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Teachers Union Won’t Play Broad Way

Los Angeles teachers union and its friends are livid over plan to charterize 260 schools.

According to a memo unearthed by Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates want to create 260 new charter schools in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students. The document includes various strategies that include how to raise money, recruit teachers, provide outreach to parents and navigate the political battle that will undoubtedly ensue. In addition to Broad, other education philanthropists named in the plan are David Geffen and Elon Musk, as well as the Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett foundations.

Judging by the United Teachers of Los Angeles response, you’d think that Hitler had reinvaded Poland. In full battle-mode, the union staged a press conference and protest rally in front of the new Broad Art Museum in downtown LA last Sunday. Led by UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, we were regaled with the usual barrage of bilge. Perhaps most indicative of the union leader’s ideas, which come right out of a Politburo manual on the importance of the centralization of power, “Deregulation has not worked in our economy, has not worked in healthcare and has not worked in housing, and it is not going to work in public education.” Other telling comments from the union boss included:

  • “The billionaire attacks must stop.”
  • Charters are “unregulated” and will create “inappropriate competition.”
  • “Billionaires should not be running public education”
  • Citing alleged horror stories, “Broad and John Arnold funded New Orleans after Katrina”

Not to be outdone by Caputo-Pearl’s ludicrous comments, retired Kindergarten teacher and protester Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education. Mr. Broad wants to own 50% of our schools. …That’s untenable.” (You’re right, of course, Cheryl – it’s a business venture! An 81 year-old man worth $7.6 billion has an evil plan to increase his wealth by buying our schools.)

The billionaire-phobia has apparently spread from unionistas to their Los Angeles school board cronies. New board member Scott Schmerelson is really ticked. “The concept amazes and angers me. Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.” Board president Steve Zimmer, chock full of righteous indignation, claims that the Broad plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district “represents a strategy to bring down LAUSD….”

While much of the naysaying can be laughed off, some of their talking points do need to be debunked. Perhaps worst of all was Caputo-Pearl’s “unregulated” crack. Nothing could be further from the truth. As public schools, charters are indeed regulated, though not as heavily as the sclerotic traditional public schools. While LAUSD is in part strangled by its bulky union contract, only a small percentage of charter teachers are unionized. The non-unionization factor – along with his far left politics – forms the basis of his “inappropriate competition” claim.

Something that Caputo-Pearl doesn’t address is the fact that wherever charters emerge, parents flock to them. As the California Charter School Association points out, there are 40,000 kids who are on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Broad’s proposal would certainly delight those families.

And truly absurd was Caputo-Pearl’s insinuation that New Orleans schools hit the skids after Katrina. While the hurricane did devastating damage to the Crescent City, a much more vibrant all-charter school system sprang from the catastrophic floods. Courtesy of the Heartland Institute:

Before Katrina (2005) After Katrina (2015)
State district ranking 67 out of 68 41 out of 69
Percent attending failing schools 62 7
Percent performing at or above grade level 35 62
Students receiving free or reduced lunch 77 84
Percent graduating 4 years 54.4 73
Percent attended college < 20 59

However, a closer look at many of the complaints reveals not so much anger about billionaire involvement in public education, but envy that Broad doesn’t want his largess to go to the traditional public schools. But really, why would he do that? He may as well flush his money down the toilet.

LAUSD does not need more money. The “official” per-pupil spending in LA is $13,993, far more than the national average. This dollar amount is really not accurate, however, because it omits a few “minor” expenses like the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds, etc. When all these expenditures are added in, the spending figure comes to about $30,000 per student per year.

And just what kind of return-on-investment do we get? Very little, if the just released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication. The test results showed that only one-third of LA students performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math. (Not surprisingly, LA charter students far out-paced kids who went to traditional public school schools.)

Perhaps New Orleans is the model the philanthropists should look at. Mr. Broad wants to raise almost a half-billion for his new project, resulting in half of Los Angeles schools becoming charters. Maybe he and his partners can be coaxed to throw in another half-billion and make the city an all-charter district like New Orleans.

As for LA School Board chief Zimmer’s comment that more charter schools are going to “bring down LAUSD” – nope, LAUSD has managed to do that all by itself. Luckily, charter schools are there to pick up the pieces and hopefully, more children will be rescued from subpar schools in the future, thanks to Mr. Broad and his philanthropic partners. Standing ovations all around.

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.

Do Newer Technologies Threaten High Speed Rail?

So many lies were told to convince voters to approve the High Speed Rail project six years ago, that most Californians have soured on it. They are appalled that the estimated cost to build, the time to build, the time between destinations and the price of a ticket have all nearly doubled since voters approved a $10 billion bond to kick start the project.

Add to this that the private investment that backers promised would limit taxpayers’ liability is nowhere to be seen and it is little wonder that even the former Chairman of the High Speed Rail Authority, respected independent Quentin Kopp, has excoriated the project as it has morphed into something wholly unrecognizable from what the voters approved.

It is somewhat ironic that Governor Brown, who fancies himself as a futurist (as Governor in the 1970s he thought California should have its own satellite) wants to commit Californians to spending billions of dollars on what is increasingly apparent to be an aging technology. Today’s futurists and tech savvy interests are suggesting that investing in High Speed Rail might be tantamount to buying stock in a chain of blacksmith shops in 1910 just as the automobile began replacing the horse as the dominant form of personal transportation.

The first successful powered railroad trip is said to have taken place in the United Kingdom in 1804. More than two centuries later, the train remains the best way to move large quantities of heavy goods. But for moving people, is the huge amount of capital investment in equipment and track that impedes the crossing of vehicles and pedestrians, destroys neighborhoods and farmland, and degrades wildlife habitat, really essential?

Elon Musk, who heads successful high-tech companies Tesla Motors and SpaceX, believes there is a better way to move people. Musk favors the Hyperloop, or something similar, that would whisk travelers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in as little as 35 minutes. Compare this with a drive time of six hours, a bullet train time of about four hours, and an hour by air.

The Hyperloop is a hovering capsule inside a low-pressurized tube, supported by pylons, which can reach speeds of up to 760 mph. According to Hyperloop CEO Dirk Ahlborn, within about 10 years and with about $16 billion, Hyperloop could become a reality. He believes it would it would be easy to put together, the challenge is to come up with a good business model.

As with High Speed Rail, there are many unanswered questions and hurdles with Hyperloop. However, it does appear to be cheaper, faster and able to be completed more quickly than the bullet train and would be less environmentally intrusive.

Moreover, for taxpayers, it doesn’t appear that public dollars are being spent on the design of this project. Unlike High Speed Rail, the Bay Bridge and the Twin Tunnels projects, keeping this project in the private sector – at least in the concept and design stage – is resulting in some fairly notable progress in a short period of time.

In addition to the Hyperloop concept, rapid advances have been made with driverless cars. Fuel efficient personal vehicles directed by computers show great promise and the technology is no longer theoretical. Google has already built a prototype. And best of all, they can operate on an existing infrastructure project which we call roads.

High Speed Rail’s cost dwarfs all other public infrastructure projects by many factors.  Before we commit more money to this project – whose funding is very much in doubt – shouldn’t we be sure there isn’t a better and cheaper alternative?

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Tesla's Planned "Gigafactory" Will Not Be In California

California loves Tesla, the Los Angeles Times informs us, but the electric car company is ambivalent about the Golden State. In a blow to efforts to stem manufacturing job loss in California, the car company, based in Palo Alto, said it would definitely not build a new $5 billion “gigafactory” employing up to 6,500 workers in its home state. The decision comes at a time when investment in manufacturing jobs measured on a per capita basis is cratering in the Golden State, according to the California Manufacturers & Technology Association.

In a recent survey, California received just one investment in a new or expanded manufacturing facility per 1 million people in 2013, compared to a national average of more than 8 such investments per 1 million people. Nebraska led the way with nearly 30 investments in manufacturing facilities per million people.

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Much of that new investment is being driven by energy-related manufacturing, food production and agriculture, as this Manhattan Institute report from last year by Joel Kotkin on America’s new growth corridors explains. That growth is increasingly concentrated in the Mountain states and the so-called third coast of states in the Gulf of Mexico region. Not just jobs but wage growth has been robust, there.

California is rich in many of the resources driving job growth, especially oil and gas, but the state has refused to allow fracking to unlock supplies in the giant Monterey Shale, while California’s farmers struggle with a devastating drought in a state that hasn’t built a major dam or reservoir to control water flow since 1983. Meanwhile, the California senate has just proposed a new tax on oil as it is extracted in the Golden State, though Gov. Jerry Brown thinks more California taxes are not the answer.

Beyond taxes and regulations are growing business worries about high debt costs in states and localities. A number of businesses who have left California in recent years have mentioned municipal and state budget woes and pension debts. Ironically, as I wrote here, despite California’s reputation as a green economy, it’s now losing green jobs, too, to other states because of its high costs and regulatory burden. You can add Tesla, looking to build batteries for electric cars, to that list.

About the Author:  Steven Malanga is City Journal’s senior editor and a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. He is author of Shakedown: The Continuing Conspiracy Against the American Taxpayer, about the bankrupting of state and local governments by a new political powerhouse led by public-sector unions. He writes about the intersection of urban economies, business communities, and public policy. He has been cited as one of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s intellectual influences (BusinessWeek, August 2010).