SALMON, Idaho By a 20-15 vote, the Idaho Senate on Thursday approved legislation that curtails collective bargaining by public school teachers.
The measure restricts collective bargaining to salaries and benefits, removing from negotiations such provisions as class sizes, teacher workload and promotions.
Crafted by the state's schools chief and endorsed by the legislature's Republican leaders and Governor Butch Otter, the bill bans collective bargaining unless the teachers union could prove it represented more than 50 percent of educators in a school district.
The legislation now heads to the House, where passage is expected.
The measure also eliminates seniority as a factor in teacher layoffs and replaces tenure for some current, and all future teachers with one- or two-year contracts.
Sen. John Goedde, head of the senate's education panel, on Thursday said the legislation was about restoring local control since it gives school boards and administrators more flexibility to hire and fire teachers.
"This bill isn't about collective bargaining; it's about putting students first," he said.
The Idaho Education Association, the union representing more than 12,000 elementary and secondary school teachers, has criticized the bill as anti-teacher and anti-union.
The legislation has come under fire from Idaho's minority Democrats as well as many teachers and parents. As many as 2,000 people protested the bill and other education proposals in rallies across the state on Monday.
Senate Democrats on Thursday forced a reading of the entire bill by its backers and then led a failed attempt to postpone debate indefinitely.
Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai of Pocatello urged lawmakers to join him in opposing the measure.
"This bill is going to hit at the heart of every teacher," he said.
It is one of three bills that make up the plan by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna to overhaul the public education system for kindergarten through high schools.
Luna has said the plan, which would cut more than 750 teachers, will save millions of dollars at a time when the state is facing a projected shortfall of $90 million in tax revenues to meet the budget.