When considering the influence of unions on American society, there are vast differences depending on what type of union one considers.
Private sector unions, for all the criticisms they may deserve, have nonetheless played a vital role in securing rights for the American worker. Subject to appropriate regulations, private sector unions have the opportunity to continue to play a vital role in American society. If they would bother to embrace the aspirations of their members, instead of the multinational corporations their leaders now apparently collude with, they might even support immigration reform. That would elevate the wages and benefits of all American workers, especially those doing low paying jobs.
Public sector unions, on the other hand, should be illegal. They negotiate with elected officials who they help elect. They negotiate for a share of coerced tax revenue, rather than for a share of profits, meaning there are no competitive checks on how much they can demand. The agenda of public sector unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest. But given the reality of public sector unions, it is important to recognize that some public sector unions are worse than others.
Public safety unions, for example, have successfully lobbied for pension benefits that are not sustainable. This calls for a difficult but necessary economic discussion that can only end two ways – either these pension benefits are going to be reduced, or cities and counties across California and elsewhere will go bankrupt in the next major recession. But public safety unions have not undermined their profession the way the teachers unions have.
The teachers unions are guilty of all the problems common to all public sector unions. They, too, have negotiated unsustainable rates of pay and benefits. They, too, elect their own bosses, negotiate inefficient work rules, have an insatiable need for more public funds, and protect incompetent members. But the teachers union is worse than all other public sector unions for one reason that eclipses all others: Their agenda is negatively affecting how we socialize and educate our children, the next generation of Americans.
Work Rules Harm Public Schools
One of the most compelling examples of just how much harm the teachers union has done to California’s schools was the 2014 case Vergara vs. the State of California. In this case, attorneys representing public school students argued that union negotiated work rules harmed their ability to receive a quality education. In particular, they questioned rules governing tenure (too soon), dismissals (too hard), and layoffs (based on seniority instead of merit). In the closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lead attorney referenced testimony from the defendant’s expert witnesses to show that these and other rules had a negative disproportionate impact on students in disadvantaged communities.
Despite winning in the lower courts, the Vergara case was eventually dismissed by the California Supreme Court. Teachers still get tenure after less than two years of classroom observation. Incompetent teachers are still nearly impossible to fire. And whenever it is necessary to reduce teacher headcount in a district, the senior teachers stay and the new teachers go, regardless of how well or poorly these teachers were doing their jobs. The consequences of these self-serving work rules are more than academic.
The evidence that California’s public schools are failing is everywhere. Los Angeles, a city whose residents are – perhaps more than anywhere else – representative of America’s future, is home to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), with 640,000 K-12 students. And as reported earlier this year in the LA School Report, according to the new “California School Dashboard,” a ratings system that replaced the Academic Performance Index, LAUSD is failing to educate hundreds of thousands of students. In the most recent year of results, 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, and 50 percent earned a D or F in math. Fifty percent of LAUSD’s schools are failing or nearly failing to teach their students English or math.
Attack Innovative Charter Schools
In the face of failure, you would think LAUSD and other failing school districts would embrace bipartisan, obvious reforms such as those highlighted in the Vergara case. But instead, these unions are relentlessly trying to unionize charter schools, which would force those schools to adhere to the same union work rules. In Los Angeles, the Alliance Network of charter schools has delivered demonstrably better educational outcomes for less money, while serving nearly identical student populations.
How does it help to impose union work rules on charter schools that are succeeding academically? How does that help the children who are America’s future?
A Left-Wing Political Agenda
The other way the teachers union is unique among public sector unions is their hyper-partisanship. Despite and often in defiance of their memberships, nearly all unions are left-wing partisan organizations. Nearly all of them support left-wing causes and Democratic political candidates. But the teachers unions do so with a zeal that dwarfs their counterparts. Larry Sand, a former LAUSD teacher and prolific observer of teachers union antics, has spent years documenting their left wing agenda.
For example, reporting on the annual conventions of the two largest national teachers unions, Sand writes: “The National Education Association convention at the beginning of the month gave us a clue which theory would become reality when the union passed quite a few über liberal New Business Items, maintained its lopsided leftward political spending, and gave rogue quarterback Colin Kaepernick a human rights award. And here in the Golden State, the California Teachers Association continues its one-way spending on progressive initiatives and endorsed 35 state legislators in the June primary – all Democrats.
A week after the NEA convention, the other national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers held its yearly wingding and left absolutely no doubt as to its future political direction. The resolutions passed by the union at the convention would make any socialist proud. Universal health care – whether single-payer or MediCare for All, full public funding for, and free tuition at all public colleges and universities, and universal, full-day, and cost-free child care are what AFT wants for the country. Additionally, the union resolved to double per-pupil expenditures for low-income K-12 districts and to ‘tax the rich’ to fully fund ‘IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Title I and state allocations to public colleges and universities.'”
Left-Wing Student Indoctrination
This left-wing political agenda finds its way into the classroom, of course. At the same time as California’s K-12 public school students are not being effectively taught English or math skills, they are being exposed to agenda-driven political and cultural indoctrination.
Again, as documented by Larry Sand: “Nor are textbooks safe. Communist and notorious America-hater Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” is assigned in many high school history classes. Zinn felt that the teaching of history “should serve society in some way” and that “objectivity is impossible and it is also undesirable.” As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia. Additionally, Pacific Research Institute’s Lance Izumi notes that pages and pages of the latest California History, Social Science Framework ‘are devoted to identity politics, and the environmentalist, sexual, and anti-Vietnam War movements, with detailed and extensive bibliographical references. In contrast, the contemporaneous conservative movement, which succeeded in electing Californian Ronald Reagan as president, with its complex mixture of social, economic and national security sub-movements, is given cursory and passing mention, with no references provided.'”
Public sector unions are going to be with us for a long time. But in the wake of the Janus ruling, members who don’t agree with the political agenda of these unions can quit, depriving them of the dues that – to the tune of nearly a billion per year just in California – make them so powerful.
Teachers, in particular, should carefully consider this option. America’s future depends on it.
The teachers unions continue to mislead its members and everyone else.
In the latest issue of the California Federation of Teachers quarterly newsletter, CFT president Josh Pechthalt writes “The lawsuits that educators and unions must defeat,” which is referred to as a “special report” – special because it is especially filled with half-truths, omissions and lies.
Pechthalt starts his piece with, “Education unions and public sector unions are facing legal attacks designed to destroy our ability to represent our members. Not surprisingly, these cases are supported by the usual anti-union law firms and wealthy backers. What follows is a snapshot of the cases CFT and other unions are now fighting.”
He then delves into four lawsuits he claims are an “attack on union treasury driven by wealthy education ‘reformers.’”
The first lawsuit on Pechthalt’s hit list is the Friedrichs case which, if successful, would make paying dues to a public employee union voluntary. The union boss skirts the essence of the suit and instead focuses on a secondary aspect. He writes, “While a complete elimination of agency fee is unlikely, the Supreme Court could make it more difficult to collect agency fee payments, which would have a serious financial impact on unions, weakening our ability to advocate for our members and be engaged in politics.” First, if his scenario is correct, dues collection could be more difficult, but only for teachers who don’t want to join the union. And he doesn’t mention the benefit to the taxpayer who, at least for the latter group, could be out of the dues collection business. Secondly, the ability to be “engaged in politics” is rather humorous. What Pechthalt doesn’t mention is that their spending goes to only leftist causes and many donations go to groups that have nothing to do with education whatsoever. A brief look at the union’s parent organization’s latest labor department filing shows that teachers’ dues money went to organizations like The National Newspapers Publishers Association and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. And what teacher isn’t going to be thrilled that the union donated $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative and another $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation? (Only about 13 percent of money given to the latter winds up as charitable grants for those in need. The rest is spent on salaries, benefits, travel and fund-raising.)
Pechthalt’s next hit is on the Students Matter or Vergara case, which he uncleverly dubs “Students Don’t Matter.” In this well-publicized case, the judge struck down the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in California’s constitution. Pechthalt claims that these statutes “protect teachers’ ability to teach free of coercion and favoritism.” Baloney. No one in the private sector is entitled to have a job for life and gets to keep their position over a more talented colleague thanks to nothing more than an earlier hiring date; why should public employees merit such extraordinary privilege? All these statutes do is guarantee that mediocre and worse teachers are on equal footing with the good and great ones. And our poorest children have paid the price for decades.
The union president then rolls into Doe v Antioch, litigated by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the same firm that was responsible for Vergara’s success. This suit is based on a 2012 ruling in which Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice correctly maintained that teacher evaluations require, in part, the use of standardized test scores and the judge promptly ordered their inclusion. However, in a report released earlier this year that sampled 26 districts’ compliance with the decision, EdVoice found that half of them were ignoring the court-ordered requirement to use the test scores. Pechthalt claims that, “While a 1999 law amended the 1971 Stull Act to broadly include the use of test scores, the advocates for education unions contend districts were given latitude to negotiate language relevant to their needs.” Fine. But the law says that student test scores still must be used as some part of a teacher’s evaluation. “Latitude” doesn’t mean “none.”
Pechthalt’s last broadside is saved for Bain v CTA, which he subtitles, “I-want-it-all-for-free.” This is a lie, plain and simple. The plaintiffs in this case want to belong to the union, are willing to pay dues, but don’t want to support the union’s political agenda. Maybe they don’t feel like supporting the Clintons. Or maybe they’d like to decide for themselves if their hard-earned money should be given to the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Or maybe they are actually in favor of the reforms that teachers unions regularly fight against in Sacramento.
Sad to say, Pechthalt is not unique. Distorting the truth is very common with union bosses. AFT president Randi Weingarten has proclaimed, “If somebody shouldn’t teach – if somebody can’t teach – they shouldn’t be there.” Nice words, but she doesn’t mean a word of it. During her reign as head of the New York City teachers union, just 88 out of 80,000 teachers lost their jobs for poor performance over a three year period.
The AFT also got caught in a whopper when it claimed in 2014 it had no agency fee payers – teachers who still have to pay money to the union but have exempted themselves from paying for the union’s political agenda – even as AFT locals reported that thousands have gone the agency fee route. In 2015, the union reported exactly one agency fee payer. One.
It’s not only teachers unions that have a loose relationship with facts. UnionWatch’s Ed Ring has given us a primer in Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public. It is up to teachers, citizens and journalists to learn the truth and start calling unions on their BS. Maybe then their lies will stop, or at least slow down a bit. Maybe.
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.
If Eli Broad’s charter school plan goes forward, there will be a major shake-up in the ranks of LAUSD teachers.
Philanthropist Eli Broad’s ambitious plan to create 260 new charter schools over an eight year period in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students, will have major ramifications for many of the city’s 25,600 teachers. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Times Howard Blume wrote “Thousands of LAUSD teachers’ jobs would be at risk with charter expansion plan” last week. (Interestingly, the online version of the piece was originally titled “L.A. charter school expansion could mean huge drop in unionized teaching jobs” – a more honest title.)
The Broad plan would include places for about 5,000 more charter school teachers, which simply means that 5,000 thousand current teachers in Los Angeles could be displaced. What Blume’s article doesn’t address is just which teachers will be losing their positions. Due to seniority or last in/first out (LIFO) – a union construct that is written into the California Constitution – the teachers who could lose their jobs would not be the 5,000 poorest performing ones, but rather the 5,000 newest hired. But there is a silver lining here. While some of the 5,000 should not be in the profession, many are good teachers and some are terrific. And the latter groups will not be unemployed for long, because charter schools are independent (mostly non-unionized) and therefore not beholden to the district’s industrial style employment hierarchy, so competent teachers will be snapped up.)
Blume mentions that the new plan refers to “hiring from an expanded Teach For America and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors” and “makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified.”
The plan might not make any mention of recruiting current teachers, but clearly the charter schools could not fill their ranks with all rookies. And therein lies the beauty of the Broad plan. Those rehired would be the good and great teachers who are working now because they are qualified, not because they are LIFO-protected.
Broad spokeswoman Swati Pandey elaborated: “We are in the process of listening to educators and community members to determine how best to support the dramatic growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles. We know that without great teachers, there can be no great public schools. We’re eager to engage and support teachers as part of this work.”
Needless to say, United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl had a different take. He said, “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union, which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.”
The experience of being in a union…? What?! And where does he get the idea that only unionized teachers dare to speak up about “curriculum and school conditions?”
But then again, maybe the UTLA boss is just mouthing the union party line and his transparency should be applauded. In 2009 UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs. Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers.” (Yes, for Teachers-of-the-Year and incompetents alike, LIFO does ensure “equal treatment.”)
Others who actually have children’s and parents’ best interests at heart have a different view, however. Alluding to the teachers unions’ claim that thousands of teachers will need to be recruited over the next decade, Jim Blew, president of the Sacramento-based advocacy group StudentsFirst, said, “… they say there’s no room for teachers from organizations with proven, documented records of creating quality teachers…. L.A. needs more great teachers, and everyone should welcome them regardless of who recruited them to the city.”
Jason Mandell, Director, Advocacy Communications of the California Charter School Association (CCSA) added, “Great teachers change students’ lives. Charter school teachers do that every day and the evidence is in their students’ progress. Teachers are the heroes of the charter school movement.”
And parents agree with both Blew and Mandell.
As CCSA points out, there are 40,000 kids 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. Also, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the recently released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores showed that only one-third of students in traditional LA schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math, while LA charter students far outpaced their counterparts.
It should be noted that the current seniority and tenure laws, both of which are toxic to students, are imperiled. In the Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled these byzantine legal protections unconstitutional and went on to say that “it shocks the conscience.” However, the state and the teachers unions are appealing the decision. And even if Treu’s decision is upheld, we have no guarantee that the archaic statutes will be replaced by anything much better.
In summing up the situation, we are left with the following:
- Charters allow children to escape from the antiquated zip-code monopoly education system.
- Charters only flourish if parents choose to send their kids there.
- Kids on average get a better education in charters.
- Good teachers will always find work.
- Charters will choose and retain the best teachers who fit in with their mission.
- Poor-performing teachers will find it difficult to stay in the field.
- Unions will have less money and power, due to diminishing ranks.
In other words, the Broad plan is a win-win-win situation for good teachers, children and their families. Mr. Caputo-Pearl, does that matter to you at all?
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.
A union-led initiative wants to eliminate Prop. 13 benefits for businesses.
California’s Prop. 13, wildly popular on both sides of the political aisle, is under siege by unions. Using the Orwellian name “Make It Fair,” a coalition led by the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, SEIU and their friends has decided that they can milk businesses to the tune of $9 billion a year via a new ballot initiative.
As Dan Walters explains, “Proposition 13 limits property taxes on all forms of property to 1 percent of value, plus what’s needed to retire bonds and other debts, and limits increases in value to no more than 2 percent a year, except when properties change hands. Newly constructed homes and commercial buildings are placed on the tax roll at their initial values, but are protected by the limits thereafter.”
While it is true that there are a few loopholes which probably should be addressed on the commercial side of Prop. 13, the promoters of the so-called split roll initiative are using that as an excuse to essentially gut the tax protections for businesses. It is tantamount to owning a smooth-running automobile with an oil leak and being told you should ditch the car. To that end, Jon Coupal and Robert Lapsley joined together in 2014 to sponsor a reform bill that would have eliminated the loopholes. They explain,
AB 2371 was authored by the chair of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, Raul Bocanegra, and San Francisco-area Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and supported by a broad coalition of business and taxpayer organizations. Most importantly, we also had the support of the California Tax Reform Association (who is pursuing the split roll initiative) as it passed overwhelmingly off the Assembly floor.
But then a strange thing happened on the way to the Senate. The California Tax Reform Association suddenly flip-flopped and withdrew its support in the Senate, saying that AB 2371 was not real reform after all. Why? Because they realized that taking care of a potential problem would actually create a bigger problem for their political agenda to pass a split roll initiative next year. The California Tax Reform Association and other groups want to preserve the ‘loophole’ issue as one of their key messages in the 2016 campaign.
The unions would have us think that the state of California doesn’t receive its fair share of taxes. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, and most of us who pay them as residents and property owners in Taxifornia know it. As San Diego tax fighter Richard Rider informs us:
CA now has by far the nation’s highest state income tax rate. We are 21% higher than 2nd place Hawaii, 34% higher than Oregon, and a heck of a lot higher than all the rest – including 7 states with zero state income tax – and 2 more that tax only dividends and interest income.
CA is so bad, we also have the 2nd highest state income tax bracket. AND the 3rd. Plus the 5th and 8th.
CA has the highest state sales tax rate in the nation. 7.5% (does not include local sales taxes). Two new 2015 bills seek a combined $10 billion++ CA state and local sales tax increase. At least one will likely pass.
CA has the nation’s 2nd highest gas tax at 63.8 cents/gallon (Jan., 2015). Add in the new 10-15 cent CA “cap and trade” cost and CA is easily #1. National average is 48.3 cents. Yet CA has the 6th worst highways.
CA in 2014 ranked 17th highest in per capita property taxes (including commercial) – the only major tax where we are not in the worst ten states. But the median CA property tax per owner-occupied home was the 10th highest in the nation in 2009 (latest year available).
That the teachers unions are promoting another tax raise at this time is especially galling. Due at least in part to the union-orchestrated Prop. 30 in 2012, Governor Jerry Brown has just announced a revised budget which will see billions headed for schools over the next few years, including $3.1 billion for the current year and $2.7 billion for next year. K-12 education funding will increase $3,000 per pupil – a 45 percent boost – over 2011-12 levels.
But is it possible that the unions will be affected by their own proposition? As Mike Antonucci points out, it isn’t clear if they will be exempt from the provisions in the initiative. CTA’s building in Burlingame is assessed at $22 million and its 2014 tax liability was $265,000 or about the same 1.2 percent rate my wife and I pay for our home in Los Angeles. CTA’s and other unions’ tax bills could increase considerably if the prop flies. So it would hardly be a surprise if they tried to carve out an exemption for themselves. (Please keep in mind that that at the same time CTA is trying to stick it to tax-weary Californians, it brings in about $185 million a year in forced dues and pays not a penny in state and federal income tax.)
However, even if CTA and other public employee unions are not exempted, they may figure that they will still make out because that extra $9 billion will enable the state to hire busloads of new employees, all of whom will be forced to pay the unions if they want to work. In short, it will be an investment with a great ROI.
If successful, what are the ramifications of this initiative for California? The Orange County Register points to a March 2012 study from the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy’s Davenport Institute. It found that “adopting such a ‘split-roll’ property tax would result in a loss of nearly 400,000 jobs and $72 billion in economic activity in the first five years.”
Grim news for Californians. However, Texans are grinning ear-to-ear, baking cookies and ordering evermore welcome mats.
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.
… and continue to block any and every meaningful reform the California state legislature has to offer.
On May Day (how fitting!) the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers filed their appeal of the Vergara decision. In that 2014 ruling, Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down California’s teacher tenure, layoff and dismissal laws, claiming that they deny students access to a quality public education, especially those from poor and minority families.
In a PR move, union bosses have been taking their rather lame case to the media. CTA president Dean Vogel somehow managed to maintain a straight face when he stated, “This suit was never about helping students. As educators we believe every student has the right to a caring, qualified and committed teacher and that is why we are appealing the judge’s misguided decision.” Then, tossing in some class warfare for flavor, he added that the judge failed to take into consideration “the impact of a severe lack of funding and growth in poverty which are some of the most important factors impacting student achievement.” (Actually, most studies have shown that the most important factor in student achievement is the effectiveness of the teacher.)
CFT President Josh Pechthalt, avoiding the merits of the case, did his typical “class warfare first, last and always” song and dance. “Wealthy anti-union advocates like David Welch, the funder of this suit, are obscuring the real problems of public education, which are best addressed by restoring funding to programs that ensure student success. It is not coincidental that the law firm he retained is one of corporate America’s leading anti-worker, anti-union firms.” (Increasing funding doesn’t “ensure” anything. Far from it. We have almost tripled education spending in forty years with nothing to show for it.)
A confident Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, said she fully expects the California Court of Appeal will return education policy to where it belongs: the legislature. “Every student deserves a highly effective teacher in his or her classroom. The California legislature has worked to provide fair due process protections that ensure quality teachers are in every classroom. Due process prevents good teachers from being fired for bad reasons, and it protects teachers’ professional judgment and academic freedom.” (“Due process long ago morphed into “undue” process; even pedophiles have a hard time getting the ax.)
Perhaps the NEA’s leader’s comments are most galling of all. First she seems to forget that a whole load of ugly Jim Crow laws were eradicated by the courts. I highly doubt that Eskelsen García would have groused about judicial activism in those cases. (By the way, Judge Treu did not make any laws; he just ruled that several laws on the books are unconstitutional.) Another reason her “policy belongs in the legislature” comment is nonsense is that CTA has a lock on that body. With its forced dues scheme, every public school teacher in the Golden State is made to fork over on average more than $1,000 a year, with much of that money going to buy legislators. Parents, kids and taxpayers have no mechanism to match the union’s wildly unfair advantage. So in essence, Eskelsen García is forcing us to play cards – but only with a deck that the unions have carefully stacked. It is commonly said that CTA is an important wing of the Democratic Party in California. It’s more accurate to say that the Democratic Party is really a wing of the powerful California union.
In fact, prior to Eskelsen García’s statement, several California state legislators already had attempted to pass legislation with Vergara in mind.
• Assembly Bill 1044 (Assemblywoman Catherine Baker, R-Dublin) would have eliminated “last-in-first-out” by declaring seniority cannot be the sole factor governing layoffs.
• AB 1248 (Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside) would have extended from two to three years how long it takes for teachers to win tenure and would allow administrators to revoke tenure if teachers have consecutive poor performance reviews.
• AB 1078 (Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank) would have increased the number of ratings teachers could be assigned and would require educators to be evaluated in part based on student test scores.
Not surprisingly, these bills – modest as they were – never really had a chance. Each one was summarily killed in the CTA owned-and-operated education committee in the State Assembly.
Then there was AB 1495, introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. Whereas existing state law calls for two teacher ratings – satisfactory and unsatisfactory – Weber’s bill would have added a third teacher rating of “needs improvement” to the state’s minimum requirement for evaluations. It would also call on districts to put teachers who are not rated fully satisfactory first in line for professional coaching. This sensible bill garnered support from the likes of EdVoice, Students Matter and StudentsFirst – all Sacramento student advocacy groups. But CTA’s cronies in the Assembly education committee snuffed out this bill too. That prompted Weber, no shrinking violet, to lash out at her fellow Democrats. As reported by LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron, she said, “When I see what’s going on, I’m offended, as a senior member of this committee, who has probably more educational background and experience than all ya’ll put together on top of each other.” She added, “Obviously, it was orchestrated by the teachers union to not let the bill out. It was purely political.” Shirley surely gets it.
There is one bill, however, that the teachers unions have not taken a position on … yet. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada-Flintridge, has concocted SB 499. Her teacher evaluation bill requires teachers to be evaluated in part on student progress, including such objective measures as testing, but – and it is a very big but – mandates that the specifics be worked out as part of the union-school district collective bargaining agreement. However, giving unions more negotiating power over evaluations would be a problem said Nancy Espinoza, a legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association in testimony before the Senate Education Committee a couple of weeks ago. “We are going from developing evaluation standards to negotiating them. That is a tremendous change.” It creates opportunities, she said, for teachers unions “to leverage evaluation standards related to student achievement for gains related to salary” and would likely increase the frequency of an impasse in negotiations “and concerted actions like strikes.”
Also weighing in against the bill is a coalition of groups including Democrats for Education Reform and the California Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to Liu, it mentioned “Offering unions this power affords them the opportunity and incentive to water down teacher evaluations.”
StudentsFirst called the bill misguided, claiming it ignored research on what makes an evaluation effective, and puts the state at risk of losing federal support.
Bill Lucia, CEO of EdVoice, called retaining school boards’ authority over evaluation criteria a non-negotiable “bright-line issue.”
In defending her bill, Liu said that “buy-in from teachers” is critical for evaluations to be useful in helping teachers improve. “Teachers need to be at the table to discuss goals of an evaluation. Their voice needs to be heard and heard loudly.”
But buy-in from teachers is not important in Sacramento. The only buy-in there that matters is from the teachers unions. Liu’s – and every other education bill – is in the unions’ hands. Until the Vergara appeals are exhausted, that is the unpleasant fact of life.
Bain v. CTA is the latest lawsuit to challenge teacher union hegemony.
For the third time in three years, a lawsuit has been filed in California that challenges the way the teachers unions do business. In May 2012, eight California public school children filed Vergara et al v. the State of California et al in an attempt to “strike down outdated state laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers.” Realizing that some of their most cherished work rules were in jeopardy, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) chose to join the case as defendants in May 2013.
But three days before they signed on to Vergara, the unions were targeted again. On April 29, 2013, the Center for Individual Rights filed suit on behalf of ten California teachers against CTA and the National Education Association (NEA). The Friedrichs case challenges the constitutionality of California’s agency shop law, which forces public school educators to pay dues to a teachers union whether they want to or not.
Now in April 2015, the teachers unions are facing yet another rebellion by some of its members. Bain et al v. CTA et al, a lawsuit brought by StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based activist outfit founded by Michelle Rhee, was filed on behalf of four public school teachers in federal court in California. It challenges a union rule concerning members who refuse to pay the political portion of their dues. Contrary to what many believe, teachers are not forced to join a union as a condition of employment in California, but they are forced to pay dues. Most pay the full share, typically over $1,000 a year, but some opt out of paying the political or “non-chargeable” part, which brings their yearly outlay down to about $600. However, to become “agency fee payers,” those teachers must resign from the union and relinquish most perks they had by being full dues-paying members. And this is at the heart of Bain. As EdSource’s John Fensterwald writes,
Although paying this portion is optional, the teachers charge that the unions punish those who choose not to pay it by kicking them out of the union and denying them additional economic benefits, such as better disability and life insurance policies. The unions provide those benefits only to members. This coercion, the teachers argue, violates their constitutional right to free speech. About one in 10 teachers in California have opted out of paying the portion of dues supporting politicking and lobbying.
In addition to losing various types of insurance, the affected teachers also give up the right to vote for their union rep or their contract, the chance to sit on certain school committees, legal representation in cases of employment disputes, death and dismemberment compensation, disaster relief, representation at dismissal hearings and many other benefits.
The question becomes, “Why should a teacher lose a whole array of perks just because they refuse to pay the third or so (it varies by district) of their union dues that go to political causes?”
That very sensible question summons up a great number of erroneous statements, hysteria, lies and general panic among the mainstream media and unionistas alike. Let’s examine a few of them starting with a partial-truth from the estimable John Fensterwald. He wrote, “Both the CTA and CFT are obligated to negotiate contracts dealing with pay, benefits and working conditions on behalf of union and non-union teachers.” That’s true; all teachers do indeed become “bargaining unit members.” However, that is only because the unions insist on exclusive representation. The unions would have a case here if teachers were free to negotiate their own contracts, but they aren’t allowed to. (For more on this issue, see my back-and-forth with CFT VP Gary Ravani in the comments section of Fensterwald’s piece.)
A Los Angeles Times editorial claims that the case at its core is “an attack on the power of any public employee union to engage in politics.” How they came up with that assessment defies logic. If Bain is successful, unions will still be free to “engage in politics.” It is true that more teachers may opt out of the political part, thus leaving the union with fewer coerced dollars to spend. But to say it is an “attack” is a great exaggeration.
Alice O’Brien, general counsel for NEA, said in a statement, “The Bain lawsuit attacks (there’s that word again) the right of a membership organization to restrict the benefits of membership to those who actually pay dues.” What?! The teachers in question are all dues payers and will still be dues payers if their case is successful.
Never one to be subtle, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten claims that the lawsuit is “part of a siege against unions by StudentsFirst.” (Before starting StudentsFirst, Rhee – now departed – was Washington, D.C. school chancellor, where she and Weingarten tangled constantly.) In a statement Weingarten said, “This is the same group that has worked for five years to stifle the voices of teachers, and strip them of collective bargaining and other rights and tools to do their jobs.” Then as if to clarify this baseless statement, she added, “The suit cites political activity on issues it considers unrelated to education – like gun control, for example.”
The Friedrichs case, with a possible Supreme Court decision next year, is much further along than Bain. If the former case is successful, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the latter. Friedrichs claims that all union spending is political and therefore joining should be voluntary. If it flies, teachers will have an option to join the union or refrain from doing so. That could take the wind out of Bain’s sails as there will probably not be the two tiers or classes of membership that there are now. If all dues are political and you join the union, then all fees will be chargeable and teachers couldn’t then opt out of the political portion because all of it would be political. However, should Friedrichs fail, Bain will be all the more important.
Other scenarios are possible, with the courts, of course, having the final say on how it all gets sorted out.
In any event, the teachers unions’ heavy-handed political arm-twisting would seem to be in jeopardy and their days of unbridled power numbered. And that can only be good news for teachers, students, parents and taxpayers.
When it comes to dealing with California’s successful, independent charter schools, powerful, monied special interests – and the lawmakers they fund – prefer a twist on the adage “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Their version: If you can’t beat them, destroy them. This was manifested last month when four Democratic lawmakers trumpeted their introduction of a packet of new bills increasing state regulations over charters, including heightened public reporting requirements, restricting for-profit operations, greater transparency and promotion of employee rights.
On paper, while the “reforms” use language of responsible government oversight, they represent yet another effort to erase what has made charter schools succeed: Independence from the labyrinth of education codes and laws strangling districts and negatively impacting student achievement.
Since enactment two decades ago, charter schools have faced hostility from teacher unions because most are not unionized, thereby reducing their income stream due to an inability to collect compulsory member dues. Yet charters have been extremely successful in producing academic outcomes for students, largely due to their freedom from the mandates and requirements constraining traditional schools.
Ironically, the bills were introduced within days of the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes release of a study showing that charter schools outperform traditional schools, particularly in urban areas, reinforcing the understanding that charter schools boost academic outcomes for minority and poor students.
Approximately 550,000 K-12 students are enrolled in California charter schools; an additional 91,000 linger on waiting lists. Parental demand for charter schools has soared, particularly from Latino and African American parents who are more likely to be trapped in chronically underperforming schools. Increasingly, parents are “voting with their feet,” seeking enrollment in charter schools or supporting conversion of “neighborhood” schools into charters.
Independent charter schools provide a striking contrast to traditional public schools through their prioritization of students. California’s education system is plagued with laws protecting the pay, perks and rights of unionized employees and ignoring needs of students. Last year, nine students successfully sued California seeking to overturn several union-backed statutes which combined to deny students a quality education. Hailed as the most significant education civil rights suit in decades, the case, Vergara v. California, is being appealed by teachers unions.
Undoubtedly, there is room for charter school reform. But that is not the intent: These bills are intended to squelch their growth by slashing their independence. They are sponsored by the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers and California Labor Federation, which have been overtly hostile to charter schools.
One bill introduced at last week’s Sacramento press conference would establish charter schools as governmental entities and their employees as public employees, thereby giving them an increased ability to unionize. Not surprisingly, the lawmakers were joined by the CTA, CFT and the California Labor Federation – reinforcing the perception that the bills are more about jobs and dues rather than students and learning.
At the press conference, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, stated, “The ability to unionize is a civil right.” What he failed to say is that existing law permits unionization at charter schools, though most employees – about 85 percent – have chosen not to do so. Sadly, Hernandez has yet to speak on the students’ Vergara civil rights lawsuit – presumably because students don’t fund his campaign coffers.
About the Author: Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the director of education reform for the California Policy Center. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.
Labor union indoctrination is seeping into our schools before our very eyes.
Teacher union intrusion into the lives of children is not new. Via anti-child work rules like tenure and seniority, unions have been making their influence felt for years. Additionally, as labor expert Kevin Dayton points out, they have been angling to promote their cause via the curriculum nationally since 1981. Here in California, union propaganda got a big push in 2002 when California governor Gray Davis signed Assembly Bill 1900 into law. As Dayton wrote at the time,
Sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers, this bill recognized the first week of April as ‘Labor History Week’ and authorized public school districts to ‘commemorate that week with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role that the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.’
At the end of 2012, labor’s “week” morphed into “Labor History Month” (or as I referred to it at the time, “The Not So Merry Month of May”). I pointed out that the lessons suggested by the unions were not simply a celebration of organized workers but a toxic, one-sided, politicized bundle of indoctrination aimed at your kids. A few examples:
- California Federation of Teachers – many “children’s stories,” including one which features a mean farmer and the hens that organize against him.
- California Teachers Association – a bevy of “lessons” which can be readily summed up as “Workers are poor; CEOs are rich.” In other words, Class Warfare 101.
- University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program – lots of fun stuff for the little ones including an anthology of stories promoting the IWW, a radical union noted for its ties to socialism and anarchism, and a sanitized biography of singing Stalinist Pete Seeger.
The end of 2014 saw the unions on the move again. Every ten years or so, the California Department of Education tinkers with the state’s curriculum, and in Sept. 2014 the review process was initiated for the history framework. The state solicits suggestions from anyone who wants to weigh in and in November, the California Federation of Teachers sent a proposal to California’s Instructional Quality Commission – an advisory body to the California State Board of Education on matters concerning curriculum, instructional materials, and content standards. The missive, unearthed by Dayton, is a doozie. A few highlights:
- CFT wonders why the Second Great Awakening earns a prominent place in the framework. This religious revival, which took place in the late 18th Century, moved beyond the educated elite of New England to those who were less wealthy and less educated, hastening in the temperance, abolition, and women’s rights movements. Instead, CFT wants to minimize the importance of Christianity and, at the same time, include teaching about anti-Muslim discrimination after 9–11. (While there was an uptick in anti-Muslim “hate crimes,” immediately following 9-11, it was short-lived. In fact, Jews today are targeted for their faith six times more frequently Muslims.)
- The union wants the U.S. described as an “empire” not a “world power,” so as to let our kids know that we have regularly has been “dominating other civilizations.” When I read things like this, I can’t help but think about WWII. Germany and Japan – our sworn enemies at the time – were not raped and plundered by us after defeat, but instead assisted by us, rebuilt to become economically sound, independent world powers.)
- Additionally, there’s a plea for a “Labor Studies” elective and in fact, that’s where we are heading. A proposed part of the revamped standards reads, “Students can participate in a collective bargaining simulation to examine the struggles of workers to be paid for the value of their labor and to work under safe conditions. They can examine legislation that gave workers the right to organize into unions, to improve working conditions, and to prohibit discrimination.”
The massive irony here is that the unions are railing against what they perceive to be a sanitized version of U.S. history, but nothing could be further from the truth. As an American history teacher for much of the aughts, I (and every other history teacher I knew) taught extensively about slavery and other injustices of our collective past. We didn’t browbeat the kids, however, into believing that American history was riddled with treachery and malevolence.
And given the opportunity, will the unions tell the full truth about their own history? Of course not. The CFT labor curriculum would be completely sanitized. The teachers unions alone leave us with a toxic waste dump worth of sludge to clean up. For example:
- In 2000, the California Teachers Association spent over $26 million to defeat Prop. 38 – a voucher bill that would have enabled some kids to escape their failing schools.
- Former CFT president Marty Hittleman, referred to the Parent Trigger Law – by which primarily black and Hispanic parents can force a governance change at their children’s defective public school – as a “lynch mob provision.”
- In 2009, National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel wrote a threatening letter to every Democratic member of Congress, demanding that they vote against the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (a voucher program that helps poor kids) … or else. (They dutifully complied en masse.)
- Despite a massive amount of forced dues collected by the teachers unions every year, they (and in fact all unions) don’t pay a penny in tax. As 501(c)(5)’s they have a special exemption from the IRS.
- Union leaders are always railing against the rich and palavering over CEO and worker pay disparity. However, while the average U.S. public school teacher salary for 2013-14 was $56,610, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten’s income is $543,679 – almost ten times that of the average teacher, while corporate CEOs average $178,400 yearly, just five times that of the average worker.
- In 2012, the California Teachers Association’s bought-and-paid-for state legislators robotically fell into line and killed SB 1530, which would have simplified the process of getting rid of pedophile teachers. (This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. At its 2004 convention the NEA, CTA’s parent organization, gave its prestigious Human Rights Award to Kevin Jennings, founder of the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network. GLSEN is the group that presided over the infamous “Fistgate” conference held at Tufts University in Massachusetts in March 2000, where state employees gave explicit instructions about “fisting” and other forms of gay sexual activity to children as young as 12.)
- On CFT’s Facebook page it often reminds people that the 5-day 40-hour work week comes to us courtesy of the unions. Wrong. Thinking it was a good business move, noted capitalist Henry Ford instituted that change in the 1920s. (The United Auto Workers, didn’t come into being until 1935.)
Will the unions insist that we include any of the above in their proposed “Labor Studies” elective? Of course not.
The unions have big plans for your children. If parents (and all citizens) don’t get involved and protest, these unions will add a load of America-trashing and distorted history to the curriculum, and at the same time indoctrinate your kids in the glories of collective bargaining. If this does not sound like something you want, please contact Kenneth McDonald (KMcDonal@cde.ca.gov) at the State Board of Education and express your thoughts.
Do you want your local high school to offer a Labor Studies class to prepare the next generation of union organizers? In California, students soon might have that opportunity, if the state’s Instructional Quality Commission adopts a recommendation from the California Federation of Teachers and the California Assembly Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education.
California continues to be the national leader in the union movement to use the public schools for promoting worker collectivism. The latest proposal is for the state’s Instructional Quality Commission to recognize Labor Studies as an “elective” class in the next revision of California’s History-Social Studies Curriculum Framework.
See the complete letters here:
The California’s Instructional Quality Commission, formerly called the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, is an advisory body to the California State Board of Education on matters related to curriculum, instructional materials, and content standards. This commission last initiated revisions to the California History-Social Studies Curriculum Framework in 2004.
At that time, activists from the California Federation of Teachers Labor in the Schools Committee sought and won appointments to the committee. Obviously their plan was to work internally to insert union-backed labor education mandates into the curriculum framework. Some organizations and legislators became aware of the effort and publicly objected to it. In the end, the curriculum framework remained free of union-backed labor education mandates.
So far the California legislature has been the chief instigator for inserting labor education into the state’s public schools. In 2001, former Assembly Speaker Robert M. Hertzberg established the “Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education,” formed “to address issues of labor education in California’s public school system.” Several union-backed bills were introduced in the following four years to force labor history into the California public school curriculum. One of them became law. California Education Code Section 51009 states the following:
The month of May is hereby deemed to be Labor History Month throughout the public schools, and school districts are encouraged to commemorate this month with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.
Labor History Month is an expanded descendant of Labor History Week, instituted in California public schools in 2002. The original version of the bill to establish Labor History Week included $150,000 for school districts to buy instructional materials related to it, but that expenditure was ultimately amended out of the bill.
My Writing on Labor History in Public Schools:
Labor History in Public Schools: Unions Get ‘Em While They’re Young – Government Union Review (Volume 21, Number 1), 2003.
Soon, a Whole Month to Subject California Students to Union Propaganda in the Classroom – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – April 14, 2012
How Will Students Celebrate Labor History Month in California Schools? – www.UnionWatch.org – December 31, 2012
Resistance Continues to Union Campaign for Labor History Curriculum in Public Schools – www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – June 16, 2014
Other Critical Perspectives on Labor History in Public Schools:
The Not So Merry Month of May – www.UnionWatch.org – January 8, 2013
Unions Push State Legislatures for Labor History Courses – Fox News via Associated Press – June 16, 2014
Kevin Dayton 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.
Assuming Judge Treu’s rulings survive the appeals process, what will replace the offending statutes?
In last year’s Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s archaic seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional, adding that the evidence submitted “shocks the conscience.” The judge’s ruling is now being appealed by the state of California, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. Should the decision survive the appeals process, legislators will need to pass new laws to fill the void. In that vein, the Students Matter team that brought the lawsuit has come out with their suggested fixes or “policy pillars.”
Regarding tenure or more accurately “permanence,” their recommendation is solid:
Students Matter believes teachers should earn a designated number of effective or highly effective ratings on annual performance evaluations in order to receive tenure; that a teacher’s permanent status should be portable between school districts; and that permanent status should be able to be rescinded if a teacher receives multiple evaluations showing an ineffective rating.
A million times better than what we have now, but still – why is it that teaching is the only profession – or any job for that matter – that warrants something called “permanence?” In fact, this pillar hedges a bit. It says, “…permanent status should be able to be rescinded…” Well, if permanence can be rescinded if a teacher isn’t effective, then it’s not really permanent, is it?
They also have good ideas about the onerous dismissal statutes.
In order to reduce the extreme cost – in time, money, morale and student learning – of the current teacher dismissal process, while protecting the constitutional rights of both students and teachers, Students Matter recommends explicitly including ineffectiveness as grounds for dismissal and mirroring for teachers the same dismissal process established for classified employees.
In 2014, California took a step forward by passing AB 215, which made it easier to get rid of teachers who are proven guilty of “egregious and immoral conduct.” But there is nothing in the law about getting rid of incompetents. Hence, this pillar hits the mark. Public education should join the rest of the civilized work-world, weeding out those employees who are not getting the job done.
They score a bulls-eye with their suggestion about seniority:
Students Matter recommends explicitly requiring that student learning be the preponderant criterion in layoff decisions and explicitly prohibiting the consideration of seniority as the preponderant criterion.
The current last-in-first-out method of picking winners and losers is an abomination. Length of time on the job should never be the sole reason to keep that job. Would you go to a wonderful doctor who has been practicing for 10 years or a quack who has been killing (or just maiming) his patients for 20 years? The question answers itself. In fact, Dr. Quack’s patient load would tank and he would undoubtedly be forced to find another means of employment. Why not extend this line of thought to the world of education?
So except for the minor quibble with the tenure pillar, the Students Matter suggestions are excellent.
And now for the bad news. Whatever legal changes are made must survive the California state legislature, which is essentially controlled by the California Teachers Association. While the powerful union has yet to comment on the pillars, it goes without saying that it will use every ounce of influence it has to fight them.
Permanence: The union has taken to calling it “due process.” This is laughable – a job for life has nothing to do with legal rights. And union leaders are offering up ridiculous excuses for the existence of tenure. Recently, New York City teacher union boss Michael Mulgrew actually said, “Without tenure, teachers can be disciplined or even fired for speaking out on behalf of the needs of their students.”
Criminy, is that the best he can do?!
Dismissal statutes: Anthony Lombardi, the principal of an elementary school in New York City, bluntly stated that American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten “… would protect a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.” Well that may be a slight exaggeration, but it’s true that people who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near children are almost never fired.
In California, due to the union-orchestrated dismissal statutes, on average just two “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s two bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least two teachers at my school alone who should have been let go. Also, it’s ridiculously expensive to get a teacher out the door. Between 2000 and 2010, the Los Angeles Unified School District spent $3.5 million trying to fire just seven teachers (out of over 30,000) for poor classroom performance. Only four were let go during that time.
Seniority: Union leaders are quite incoherent in this area. “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs,” UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School in 2009. “Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers…”
Problem is that not all teachers deserve equal treatment. The great and good should be treated better than the mediocre and awful.
Interestingly, a recent survey funded by Teach Plus, an organization that strives to ensure that urban children have access to effective educators, found that 69 percent of teachers in California agreed that “tenure protected an ineffective colleague who should have been dismissed but wasn’t.” But it also found that 81 percent said that “tenure was important to them personally.” In brief, the teachers polled came down somewhere in between the Students Matter pillars and traditional union hardline resistance to change. You can access the survey here.
Will the unions listen to their more moderate members and act accordingly? Don’t bet on it.
Will the unions besiege their cronies in Sacramento to ignore the Students Matter fixes? Most assuredly.
What can you do? Send letters and emails to your state legislators, and implore them to do right by the children of California. Only when enough good people stand up to the destructive agenda of the teachers unions will public education take a great leap forward.
No matter how high taxes are increased, it’s never enough for public officials and bureaucrats who live off taxpayer funded paychecks. According to these people, there is always one more dollar that is needed to make government “whole.” And being made “whole” in California means maintaining the highest paid government employees in all 50 states.
So it should come as no surprise that the tax-and-spend interests have already begun banging the drum and shaking the tambourine on behalf of extending Proposition 30, the “temporary” tax increase approved by voters in 2012. Proposition 30 imposed the highest income tax rate in America. It also bumped up the sales tax – a tax that hits lower income families particularly hard — to tops in the nation.
The sales tax component of Proposition 30 is set to expire at the end of 2016 and the higher income tax rate will sunset in 2018, so those who feed off taxes are starting to panic.
During the last year, some lawmakers resisted putting Proposition 2 on the November ballot because it required the establishment of a rainy day fund to tide government over through lean times. These Sacramento politicians were concerned that if it passed, and the state had money in the bank, it would be more difficult to make the case that the Proposition 30 taxes should be made permanent.
State schools chief Tom Torlakson came out for the extension of Proposition 30 long ago, and we are now seeing the head of one of the state’s two major teachers unions, the California Federation of Teachers, calling for its continuation while maintaining it is not enough.
Of course, it’s never enough.
Writing in the Sacramento Bee, teachers union president Joshua Pechthalt attempts to make the case that the temporary tax hike should be extended. He justifies his position by claiming California is thriving and upper income individuals, unfazed by the higher taxes, are happy to stay and pay.
Not so fast.
While Pechthalt believes things are fine now that our economy is supposedly in a “recovery,” working families aren’t seeing it. Our unemployment rate is the third highest in the nation and the US Census puts our supplemental poverty ranking at worst in the country.
Pechthalt’s evidence that Proposition 30 has not impacted high income individuals seems to be that wealthier communities, like Beverly Hills, have not become ghost towns.
Objective real estate reports from Nevada and other low or no income tax states make it clear that California has indeed lost many upper income taxpayers because of Proposition 30. The Wall Street Journal reported that “many Californians have arrived [in Nevada] in the wake of Proposition 30. Passed at the end of 2012, the measure hiked personal income and sales taxes.” The San Francisco Chronicle published a piece in January of this year entitled “State leaders closely watch migrating millionaires” noting that “whether you sympathize or not, millionaires’ migrating out of California has serious consequences to the state’s bottom line and is something state leaders are watching closely.”
The other problem with the union leader’s thesis is that we simply don’t know how many of California’s high earners decided to absorb the confiscatory tax rates for a couple of years knowing that they would eventually expire. If made permanent, the existing millionaire out-migration could very well turn into a torrent.
So, instead of asking whether we should make Proposition 30’s temporary tax hikes permanent, a better question would be whether those tax hikes were needed at all or, better yet, did they inflict more harm than good? There is compelling evidence that California would today be grabbing a bigger slice of the national economic recovery had it not passed Proposition 30 at all.
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.
Unions demand apologies, but refuse to make any themselves.
The cover of the November 3rd edition of Time Magazine reads “It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher; some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that.” Accompanying the text is a photo of a judge’s gavel about to pound an apple.
The story, “The War on Teacher Tenure,” is mostly about the Vergara decision – in which a judge found that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in the California education code are unconstitutional. The article focuses on Vergara’s guiding light – David Welch, a tech titan who has found a second career as an education reformer. It’s a fair piece, and one worthy of discussion.
But instead of delving into the merits of the article, the teacher union elite and fellow travelers went ballistic over the mildly provocative cover – the outrage reaching satirical proportions worthy of The Onion. American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten said she “felt sick” when she saw it. After ingesting a bowlful of Maalox, the union leader began to organize a protest and circulated a petition demanding an apology from Time Magazine. The AFT claimed the cover “casts teachers as ‘rotten apples’ needing to be smashed by Silicon Valley millionaires with no experience in education.” While the AFT and Weingarten are busy pointing out the lack of teaching experience of technology leaders, they neglect to mention that Weingarten doesn’t have any to speak of either. To puff up her cred, she frequently refers to her “teaching experience,” but it hardly exists; she taught on a per diem basis from 1991-1997 – a total of 122 days. I think the proper term here is “part-time, occasional, temporary sub.”
Time admirably refused to cave in to the unionistas. Instead, it invited various aggrieved parties to respond online. And the teachers union claque did just that, expressing outrage – outrage at the magazine in particular and at “outsiders” in general. National Education Association president Lily Garcia attacked the “wolves of Wall Street.” Some members of the Badass Teachers Association – a group that claims to represent 53,000 teachers – solemnly intoned, “The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure.” In a blog, Badass Teacher Association cofounder Mark Naison wrote, “Time’s campaign epitomizes everything wrong with the crusade for ‘School Reform’ that has become a national obsession since the passage of No Child Left Behind. It is financed and driven by business leaders, not educators.”
With one or two exceptions, they insisted that Time apologize … or else.
But maybe the teachers unions should come up with a few apologies of their own and provide Time a pathway to contrition. For example:
- Maybe the California Federation of Teachers should apologize for posting a nauseating cartoon on its website in 2012. The Ed Asner narrated presentation promotes class warfare by showing rich folks urinating on poor people.
- Maybe Randi Weingarten should apologize to Marshall Tuck, who is running for California School Superintendent. Her union financed a slanderous TV ad which, among other things, shows a businessman stealing a child’s lunch, and ridiculously asserts that Tuck will allow corporate fat cats to take over our schools.
- Maybe The New York State United Teachers – an AFT affiliate – should apologize for a vile mailer it sent picturing a battered woman, suggesting that if Republican Mark Grisanti is elected as state senator, “he won’t protect her from her abuser.” The NYSUT-led campaign is so disgusting that even Democrats have roundly excoriated the union.
- Maybe Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, should apologize to those of us who have issues with the Common Core State Standards. Doing his best Joe Pesci impersonation, he menacingly seethed at an AFT convention, “If someone takes something from me (control of the standards), I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers’! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children that we teach. Thank you very much!”
- Maybe teachers unions should apologize for their collective mantra that “corporations should pay their fair share of taxes.” The atonement is due because, while U.S. corporations have the highest tax rate in the world, the teacher unions don’t pay a penny in taxes. That means that the NEA and AFT bring in about $560 million tax-free dollars year after year. And when you add in the state and local union affiliates, the amount soars to over $2 billion. All tax-free. (In fact it’s not just the teachers unions; no union has to pay any tax on its “earnings.”)
- Maybe Badass Teachers Association guiding light Mark Naison should apologize to America. He was a founding member of the Weatherman, the violent, hate-filled group that was involved in murder and mayhem in the early 1970s.
- Maybe the California Teachers Association should apologize for disregarding its members and spending dues money that favors only the needs and desires of the union bosses. CTA will end up spending over $10 million to defeat Marshall Tuck in today’s election – most of it teachers’ dues money. Union activists are going all out – walking precincts, working phone banks, etc. – in an effort to stave off Tuck’s challenge to incumbent and union darling Tom Torlakson. But as Mike Antonucci writes,
Odd, then, that the Field Poll shows support for Torlakson from union households in California at an anemic 31%, with 23% backing Tuck, and 46% undecided. That’s after months of hyping Torlakson through every available union communications outlet.
The question arises: If 69% of union households are not, or not yet, backing Torlakson, how did the unions approve spending $10 million on his behalf?
That’s a rhetorical question, of course. The answer is that CTA practices representative democracy in reverse. Decisions are made by the small handful of officers and shop stewards who participate in union activities. Then they justify, promote and sell these decisions to the membership-at-large – using the members’ own money to do so. (Emphasis added.)
But seriously folks… don’t hold your breath in anticipation of CTA or any teachers union apologizing for anything. Ain’t gonna happen. Also, don’t expect them to ever right any of the wrongs that they have foisted on our children, their parents and all taxpayers. In California, due to the union-inflicted tenure and dismissal statutes, on average just of 2 “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s 2 bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least 2 teachers at my school alone who shouldn’t have been allowed near children. This is not a secret; go into any school and ask who the incompetents are and you will get almost identical answers from teachers, kids, their parents, the principal, the assistant principal, guidance counselors, janitors, bus drivers, school secretaries and lunch ladies.
But instead of relaxing their intolerable policies, the unions divert attention by whining about a magazine cover. And while they do that, the rest of us – including parents, serious teachers, community members and yes, corporate types and tech gurus – are trying to make a troubled system better. American children can’t wait a minute longer for the unions and labor-friendly school districts to willingly cede any of their onerous work rules. And they will never apologize for the mess they have made and continue to make of our public education system. In that sense, at least, they are one sorry bunch.
These days, the teachers unions have landed on the wrong side of judges, teachers, the general public and just about everyone else whose lives they touch.
Seems like the teachers unions are getting it from all sides these days. In a Wall Street Journal piece, the writers note that the percentage of elementary and secondary teachers who are union members is down about 20 percent since 1988. But as private and charter schools proliferate and the right-to-work movement grows, the last 26 years will look like the good old days.
Big Apple Kerfuffle
In response to the death of Eric Garner while in New York Police Department custody, United Federation of Teachers command central decided to join forces with Al Sharpton in blaming the police. However, New York City teachers responded by giving UFT president Michael Mulgrew a one-finger salute, and on the first day of school last week teachers all over the city wore pro-cop T-shirts. This independent streak was way over the top for Boss Mulgrew, whose union emailed a brief warning, “…as public employees, one must remain objective at all times.”
Teachers union members remain objective?!! WHAT!!! This followed UFT’s sponsorship of an Al Sharpton rally in support of Mike Brown, who died while in police custody in Ferguson, MO.
Now, how teachers should respond to non-education-related community events is a discussion for another day; the issue here is the union’s hypocrisy. But then again, Mulgrew has always shot from the hip … and as often as not, the bullet has wound up piercing his shoe. Most recently, despite teacher misgivings with Common Core, the union president decided that the standards were worthy. And at the American Federation of Teachers convention last month, in classic thug style, he closed with these pearls,
If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children that we teach. Thank you very much!
If they ever decide to recast Goodfellas, Mulgrew is a shoo-in for the Joe Pesci role. (Extreme profanity alert.)
After Michigan went right-to-work in 2012, the Michigan Education Association decided to play hardball. Most teachers didn’t know that the only period they could resign from the union was when most of them weren’t paying attention to school or union matters – in August. Some teachers sent in their resignation notice before the union-mandated allotted time and thought they’d legitimately opted out and stopped paying dues. However, they were soon faced with threats that unless they paid up, the union would do its best to damage their credit ratings. But the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation took the teachers’ side and brought suit against the union. Then, just last Tuesday administrative law judge Julia Stern recommended that the “… Employment Relations Commission order the Michigan Education Association to no longer limit school employees to leaving the union solely in August of each year. She said the law that took effect last year incorporated a federal law interpreted to give public employees the ability to leave their union anytime.”
Furious with the decision, the union went into spin-mode to divert attention from it, triumphantly pointing to the fact that only 5,000 teachers (out of 110,000 total) had resigned during the August window. But as Mike Antonucci notes, the bigger picture is not so rosy. “In 2008-09, the union had 129,000 active members. The latest loss brings that number down to 106,000 – a drop of almost 18 percent.” Also, as more contracts expire, more teachers will have the opportunity to disengage from the union. Additionally, as teachers see that the world of their non-unionized colleagues does not come to an end without Big Daddy, many will realize that the $1,000+ dues they pay on a yearly basis could be much better spent elsewhere.
Hardly a surprise, but immediately following Judge Rolf Treu’s final decision in the Vergara case, which affirmed his original one, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and Governor Jerry Brown (under pressure from his biggest political backers – the unions) filed an appeal. In a dual release, the unions trotted out the usual off-subject malarkey in an attempt to convince people of the evil intent of the suit.
All along it’s been clear to us that this lawsuit is baseless, meritless, and masterminded by self-interested individuals with corporate education reform agendas that are veiled by a proclamation of student interest.
The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts.
He also failed to take into account the impact of underfunding, poverty, growing inequality, and lack of decent jobs in the communities surrounding our schools….
… this ruling doesn’t address any of the real solutions to problems facing public education, solutions such as adequate funding, peer assistance and review programs for struggling teachers, and lower class sizes.
Blah, blah, blah.
While this kind of union spin has traditionally been successful, the general public at long last has become hip to it. In an Education Next poll released in August concerning the issue of tenure – a major part of the Vergara suit,
… Survey respondents favor ending tenure by a 2-to-1 ratio. By about the same ratio, the public also thinks that if tenure is awarded, it should be based in part on how well the teacher’s students perform in the classroom. Only 9% of the public agrees with current practice in most states, the policy of granting teachers tenure without taking student performance into account.
Fair Share Flim-Flam Fades
Every year around Labor Day, Gallup polls Americans on their attitudes toward labor unions. This year a question was added about right-to-work laws, and the responses were not good news for the forced-union crowd. As Mike Antonucci writes,
The poll finds 82% of Americans agreeing that ‘no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will,’ a position advanced by right-to-work proponents. Pro-union forces partly oppose right-to-work laws because of the ‘free-rider’ problem, with non-union workers benefitting as much as union workers when unions negotiate pay and benefit increases with employers. But by 64% to 32%, Americans disagree that workers should ‘have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support’ because ‘all workers share the gains won by the labor union.’
The teachers unions are starting to remind me of a man at sea flailing away for help, but the courts, the general public and even many of their own members are not not throwing out a life raft. Perhaps Mr. Mulgrew needs to start breaking some legs. Nothing else seems to be working.
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.
… but the war is just beginning. Despite a landmark education decision in California favoring children over teachers unions, how much will really change?
On June 10th, Judge Rolf Treu issued an unequivocal decision in the Students Matter (Vergara v California) case which revolved around the tenure, dismissal and seniority statutes in California’s education code. In his 16-page ruling – a resounding victory for students and a crushing defeat for the teachers unions – Judge Treu did not mince words. He found that the plaintiffs met their burden of proof on all the issues, writing, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience…” He concluded with, “All Challenged Statutes are found unconstitutional….”
While the judge’s decision on this subject was crystal clear, much of the media’s responses have been – to paraphrase Alan Greenspan – irrationally exuberant. The New York Times headline – hardly an isolated example – blared “Judge Rejects Teacher Tenure for California.”
Hardly. The judge ruled that letting teachers attain tenure after only two years – really 16 months – is unfair to both students and teachers. But in no way did he reject tenure out of hand; he merely pointed out that California was one of only five states to offer tenure or permanent status in two years or less. He went on to say that other states do it better, noting that the probationary period in 41 states is three to five years. (The other four states don’t allow tenure at all.)
What will a new tenure law look like? Given the California Teachers Association’s unbridled clout in the state legislature, we very well could wind up with a three year tenure period instead of two. A slight improvement, but hardly a game-changer.
The judge recognized that teachers certainly deserve due process rights, but indicated that the current dismissal statutes provide über due process. He acknowledged that “the number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students, now and well into the future for as long as said teachers hold their positions.”
Just what is that “significant number?” If each “grossly ineffective” teacher (the defense claims this applies to one to three percent of the profession) has 25 students in his class, it means that between 68,750 and 206,250 flesh-and-blood school children are getting little or no education every year. And astonishingly, teachers who are ineffective but not “grossly” so were not even considered. I can hear the conversation at a local public school:
Parent: I understand that my son is going to have an ineffective teacher this year.
Principal: That’s correct, ma’am, but not to worry, he is not “grossly” ineffective.
Parent: Sir, would you go to a surgeon who is known to remove appendixes but leaves the scalpel behind? Or a lawyer whose innocent clients regularly wind up in the slammer. Or an auto mechanic who puts brake fluid in your radiator?
Principal: Of course not, but those occupations are not unionized. Be grateful that your child’s teacher is just pretty bad and not one of the “grossly ineffective” ones.
Parent: Ah, of course! How silly of me not to realize that my child’s education is not really the priority of a unionized public school!
There is some good news here, however: AB 215, with the backing of reformers and the teachers unions, would seem to be a done deal. Though weak on dismissing incompetent teachers, the bill would at least shorten the interminable process to deal with teachers accused of egregious behavior. But getting rid of the merely ineffective ones will continue to be a gory battle with CTA leaning on the state legislature to make only minimal adjustments to the old statutes while trying to convince the court that the improvements are substantive.
As things stand now in the Golden State (with very rare exceptions), if layoffs are necessary, decisions are made by a quality-blind last in/first out (LIFO) system. The judge mentioned that California is just one of ten states where “seniority is the sole factor or one that must be considered.” If the LIFO statute is removed from the education code, what is the probable scenario? The decision could be left to each individual school district, but again, given CTA’s influence in the state legislature, we will undoubtedly have a statewide law. Bill Lucia, president of Sacramento-based advocacy group EdVoice, suggests various options might be considered that “include elements of a seniority system but with exceptions made for excellent teachers or permanent teachers willing to serve in hard-to-staff schools.” And if that arrangement becomes reality, how should excellence be quantified? Standardized tests? Principal evaluation? Outsider evaluation? Should parents have a say? Some or all the above? A long ignored law in California which stipulates that a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests should help, but due to the teachers unions’ hardcore stance against using student performance to measure teacher effectiveness, the conflict to replace LIFO will be a bloody one as well.
Nothing for now. While the decision is temporary and will not be final for another few weeks, the judge is unlikely to alter or modify it. And of course the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have already announced that they are appealing the decision, an option also being weighed by the state of California. In the meantime, Judge Treu placed a stay on the ruling pending a decision by the California Court of Appeal. The case will undoubtedly make its way to the California Supreme Court. Thus, a final resolution could be years away. A denial of the appeal in the lower court, however, could remove the stay and Treu’s decision would have to be honored – at least temporarily – even if there is an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The educational floodgates have been opened by Judge Treu. How everything will eventually play out is anybody’s guess, but one thing is certain – the war between teachers unions and the children of California is far from over.
(Prosecutor Marcellus McRae’s closing argument is riveting and provides a good overview of the case.)
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 with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.