Governor Newsom Fails to Put Pressure on Teachers Unions to Reopen Public Schools

By Brandon Ristoff
January 25, 2021

Late last month, Governor Newsom announced a $2 billion plan to support reopening K-6 public schools for in-person learning by providing districts money if they agree to a timetable for reopening starting in mid-February.

But Newsom is playing both sides. He’s trying to support both families who want their kids back in school and the teachers unions who spent over a million dollars to make him governor and want schools to remain closed. Newsom assured the latter that he won’t force a reopening (he referred to that as a “top down” approach). Instead, he says that his administration, the school districts, and the teachers unions should be working together to reopen schools.

But if recent history is any guide, there is no sign that there will be cooperation with the California teachers unions any time soon.

Last month, a separate school reopening proposal, known as Assembly Bill 10 (AB 10), was introduced by three Democrats. The plan would require schools to reopen in counties on or after March 1, if they are not in the purple tier, California’s most restrictive. Both the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association criticized the proposal. For instance, the CFT complained that AB 10 was “introduced during the most dangerous time of the pandemic” and that the March 1 opening date was “arbitrary.”

Even leftist California cities can’t work with the teachers unions. Back in December, the San Francisco Unified School District and its teachers union, the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), failed to reach an agreement for reopening with younger students and those with disabilities in late January. The union asked for additional health and safety standards before reopening.

While this seems like an innocuous request on the surface, district officials said the union demands went “beyond the Department of Public Health’s guidance.” Even Mayor London Breed, no right-winger, called the union’s demands “unrealistic.”

What were these unrealistic demands they proposed? According to the San Francisco Chronicle, they requested that lids should be installed on every toilet to “prevent” the spread of the virus during flushing, even though there is no proof of this happening anywhere. The union also demanded that every local zip code in San Francisco had to be in the orange tier, which means they must have fewer than 4 daily new cases per 100,000 people, for two weeks before any schools reopen. San Francisco is currently at 38.5 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

Five major education associations, on behalf of California school administrators, county superintendents and school boards and more, recently wrote an open letter to Governor Newsom suggesting that the Governor should not require negotiations with unions in order to get reopening funding. This is surprising given that these groups usually lobby together on education issues.

If Newsom actually wants to reopen schools, he will need to put his foot down and ignore the teachers unions’ over-the-top demands.

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Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.

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