Teachers’ union president obsesses about billionaires at California Democratic convention

By Kevin Dayton
May 25, 2017

Billionaires weigh heavy on the mind of the president of the California Teachers Association (CTA).

During his brief May 21 speech at the 2017 California Democratic Party convention, CTA president Eric Heins referred to billionaires four times. He didn’t refer to reading, writing, or mathematics at all.

It appears the CTA leadership has discovered a legion of billionaires teaming up with President Donald Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to destroy public education and “push failed educational policies on California.”

Heins asserted that billionaires just bought two seats on the elected board of the Los Angeles Unified School District (in an election on May 16 – see L.A. Voters Opt for School Choice). He was aghast that voters rejected union-backed candidates in “the most expensive school board election in U.S. history.”

He also accused the billionaires of spending $27 million in 2016 on state legislative and school board races. (He did not provide a source for this number, but an early citation is in a February 7, 2017 letter from the president of the United Teachers Los Angeles to Eli Broad criticizing him for supporting the California Charter Schools Association.)

And the motive for this election involvement? According to Heins, what the billionaires want is profit – profit from corporate-run charter schools and private school vouchers.

Of course, the vast majority of charter schools in California are not run for-profit, except of course for the profit of union leaders like Heins, who earned $280,000 last year. In the world of such government union leaders, billionaires are bad when they won’t give away their money and, where nonprofit charters are concerned, worse when they do.

Heins claimed that “public education is the foundation of our democracy,” although in reality the Constitution is the foundation of our democracy and public education is a tool for the people’s understanding of it. Perhaps Heins didn’t want listeners to consider how many students graduate from California public schools without ever reading the U.S. Constitution or even being capable of reading it.

To be fair, student academic performance was not the focus of his speech. The 2017 California Democratic Party convention was not a time to talk about whether students are actually learning. It was a time to send a “strong message to billionaires.”

Schools are “the centers of our communities, not corporate profit centers.” Education is for “not just white students, not just rich students, but all students.” It is “the great equalizer.” And “public education should be about kids, not profit…. I said, public education should be about kids, not profit,” Heins declared, repeating it to get a more vigorous audience response.

Heins asserted that classroom teachers in California see how President Trump is affecting students, who fear being “rounded up by ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and deported.” Students will soon become sicker, because they are certain to lose health care. And students will accumulate massive debt from college loans.

So what is the solution, from the perspective of the president of the California Teachers Association?

1. The California Teachers Association has “launched a massive social justice campaign.” Attendees at the convention were encouraged to go to the California Teachers Association booth and sign a pledge for public education: Take the Pledge: A Call to Action for the Public Education ALL California’s Students Deserve.

2. A California Democratic Party “Kids Not Profits” resolution demands transparency and accountability for corporate-run charter schools. Apparently the California Teachers Association believes that current government oversight of charter schools is as inadequate as government oversight of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

3. People are “awakening to the call of democracy” through organizing, mobilizing, town halls, grassroots protests, and voter registration. Heins called for people to speak with “one voice for quality public education, health care, good jobs, affordable housing, worker rights, social justice, equity and equality.”

The speech ended with a political call to persist and resist. And indeed, the California Teachers Association persists and resists in 2017.

It persists in seeing public schools as a catalyst to transform society into a democratic socialist model. And it resists the idea that schools should work for parents and the public by ensuring students graduate from the system knowing how to read, write, speak, and calculate.


Kevin Dayton, a frequent contributor to CPC’s Prosperity Digest, is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

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