things fairer all around. As the North Dakota Supreme Court has stated, even before the parties sit down to negotiate, school boards have the upper hand. SB 2215 would further disadvantage teachers because it encourages school boards to limit discussions and ignore the voices of teachers until a new and arbitrary June 1 deadline. At that point, school boards could unilaterally halt negotiations, even if critical issues for teachers and students went unaddressed.

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Proponents of SB 2215 offered no examples of students negatively affected by negotiations continuing beyond June 1 because teachers and administrators have always continued to work in the best interests of our students regardless of the status of negotiations. SB 2215 is, at best, a solution to a problem that does not exist. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to further silence educators that will threaten the ability of schools to hire and keep teachers.

After a year in which we asked more from teachers than ever before, teachers stepped up. But they’re burning out. It’s time to listen to teachers, and we urge legislators to do so because when everyone comes to the table in good faith, we can all get back to doing what’s important, educating the youth of North Dakota.

Nick Archuleta is president of North Dakota United.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.