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How Teachers Union Work Rules Harm Public Education

The state of public education in America is not good.  The Organization of Economic Cooperation reported in 2016 that students in our public schools scored below average in math, tied with five countries for 37th out of 70; average in science, tied with 12 nations for 19th out of 70; and average in reading, tied with 13 nations for 15th out of 70.  For a country that is the unquestioned leader of the free world in wealth and technology, these are deplorable results.

California public schools are even worse.  In a recent survey, WalletHub ranked California’s schools ninth worst among the fifty states, forty-seventh in reading scores, and third worst in safety for students.

Any business with these results would fire everyone at the top.  But who can we fire?  Who is in charge of our public schools anyway?  Who should be accountable for the poor performance of our public schools?

Everyone associated with public schools knows the answer:  the teacher unions run our public schools and have been in charge for a long time.  This is thoroughly documented in the definitive book written by Stanford professor and Hoover Institute fellow, Dr. Terry Moe,  Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools (Brookings Institution Press 2011).  Professor Moe walks through the history of teacher unions, describing the changes that occurred when teachers were given the legal right to engage in collective bargaining during the 1970s and 1980s.

While wages were important to union leaders, Moe reports, equally important was union success in negotiating work rules that often went unnoticed by the public but became fixtures in union contracts.  These work rules governed everything that took place in the workplace, from hiring and firing teachers to seniority, layoffs, and a uniform pay scale.  While these work rules always increased union power and favored teachers, they often were harmful to student outcomes.

When work rules became comprehensive and detailed during the 1980s, all of the important discretion over teacher behavior had been acquired by the unions, and soon this included policy as well.  For example, work rules often require that principals give notice before looking in on a classroom teacher, removing a supervisory tool that used to be effective; and work rules typically allow a teacher to bump another teacher and take her job based on seniority, removing the principal’s discretion to form a team whom they feel will work well together.

Work rules also required that important questions, usually decided by management, be referred to committees populated by teachers.  Once the unions controlled who taught our kids and how they were taught, the unions had appointed themselves the bosses of public education.

Some of the areas most in need of school reform originated as work rules. Studies show that teacher quality is the most important ingredient to a quality education, yet work rules establish a single pay scale for all teachers regardless of quality, removing a tool, incentive pay, which is used in the private sector to hire the best employees.  Work rules also require school districts to grant tenure within two years, which is too short a time for a thorough evaluation, especially when other work rules make it impossible to fire bad teachers who have tenure.

No matter which reforms have the most merit, no one can deny that someone else should be running our public schools.  Teacher unions have had their chance, and it is time to make someone else the boss.  Professor Moe tells us how:

“If reformers want to stand up for children—and win for children—there is only one way out of the current bind.  The power of the teachers unions must . . . be drastically reduced, so that the interests of the children and effective schooling can take priority among the nation’s policymakers and real reform can go forward.  This is the goal.  Baby steps won’t get us there.”  (Special Interest p. 344.)

Now is the time for change.

Bob Loewen is the chairman of the California Policy Center.

Course Correction Time for Teachers Unions?

Unlikely elsewhere, but in California, just fuggedaboutit.

As I wrote recently, the teachers unions had a bad week in early February. Anti-forced unionism lawsuits, the emergence of yet another right-to-work state and the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary all combined to make for a miserable few days in Unionland. But unlike waking from a bad dream, the next morning did not bring sunshine and chirping birds.

Looking at the teachers unions’ big picture, things are not going well. As Mike Antonucci has reported, the National Education Association’s total membership loss between 2008 and 2015 was 322,000, over an 11 percent drop. In fact, due to right-to-work legislation and the proliferation of charter schools and voucher programs, just 48.7 percent of the teaching force in the U.S. is now unionized.

So how to stop the bleeding?

One thing the teachers unions could do, as Antonucci suggests, is put an end to political endorsements and stick to involvement with basic education issues, like school funding. By endorsing only left-of-center candidates, the unions alienate about half their membership. The two national teachers unions went all-in for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats in many state races in 2016, spending over $46 million in the process. (Their outlay did little good; we now have a Republican president, Republican majorities in the Senate and House, 32 Republican dominated state legislatures and 33 Republican governors.)

While neither national union made an official endorsement, both union presidents personally endorsed Keith Ellison as head of the DNC who many, including Democrats, consider a Jew-hater. Ellison, a far-lefty who regularly calls for climate justice, racial justice and wage justice, wound up losing to not-quite-as-far-left Tom Perez.

Also, with no knowledge of how its membership felt about the nomination of conservative school-choicer Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, NEA rallied its activists to send over a million emails and make over 40,000 calls in an attempt to lobby Republican Senators to vote against her confirmation. That, too, failed.

So is it time for the teachers unions to depoliticize just a bit, and take into account that a large group of their members are just not buying what they are selling? If California is any indication, the answer is an emphatic “No.” In fact, unions in the Golden State are doubling down.

The California Teachers Association’s brand new “Call to Action” website is chock full of leftwing agitprop that will appeal to anyone who has an affinity for the chaotic and destructive 1960s. A poster which screams “Stand with me! Stand for…SOCIAL JUSTICE FOR ALL” is adorned with a clenched fist and “WeAreCTA,” just as a reminder who’s sponsoring the message. The social justice toolkit is full of documents, posters and “shareables” that would make V.I. Lenin and George Soros proud. But what about the 35 percent of the union’s members who former CTA president Dean Vogel claims are to the right of center?  They are invisible; their views are nowhere to be found.

The California Federation of Teachers website is also a leftist’s dream. “After the most divisive election in living memory, healing begins with resistance” is just the beginning of an anti-conservative tirade that is indistinguishable from the most vitriolic soap-box socialist harangue at Berkeley circa 1968. Present on the same page is a link to the always endearing Zinn Education Project, which “stands in solidarity with those who have denounced Donald Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and Islamophobia—as well as his ignorant and deadly proposals about the environment and climate change. We have been encouraged by the young people—in our classrooms and in the streets—who are living the maxim that ‘people make history.’”

Yes, people do indeed make history, and the people elected Donald Trump. But I guess The CFT/Zinn crowd considers some people more equal than others.

In Los Angeles, teachers had a chance to vote out the current union president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, who threatens a “state crisis” if his leftist demands aren’t embraced. His opponent, Lisa Karahalios, running as a reformer, claimed that Caputo-Pearl was neglecting the needs of individual teachers as he pursued his political agenda. But with a small turn out – only 26 percent of members voted – Caputo-Pearl garnered 82 percent of the votes cast. So the incumbent won by getting the vote of just 21 percent of all teachers – hardly a mandate. What of the 79 percent who didn’t vote for Caputo-Pearl? Many of them have views that clash with United Teachers of Los Angeles’ radical agenda and they will remain invisible.

Clearly, there is no place for conservative teachers at the union table. And considering the fact that it is unlikely that teacher union politics will undergo a sea change – certainly not in California – look for membership numbers to dwindle further. Additionally, should right-to-work legislation and litigation continue to advance, the teachers unions may well see a rush of members heading for the exit.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Trump Undoes Obama’s Transgender Bathroom Guidelines

…and teacher union command central is furious.

Last week, the Trump administration rightfully withdrew former President Obama’s guidelines regarding bathroom usage, which had called on schools nationwide to let transgender students choose “Boys” or “Girls,” depending on how they perceived themselves and not the old-fashioned way: by body parts. Additionally, Obama had threatened to remove funding from noncompliant schools. Now with a new sheriff in Washington, the matter will simply be left to the states.

Clearly this is an improvement, and I hope the states will take it further and let individual schools or districts determine how to handle the situation. Transgenderism is estimated to afflict about .3.6 percent of the population. So an elementary school with 500 kids will have between one and three students who consider themselves to be born in the wrong skin. Given that likelihood, why does Washington see the need to get involved? Why is the federal government telling Idaho and Utah what to do about toilet usage? Why did Obama find it necessary to threaten schools with a withdrawal of funds?

The obvious answer is that it fits the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) agenda which, all too often, is dictatorial in nature. And teacher union leaders are members in good standing in the SJW community.

So it was hardly surprising that the teacher union presidents were apoplectic over Trump’s guidelines, and resorted to their standard M.O. – hyperbole, distortions and lies. National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García insisted, “Every student matters, and every student has the right to feel safe, welcomed, and valued in our public schools. This is our legal, ethical and moral obligation. The Trump administration’s plans to reverse protections for transgender students… is dangerous, ill-advised, and unnecessary.” California Teachers Association president Eric Heins was also disturbed. “…the Trump administration’s first education action, to reverse protections for transgender students …is disheartening. To take back basic rights of transgender students at public schools nationwide sends a clear message.” And not to be outdone, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten ridiculously claimed that reversing the guidelines “tells trans kids that it’s OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”

The distortions coming from teachers union leaders are truly disingenuous. There is nothing in the new guidelines that “reverses protections” or allows for abuse or harassment. The decisions on bathroom matters will simply be left to states and local education agencies, which is where they belong.

It is bizarre that, at the same time the teacher union SJWs are trying to push us into a one-size-fits-all pot, the same bunch has decided that because national politics are increasing student fear and anxiety, the best solutions are local. At a tele-town hall last week with union faithful, NEA boss Lily Eskelsen García remarked, “We do not need to wait for a governor, state legislature, or president to make the change we need. At our buildings and our school districts, we have the most agency to make change. We are the powerful voices. Together, through our dialogue with colleagues and students, and our communities, we can make a wave of change.”

“The best solutions are local.” Hmmm. That sounds downright sensible! It seems as if the union activists and García are making a subsidiarity argument, that issues should be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. But the unionistas mean that only when local control moves the ball in a direction they consider desirable. In fact, the brand new “best solutions are local” diktat is ultimately about immigration, which of course should not be a local issue. Chicago or California cannot have its own immigration policy. A school in Dallas cannot truly legally declare itself a sanctuary campus. Immigration, like foreign policy, must be set in D.C. Period. But with something that should be locally determined, like bathroom usage, Eskelsen García and her SJW allies want big D.C. daddy to make a one-size-fits-all rule.

After the Trump administration guidelines were released, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, “We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the department, but for every school in America.” She clarified her statement by criticizing the idea of “a one-size-fits-all, federal government knows best, top-down approach to issues that are best dealt with at a … local level.”

DeVos is right; students should be safe from sexual harassment. While she trusts that the states will handle the matter effectively, union honchos prefer dictatorial control from SJW command central where they have much greater influence.

With Trump and DeVos in charge, power will hopefully become more diffuse, which could make it a troubling time for dictatorial unionistas across the country.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Does Berkeley’s Teachers Union Support Free Speech to Suppress Free Speech?

“There is no free speech for fascists. They do not have the right to organize for genocide.”
–  Yvette Felarca, as reported by Frances Dinkelspiel writing for Berkeleyside, Nov. 2, 2016

Most anyone who follows current events is familiar with the riots at UC Berkeley that stopped a planned February 1st appearance by Breitbart editor and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Fewer people may be familiar with Yvette Felarca, an activist and organizer with the group BAMN (By Any Means Necessary), a “coalition to defend affirmative action, integration and immigration rights and fight for equality by any means necessary.” Mother Jones, who probably would not opine to this effect without strong evidence, in 2005 called BAMN “a Communist front-group.”

If you watch this recent television interview with Felarca on KTVU Oakland, or her recent interview on Fox News, you will see she is carefully making a case for violence against “fascists.” In her Fox interview, Felarca defines fascism this way: “A fascist is someone who is organizing a mass movement that’s attacking women, immigrants, black people, other minority groups, and a movement of genocide.” She goes on to say – regarding Yiannopolous – “he should not be allowed to speak in public, to spread his racist, misogynistic, and homophobic lies. No, he does not have the right to do that.”

UC Berkeley, 2/02/2017. Free speech tactics aimed at suppressing free speech.

The UC Berkeley riots are not Felarca’s first experience with street activism. As reported by the Daily Californian, “The Berkeley Unified School District placed Felarca on administrative leave Sept. 21 [2016] after she was filmed physically attacking a self-proclaimed white nationalist during a protest in June.”

You got that right. Felarca is a humanities teacher at a public middle school. And six weeks after being placed on leave, Felarca returned to the classroom.

So here’s the question. A representative from the Berkeley Federation of Teachers was present at the Felarca’s reinstatement meeting, and presumably was involved in the negotiations between Felarca and the district. And as Felarca’s attorney puts it, “We continue to … fight for her free speech right and academic freedom. We also seek damages for the violations on her rights … to make sure that everybody’s rights are protected.”

To fight for her “free speech.” Free speech that attacks any alleged “movement of genocide.”

Would a spokesperson from the Berkeley Federation of Teachers care to comment on the free speech rights of teachers who oppose the position their union takes on abortion? Because apparently, in the world of California’s public education system, people who engage in provocative speech that challenges left-wing truisms can be accused of building a “movement of genocide,” whereas people who consider millions of terminated pregnancies to be actual genocide are silenced by their unions.

One may believe abortion is murder or one may believe it is an inalienable woman’s right. One may believe that Milo Yiannopolous is a dangerous agitator, or one may believe he raises important counter-arguments to the conventional wisdom of the left. But regardless of personal sentiments and principles, can anyone deny that the teachers union takes political stands that not all their members will agree with?

Consider this quote from former CTA Executive Director Carolyn Doggett: “In California, and with the support of CTA, we have fought back three attempts to curtail a woman’s right to choose, including measures that would have endangered the lives of teenage girls. Currently, California is one of only ten states that have no additional restrictions on reproductive health.”

Polarization is nurtured when people feel victimized by institutionalized hypocrisy and double standards. Felarca and her movement engaged in violent suppression of free speech because they claim – with no evidence – that Yiannopoulos is a genocidal fascist. Does the teachers union condone her activities? And if not, are they willing to make a statement?

Meanwhile, with their political support for a woman’s right to choose well documented, every year in California the teachers union forces collects millions, if not hundreds of millions, in agency fees from members who – with ample evidence – consider mass abortions to be genocide. And they condemn the activities of teachers who oppose their position.

If this is not a double standard, then the term has no meaning.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the vice president of policy research for the California Policy Center.

The Unions’ Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Which meant it was a very good week for the rest of us. 

Last week, labor unions took a series of body blows. First, it was announced Monday that Missouri had become the 28th right-to-work state. The Show-Me State showed the unions that worker freedom now takes precedence over their forced dues racket. Not only that, but according to F. Vincent Vernuccio, Director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center, a pending bill, SB 210, would end release time – a scam that allows teachers and other public employees to conduct union business during working hours paid for by the taxpayer. Also, SB 210 would allow workers in Missouri to periodically recertify their union (or not), subject government unions to the same transparency requirements as private sector unions and establish the right to a private ballot in government union organizing elections.

Also on Monday, the Center for Individual Rights announced it was filing a lawsuit against the state of California and the California Teachers Association on behalf of eight teachers and the Association of American Educators. Yohn v. CTA is focused on forced “agency fees,” which unions use to finance their collective bargaining agenda. The plaintiffs argue that they have moral objections to the way the unions spend their money. As things stand now in non-right-to work states, all teachers are forced to financially support union policy concerning issues like school choice, tenure, seniority, etc. The lawsuit is similar to Friedrichs v CTA et al, filed by CIR in 2013, which was on its way to victory in SCOTUS. But Antonin Scalia’s sudden death just a year ago led to a 4-4 split, leaving the original law in place. CIR hopes to get the case back before the Supreme Court during the 2017-2018 session. If the plaintiffs are successful, joining a teachers – or any public employee – union or paying them any dues whatsoever would be voluntary.

CTA president Eric Heins responded to the new lawsuit by trotting out standard-issue pieties from the union playbook. He claimed the goal of the new case was to “weaken all unions and the voice of working people.” Heins is of course wrong. The case, if successful, will strengthen the voices of dissenting teachers while leaving the voices of other workers intact.

Then on Tuesday, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers descended into loopy-land. The spectacle after Betsy DeVos was narrowly confirmed as the new Secretary of Education was something to behold. What follows is a very small sample of comments emanating from the frothing naysayers:

  • American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (apparently with a straight face) said it was “a sad day for children.”
  • CTA president Eric Heins referred to the nomination as “a blow to our nation.”
  • National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia was defiant, insisting that “There will be no relationship with Betsy DeVos.”
  • Factually challenged film maker Michael Moore tweeted, “The Senate Republicans have just sent a big FU to the school children of America. Even the worst countries don’t sh*t on their own kids.”
  • Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson, who apparently has been guzzling the Kool-Aid a bit too long, tweeted, “Betsy DeVos’s policies will kill children. That is not an exaggeration in any sense.”
  • Speaking a day before her confirmation, Minnesota Senator Al Franken, pointed out DeVos’ lack of experience in the field, insisting that Education Secretary is “not a job for amateurs.” (Note to Franken: Since your main qualification for running for the Senate was being a comedian on “Saturday Night Live” – and not a very funny one – maybe you should lighten up on the sanctimony.)

The viciousness toward DeVos is animated by several things: She is rich, a school choice supporter, a Christian, a school choice supporter, a Republican, and most of all, a school choice supporter. As such her goal is to provide the best education for every child in the country, whether it is via a private school, home school, charter school or traditional public school. This drives the public school monopolists nuts. The turf they have occupied – the one-size-fits-all 19th Century children-as-widgets education model – is endangered. Typical is Maine Senator Susan Collins, one of two Republicans who voted against DeVos’ confirmation, “Her concentration on charter schools and vouchers, however, raises the question of whether or not she fully appreciates that the Secretary of Education’s primary focus must be on helping states and communities, parents, teachers, school board members, and administrators strengthen our public schools.” (Emphasis added.)

But Collins is wrong. The mission of the Dept. of Education is “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation.” Note that there is no mention at all of “public schools.” Its focus is on improving education outcomes. Period.

What the unhinged mob doesn’t understand – or at least won’t acknowledge – is that DeVos is not a dictator who will rule over a vast national education empire. In fact, the great majority of education policy and financing is handled at the state and local level. Fordham Institute president Mike Petrilli understands this and is correct when he makes the case that, “Actually, Betsy DeVos is perfectly qualified to be Education Secretary.” He points out that that DeVos’ job concerns itself with education politics and policy and to “work with members of Congress and governors, to understand how a bill becomes a law, to provide moral support to reformers as they fight it out in the states and at the local level. With her decades of involvement in politics, with policymakers, and in the trenches of the parental choice movement, DeVos is an inspired choice for the job….”

National Association of Scholars’ president Peter Wood suggests that being an outsider makes DeVos an especially good pick. “The strength of Secretary DeVos’s appointment is that she brings strong independent leadership to American education. She will not be steered by organized labor or by the higher education establishment. This means that we have the opportunity for real reform.”

While the teachers unions had a bad week, it was just the latest in a series of recent upsets for them. The NEA and AFT collectively gave over $36 million in the last election cycle to Super PACs – 100 percent of which went to Democrats. Yet after the voters weighed in, the U.S. wound up with a Republican president, Republican majorities in the Senate and House, 32 Republican dominated state legislatures and 33 Republican governors.

Dictatorial union ways are in decline. Right-to-work laws, teacher-freedom litigation and a Secretary of Education not beholden to the unions or any other special interest group will reap benefits for children, parents, teachers and taxpayers.

May the good times continue.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Pension Pilfery

“The teachers unions don’t just screw over kids, they also screw over new teachers. Millennials beware.”

The above tweet from Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, pretty much tells the dismal story. To followers of Pension Tsunami, UnionWatch and Transparent California, the looming pension disaster for taxpayers is not news. But what has gone under-reported is that young teachers entering the field are carrying a disproportionate amount of the load. And if those teachers don’t make teaching a career for life, they become victims of a reverse Robin Hood scenario – where the “haves” are stealing from the “have-nots” and the “haven’t yets.”

All this is spelled out in a Fordham Institute report authored by Martin Lueken, Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis at EdChoice. As the introduction to the detailed 378 page analysis states, “A new teacher’s pension is supposed to be a perk. The truth is that for the majority of the nation’s new teachers, what they can anticipate in retirement benefits will be worth less than what they contributed to the system while they were in the classroom, even if they stay for decades.” The even sadder news is that, cowed by Big Union, no one in a position of power seems to be willing to do anything about it. (Emphasis added.)

Lueken found that the median “crossover point” of the fifty-one districts across the country he examined is 25 years, which means that teachers in more than half of these districts have to teach a quarter of a century before they reach the point where their retirement benefits are worth more than their contributions. This is outrageous. 

Most teachers’ pensions come in the form of a defined benefit plan, whereby a teacher is guaranteed a monthly pension payment for the rest of her life after retirement. Much fairer to taxpayers and non-lifer teachers alike is a 401(k) defined contribution plan in which a teacher’s benefit is equal to his own contributions, those of his employer, and whatever earnings the investments accrue.

Just three months earlier, the University of Arkansas issued a working paper that focused solely on teachers’ pensions in California, and those results are not pretty either. Here in our Golden, or more accurately, Beholden State, two-thirds of teachers are “pension losers.” As described in the Orange County Register, “A teacher who starts her career at age 25…will have to work until age 53 before merely breaking even with her employer’s pension contributions….”

In California, the retirement fund is woefully underfunded to begin with. To soften the effects of the looming tsunami, CalSTRS, the state teachers’ retirement system, plans to reduce its “rate assumption” from 7.5 percent to a slightly less utopian 7 percent over three years. This means that teachers and school districts (the taxpayer) are going to have to make up the difference. And it’s the newer and lower paid teachers who, proportionally, will take the biggest immediate hit.  As EdSource’s John Fensterwald reports, the hike will come in two steps. “Next year, they will pay an additional half-percent of their pay – an average of $200 annually to CalSTRS. Starting July 1, 2018 that could double to 1 percent, about $400 per year. About 80,000 teachers – those hired since 2013, who constitute about 1 in 5 teachers in the state – would be affected.”

And just how do the teachers unions, which demand defined benefit pension plans for its members, treat their own employees? As Mike Antonucci writes, when teachers unions become “the man,” they are no different than any other employer. The California Teachers Association pension plan for its employees is less than 80 percent funded, “which means the union will either have to reduce future benefits or increase contributions.” In fact, last August, employees of CTA held a rally outside the union’s headquarters, calling on the union to “secure” their pension benefits.

In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan has long railed against using 401(k) retirement plans for his union’s members as a way to curb skyrocketing pension costs. Yet while insisting on a defined benefit plan for its teachers, the union’s 34 office workers are forced to enroll in a more realistic 401(k) plan.

The system we now have, where new teachers are being forced to pay for a service that many will never benefit from, must change. Teachers, new to the profession, need to stand up and push back against the powerful unions that so many are forced to pay dues to. If they can make enough noise, the unions’ bought-and-paid-for legislators may take notice. Taxpayers everywhere should join the bamboozled teachers and insist on a pension system that is equitable and fair to all parties.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Friedrichs v. 2.0? U.S. Supreme Court May Get a Second Chance to Free Teachers from Forced Unionism

For Immediate Release
January 19, 2017
California Policy Center
Will Swaim, will@calpolicycenter.org
(949) 274-1911

In a case that will cheer education reformers, four Pennsylvania teachers today sued their unions, school districts and district officials for making union membership a condition of their employment.

The suit – and the likely appointment of a reform-friendly Supreme Court justice under the incoming Trump Administration – immediately raised expectations that Hartnett v. Pennsylvania State Education Association will do for public education what last year’s Friedrichs case could not.

Plaintiffs in Friedrichs persuaded district and circuit courts in California to move that case quickly to the Supreme Court.

“If the Hartnett plaintiffs can do the same, it’s possible Hartnett could become the vehicle for the Supreme Court finally to rule in favor of worker freedom,” said Robert W. Loewen, a retired attorney, court watcher and board chairman of the California Policy Center. “That would give the new court the opportunity to overturn its ill-advised decision in Abood, which has prevailed since the 1970s.”

The Hartnett plaintiffs “do not want the state deciding for them which private organizations they must support and specifically do not want to be compelled by state actors to support labor organizations they have not voluntarily chosen to support and that they may, in fact, oppose,” the teachers assert in their filing.

Hartnett comes just months after the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked over Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. Following a January 2016 Supreme Court hearing, Friedrichs appeared certain to unwind mandatory union membership for teachers on First Amendment grounds.

But Friedrichs was derailed by the death of Judge Antonin Scalia just weeks after that hearing. Scalia’s absence left the justices tied 4-4 on Friedrichs. That left standing a lower court’s ruling in favor of the California Teachers Association.

The failure of the Friedrichs case – and the apparently inevitable election of Hillary Clinton – seemed to kill hopes the Supreme Court would overturn Abood, and end union control of public education in the U.S.

Donald Trump’s November win, and the expectation that the new president will nominate a reform-minded Supreme Court appointment to replace Scalia, raised hopes for a new Friedrichs-style case.

Rebecca Friedrichs, the third-grade teacher from Orange County, California, was among the first to celebrate the announcement of Hartnett.

“I’m thrilled to hear school employees and teachers throughout the country are standing united for freedom from forced unionism,” she told the California Policy Center hours after the suit was filed. “Every American worker deserves to innovate and thrive on the job unencumbered by the politics and policies imposed upon them by union domination of our workplaces.

“It’s time for liberation,” she said. “Three cheers for the brave men and women bringing the issues to light.”

ABOUT THE CALIFORNIA POLICY CENTER
The California Policy Center is a non-partisan public policy think tank providing information that elevates the public dialogue on vital issues facing Californians, with the goal of shaping more equitable and sustainable management of California’s public institutions. Learn more at CaliforniaPolicyCenter.org.

Scholars and Scholarship: A Case for Charter Schools

Public and private charter schools have emerged as a striking exception to the dismal system of U.S. public education that has performed so poorly on international assessments of student performance such as PISA and TIMMS. Despite the virulent opposition to them by the powerful California Teachers Association, National Education Association and their political allies in Sacramento and on local school boards who support them, these schools have amassed an impressive record of excellence.

Eight of the top ten public schools in California as ranked by US News and World Report are charter schools. Oxford Academy in Cypress ranked 1st. Pacific Collegiate in Santa Cruz ranked 3rd; KIPP San Jose Collegiate, 4th; Preuss School in La Jolla, 5th, American Indian Public High School in Oakland, 6th; Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, 9th and Mathematics, Science and Technology Academy in Lennox, 10th.

KIPP Empower Academy in South Central is the top performing school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Located in a predominantly poor, disadvantaged minority community where less than 5% of the student population finish college, 75% of KIPP Empower graduates get their degree. Equally impressive records have been achieved by other schools in the KIPP network: KIPP San Jose ranked 41st nationally and KIPP King Collegiate in San Bernardino, 67th.

With the evident benefits for those students most in need, the strong appeal to parents desperate for better educational opportunities for their children (with an admission waiting list of one million names nationally) and the predominantly non-union academic faculty, charter schools represent a powerful threat to the economic and political hegemony of the unions.

These are the primary reasons only a relative handful of charter petitions in California have been granted: 123 in San Diego, 100 in Los Angeles, and 15 in San Francisco. Their toughest opponents may be in Orange County, one of California’s most affluent areas.

Traditionally hostile authorizing agencies have approved only 18 charters in Orange County. The most recent member, Endeavor Albert Einstein Academy of Letters, Arts and Sciences in Huntington Beach, opened its doors to students in grades K-5 last September. Serving 244 students, the school already promises to become one of the top performers in the state.

Founded by a group of concerned parents and educators, the first charter school opened its doors in Milwaukee a mere two decades ago. Since that time, charter schools have expanded into a network of more than six-thousand schools serving 2.7 million students across 42 states and the District of Columbia. The percentage of students enrolled in the schools varies from city to city, from 5-10% in small communities to over 50% in the largest urban centers: 44% in DC, 55% in Detroit and 90% in New Orleans.

Typically, students in charter schools perform 2-3 grades and 30 points higher on achievement tests than their counterparts in traditional public schools. For-profit schools such as the 162-school network operated by KIPP have amassed impressive national rankings as mentioned above. These results have been achieved by disadvantaged students from poor minority communities, traditionally the lowest performing students, which makes the KIPP results even more stunning.

Detractors often challenge these results by accusing charter schools of skimming the cream of the crop or selecting a disproportionate number of gifted students compared to traditional public schools. In reality, only 5.4% of charter school students are gifted compared to 6.7% in traditional public schools. The majority are from low-income families. 63% qualify for the free or reduced-fee federal lunch program compared to 48% in traditional public schools.

Most impressively, charter schools have accomplished all of this on a much-reduced budget in make-shift buildings: abandoned warehouses and schools, unoccupied stores and leased office space. These schools operate on a fraction of the funds per student traditional public schools receive, on average $3,500-$4,500 per student. They are forced to raise private funds to make up the deficit. A small minority receive $7,500 per student. Traditional public schools receive up to $21,000 per student in public funds annually.

Because such excellent results are achieved at greatly reduced taxpayer costs, it flies in the face of common sense and reason to oppose something that would be of benefit to so many in such great need, not to mention the nation itself. Sadly, union politics serve their own interests, not those of the young clients and their parents.

A good education is a right guaranteed to all Americans. School choice is a civil rights issue. Judging by their record, charter schools represent one of the best opportunities for success for those among us who are in greatest need. Parents, educators, school administrators and support groups should petition school boards and state politicians to increase the numbers of charters that are granted.

The primacy of union power needs to end. Their control over the destinies of millions of children needs to be challenged. Nothing less than the future of our country is at stake. It needs to be our fight to the finish.

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About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

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