Tax-Free Teachers?

California school districts lay off teachers…then two legislators move to fix the “teacher shortage problem.” 

In a surreal political moment, California State Senators Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) and Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) have introduced the “Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017” which offers a novel incentive for teachers to remain in the profession. Senate Bill 807 would exempt California educators from paying the state income tax after five years on the job, in addition to allowing a tax deduction for the cost of attaining their teaching credential. If passed, the bill is estimated to cost the already burdened California taxpayers an additional $600 million a year. All this is transpiring because of an alleged teacher shortage.

So, let’s see – if we indeed have a shortage, why exactly are districts laying off teachers? In Santa Ana, 287 teachers were just pink-slipped, essentially because the school district couldn’t afford to keep them. Seems that the Santa Ana Educators Association had pushed for and received an across-the-board 10 percent pay raise in 2015. The money had to come from somewhere, and it’s going to come from what would have been used to pay 287 of the newest hired, now soon to be laid off teachers. San Diego, facing a major deficit – much of it due to spiraling pension costs – is about to lay off about 900 recently hired teachers.

In fact, these types of fiscal issues are burdening more and more school districts across the state. So I suppose one could argue that we have a teacher shortage because we are laying them off. But however you identify the problem, the way to solve it is to rejigger teacher union orchestrated state laws and teacher work rules that are mandated in a typical union contract, thereby attracting and maintaining the most talented teachers, rather than giving older, more senior ones – competent or not – more money.

On the state level, defined benefit pensions for teachers, a union must, are causing school districts to go deep into the red and now the Golden (State) Goose is beginning to dry up. A great way to keep young teachers in the field – and ultimately save school districts and the state billions of dollars – would be to offer them a higher salary rather than way-down-the-road retirement benefits that many will never see.

Also, a state issue, the union’s hideous seniority or  “last in, first out” law, one of the statutes that Vergara judge Rolf Treu said “shocks the conscience,” is clearly a deterrent to promising young teachers. Why should a bright, enthusiastic, skilled 20-something enter a field where her worth isn’t appreciated? She knows that no matter how good she is, come tough fiscal times, her job may very well disappear. So she would rather go into a field where her abilities are truly appreciated, and the quality of her work matters more than the number of years she has been employed.

Locally, the unions keep talented teachers from entering and staying in the profession by insisting on a quality-blind way of paying them. In just about every district in the state, public school teachers are part of an industrial style “step and column” salary regimen, which treats them as interchangeable widgets. They get salary increases for the number of years they work, and for taking (usually meaningless) professional development classes. Great teachers are worth more – a lot more – and should receive higher pay than their less capable colleagues. But they don’t. Also, if a district is short on science teachers, it’s only logical to pay them more than other teachers whose fields are over-populated. But, of course, stifling union contracts don’t allow for this kind of flexibility.

Another local way to promote and pay great teachers is to get beyond the smaller-classes-are-always-better myth. To be sure small class-size does help some kids, but for most it matters not a whit. In fact, some kids – like me – did better in bigger classes. But, thanks to union lobbying for more dues-paying members, class sizes are kept small. In fact, as Mike Antonucci writes, “Since 1921 (nationally) we have almost quintupled the number of teachers, more than quintupled the average teacher salary in inflation-adjusted dollars, and also cut the student-teacher ratio in half.” In California, the student-teacher ratio is currently under 20:1. Yet on the 2015 NAEP test, California’s 4th graders ranked 49th in the country in reading and 48th in math. So school districts should be able to give great teachers a stipend and add a few kids to their classes. That would net more quality teachers and higher achieving students at a lower cost to the taxpayers, but the unions won’t allow it.

To achieve badly needed education reforms in California, state legislators and local school board members must stand up to the powerful teachers unions. Until then, all we are doing – SB 807 being the latest example – is putting a heavy coat of lipstick on a bloated tax-sucking pig.

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.

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.

Women’s March Madness

International Women’s Day showed us what radical women are really about. 

March 8th saw many International Women’s Day (IWD) events that showcased elitist women’s anger and victimology. Typical was American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten who spoke at the “Women Workers Rising” rally outside the Department of Labor headquarters in Washington D.C. Among other things, the fired-up union boss told the throng that “The wage gap is real. Wage theft is real.”

Could Weingarten be totally unaware that the “wage gap” – which claims that women make only 79 cents on the dollar compared to men – is nonexistent? The fact is that while men do tend to earn more money than women, when identical jobs are compared, there is virtually no difference in salaries. The disparity comes about because men work more hours than women, take more dangerous jobs than women and typically go into higher paying fields than women. As a matter of fact, according to James Chung of Reach Advisors, a strategy, research and predictive analytics firm, in 147 out of 150 of the biggest cities in the U.S., the median full-time salaries of young women are 8 percent higher than those of men in their peer group.

Weingarten’s “pay theft” crack is especially absurd since that’s exactly what unions do in non-right-to-work states. They force workers to pay them as a condition of employment; the worker gets no choice whatsoever. If that isn’t wage theft, I don’t know what is.

Then there was “A Day Without Women,” which brought out many angry teachers, among others, across the country. In Chapel Hill, NC, Alexandria, VA and other cities, schools were forced to close due to teacher participation in local rallies. The women who took part showed where their priorities lie – not with their students and certainly not with parents, many of whom are single women who had to scramble to find last-minute childcare for the day.

In Philadelphia, hundreds of teachers played hooky, using the day to bring attention to the fact that they have had no salary increase for five years. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan played the woman angle by saying that the “The overwhelming majority of our members are female.” Okay, but women teachers make the exact same salary as men in Philadelphia…and everywhere else, so the mini-strike has nothing to do with “A Day Without Women” but rather it’s an attempt to get a wage hike for all teachers.

International Women’s Day has some interesting facets that the pink-hat brigade may not be aware of. First, the origins are pure socialist. The original National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States in February, 1909. in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. The date was changed to March 8th by Russian women just prior to the Communist revolution in 1917.

In fact, the radical nature of IWD hasn’t changed in a 100 years. The latest incarnation still involves leadership far from of mainstream America. One of this years’ organizers is none other than Rasmea Yousef Odeh, a Palestinian who was convicted in Israel in 1970 for her part in two terrorist bombings, one of which killed two students while they were grocery shopping. Having spent 10 years in prison for her crimes, she lied about her past and ultimately managed to move to the U.S., becoming a citizen in 2004. Additionally, avowed Communist Angela Davis, who managed to beat a murder rap in 1970 and then ran off to Cuba, is on the team. Another IWD honcho is Tithi Bhattacharya, an ardent supporter of the late Mao Zedong who, when he wasn’t bedding young women, was busy murdering them. Additionally, according to the Media Research Center, left-wing Sugar Daddy George Soros has donated $246 million to groups behind the protest.

Another point worth noting is that The Action Network, a D.C.-based progressive online organizing platform, is managing the website and email lists of women’s marches all over the country.  The organization, which has partnered with major progressive groups including the AFL-CIO and National Education Association, has no women on their “team.”

Based on lies, funded by George Soros, run by far leftists, facilitated by a men’s organization, co-opted by teachers unions for their own purposes, International Women’s Day is at the juncture of elitism and radical politics, the combination of which has sent the country reeling for years now. If anyone is still wondering how in the world we wound up with Donald Trump as president, an examination of IWD’s politics, tactics and elitism is a great place to start. Sixty-two percent of white women without college degrees voted for Trump. Now that’s the kind of radical behavior the American people can relate to.

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.

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.

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.