Awakening to woke

Why I’m Driving my Kids from Pasadena to Orange to go to School

Beyond DeVos

The Hypocrisy of Public Sector Unions

During the industrial age, labor unions played a vital role in protecting the rights of workers. Skeptics may argue that enlightened management played an equally if not greater role, such as when Henry Ford famously raised the wages of his workers so they could afford to buy the cars they made, but few would argue that labor unions were of no benefit. Today, in the private sector, the labor movement still has a vital role to play. There may be vigorous debate regarding how private sector unions should be regulated and what restrictions should be placed on their activity, but again, few people would argue they should not exist.

Public sector unions are a completely different story.

The differences between public and private sector unions are well documented. They operate in monopolistic environments, in organizations that are funded through compulsory taxes. They elect their bosses. They operate the machinery of government and can use that power to intimidate their political opponents.

Despite these fundamental differences in how they operate, public unions benefit from the still common perception that they are indistinguishable from private unions, that they make common cause with all workers, that they are looking out for us. This is hypocrisy on an epic scale.

Hypocrites regarding the welfare of our children

The most obvious example of public sector union hypocrisy is in education, where the teachers unions almost invariably put the interests of the union ahead of the interests of teachers, and put the interests of students last. This was brought to light during the Vergara case, which the California Teachers Association (CTA) claimed was a “meritless lawsuit.” What did the plaintiffs ask for? They wanted to (1) modify hiring policies so excellence rather than seniority would be the criteria for dismissal during layoffs, (2) they wanted to extend the period before granting tenure which in its current form permits less than two years of actual classroom observation, and (3) they wanted to make it easier to dismiss teachers who were incompetents or criminals.

When the Vergara case was argued in court, as can be seen in this mesmerizing video of the attorney for the plaintiffs’ closing arguments, the expert testimony he referred to again and again was from the witnesses called by the defense! When the plaintiffs can rely on the testimony of defense witnesses, the defendants have no case. But in their appeal, the defense attorneys are fighting on. Using your money and mine.

The teachers unions oppose reforms like Vergara, they oppose free speech lawsuits like Friedrichs vs. the CTA, they oppose charter schools, they fight any attempts to invoke the Parent Trigger Law, and they are continually agitating for more taxes “for the children,” when in reality virtually all new tax revenue for education is poured into the insatiable maw of Wall Street to shore up public sector pension funds. No wonder education reform, which inevitably requires fighting the teachers unions, has become an utterly nonpartisan issue.

Hypocrites regarding the management of our economy

Less obvious but more profound are the many examples of public union hypocrisy on the issue of pensions. To wit:

(1)  Public pension systems don’t have to comply with ERISA, which means they are able to use much higher rate-of-return assumptions. Private sector pensions are required to make conservative investments and offer modest but financially sustainable pensions. Public pensions operate under a double standard. They make aggressive investment assumptions in order to reduce required contributions by their members, then hit up taxpayers to cover the difference.

(2)  One of the reasons you haven’t seen the much ballyhooed extension of pension opportunities to all workers in California is because the chances they’ll offer a plan where the fund promises a return of 7.0% per year are ZERO. Once they’re forced to disclose the actual rate-of-return assumptions they’re prepared to offer, and why, the naked hypocrisy of the public sector pension plans using higher rate-of-return assumptions will be revealed in terms everyone can understand.

(3)  When the internet bubble was still inflating back in the late 1990’s, and stock values were soaring, public sector unions didn’t just agitate for, and receive, enhancements to pension benefit formulas. They received benefit enhancements that were applied retroactively. Public pensions are calculated by multiplying the number of years someone worked by a “multiplier,” and that product is then multiplied by their final salary (or average of the last few years salary) to calculate their pension. Retroactive enhancements meant that this multiplier, which was increased by 50% in most cases, was applied to past years worked, increasing pensions for imminent retirees by 50%. Now, with pension funds struggling financially, reformers want to decrease the multiplier, but not retroactively, which would be fair per the example set by the unions, but only for years still to be worked – only prospectively. And even that is off the table according to the unions and their attorneys. This is obscenely hypocritical.

(4)  Take a look at this CTA webpage that supports the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. What the CTA conveniently ignores is that the pension systems they defend are themselves the biggest players on Wall Street. In an era of negative interest rates and global deleveraging, public employee pension funds rampage across the globe, investing over $4.0 trillion in assets with the expectation of earning 7.0% per year. To do this they condone what Elias Isquith, writing for Salon, describes as “shameless financial strip-mining.” These funds benefit from corporate stock buy backs, which is inevitably paid for by workers. They invest with hedge funds and private equity funds, they speculate in real estate – more generally, pension systems with unrealistic rate-of-return expectations require asset bubbles to continue to expand even though that is killing the middle class in the United States. This gives them common cause with the global financial elites who they claim they are protecting us from.

(5)  In America today most workers are required to pay into Social Security, a system that is progressive whereby high income people get less back as a percentage of what they put in, a system that is adjustable whereby benefits can be reduced to ensure solvency, a system that never speculates on the global investment market. You may hate it or love it, but as long as private citizens are required to participate in Social Security, public servants should also be required to participate. That they have negotiated for themselves a far more generous level of retirement security is hypocritical.

The hypocrisy of public sector unions isn’t just deplorable, it’s dangerous. Because public unions have used the unfair advantages that accrue when they operate in the public sector to acquire power that is almost impossible to counter. Large corporations and wealthy individuals are the natural allies of public sector unions, especially at the state and local level, where these unions will rubber-stamp any legislation these elite special interests ask for, in return for support for their wage and benefit demands. Public unions both impel and enable corporatism and financialization. They are inherently authoritarian. They are inherently inclined to support bigger government, no matter what the cost or benefit may be, because that increases their membership and their power. They are a threat to our democratic institutions, our economic health, and our freedom.

And they are monstrous hypocrites.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Progressivism, Unionization and Political Correctness Are Destroying Public Education

Even a brief glance at the 1908 7th and 8th grade reading lists or the 1895 Salina, Kansas 8th grade exit exam graphically illustrates the profound decline in public education produced as a consequence of the progressives who dominate our academic institutions and federal government. Less obvious is the threat this presents to the future of the American Republic.

The purpose of public education in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries was the development of scholarship, critical analysis and citizenship. Students needed to be schooled in the Three R’s (plus geography, science, history and biology), comportment and citizenship. They needed to develop the solid foundation needed to become informed, responsible, self-sustaining citizens.

Teachers were tasked with a singular mission: the development of intellect and character. Politics and social indoctrination had no place in that mission. They were, in fact, anathema to and destructive of it.

Teaching in that era was viewed as a noble profession, not unlike medicine. The workload for pupil and professor alike was considerable. Class size was large, often thirty or forty students packed into a one-room schoolhouse. Complaints about hate speech, safe spaces, test scores or discrimination were not even contemplated, much less tolerated. Education was serious business.

In the early days, the tools for reading in the primary grades were very limited: the Holy Bible, McGuffey Readers, issues of the Farmer’s Almanac, maps and globes, newspapers and magazines, and whatever Latin and Greek texts teachers and local folk made available. That barebones framework provided a solid education for generations of Americans. It produced thousands of physicians and scientists, and scores of Presidents.

Eight years of school in 1850 sufficed to produce literacy and numeracy for the majority of the citizenry. America enjoyed one of the highest rates of literacy in the world. Eight years was often all the time many parents could afford to spare before their children had to find work to help support the family.

Students crammed the equivalent of twelve years of schooling into eight. Their exit exam, required to gain admission to high school, was far more difficult than today’s high school exit exam (eliminated by Governor Brown last year) and many college level achievement tests.

How can we explain the erosion of the curriculum and declining SAT scores? They are inter-related. Today’s curriculum has been dumbed down and diluted. Under the new Common Core requirements reading lists will be even more abbreviated as will curriculum content. This will adversely impact the intellectual development of the country’s students even further.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that despite rising amounts of employees and rising costs towards education the scores of U.S, remains relatively stagnant.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that despite rising amounts of employees and costs towards education the scores of U.S. students remains relatively stagnant.

A second factor is teacher qualifications. America’s educators are no longer chosen from the top quartile of their graduating class. They are now culled from the lowest third, unlike teachers in Singapore, South Korea or Finland.

They also are no longer required to have graduated with a major in the subject they teach. In fact, half of the math and physics teachers have only a minor in the subject. Little wonder students don’t excel.

There is a pervasive attitude of anti-intellectualism today as evidenced by the plethora of light-weight subjects now being offered in colleges and universities. Academic excellence is discounted and mocked, even as it is envied.

Huge sums in federal and state education budgets are siphoned off for the disadvantaged (emotionally handicapped, disabled, non-English speaker or slow learner). These programs are well-intentioned, but often are funded at the expense of programs for the gifted or highest IQ (advantaged). Should there not be equal expenditure to assist our most gifted students, even as we endeavor to train those who are disadvantaged?

There are countless programs for the gifted in athletics and the fine arts. There are no federal programs for the highly intellectually gifted. They are already considered “privileged.” Those students are compelled to sit idly for hours with little to challenge their minds.

This represents a tragic waste of the country’s most valuable human capital. Progressives consider wealth and genius unfair to those with less. With all too few exceptions, the gifted get the same books as their grade-level peers. That is today’s reality in America.

This neglect is compounded by the consequences of another well-intentioned policy: The greater the gap between ethnic or racial differences in achievement, the greater the sums siphoned away from “advantaged” students. As a consequence of these policies, the average as well as the bright do not acquire needed skills and knowledge. Their intellectual growth remains stunted.

This is in contrast to the early 20th century when graduates of Dunbar High School, the first all-Black high school in America, performed as well as their White peers and included the first Black graduate of West Point, the first Black general, first Black admiral, the first Black cabinet secretary and the first Black female physician.

Benjamin O. Davis, the first Black graduate of West Point Academy and General of The United States military.

Benjamin O. Davis, the first Black graduate of West Point Academy and General of The United States military.

As it is, this egalitarian system punishes excellence everywhere, at all levels of intellect and across all categories of ethnicity and gender. America’s public schools fail all students. Affirmative action, multiculturalism, political correctness, social indoctrination and unionization, all part of the progressive prescription for public education outlined by John Dewey 100 years ago, have dumbed down, homogenized and weakened the country and culture.

Power has been wrested from the hands of the public and now rests in those of politicians and academic and union prelates. This paradigm needs to be upended to have power restored to the citizenry.

Despite benevolent intentions, it is vital to understand the malevolent effect of these policies and the urgent need to change them. Time is running out. Nothing less than the country’s future is at stake. Reform public education and restore academic excellence and, with it, opportunity for all.

About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

The Real Cost of K-12 Education

The annual cost of K-12 education in the United States has increased steadily for decades. For 2015, the cost is about $600 billion. Fiscal reality has not diminished the demand by politicians and their powerful union cronies for even more money, a substantial portion of which would be earmarked to fund the high salaries of over-staffed administrators and trillions in retiree pension obligations.

Reported per pupil spending data vary widely across different studies. Because the figures represent only classroom instructional costs, they significantly understate the actual costs, sometimes by several thousands of dollars as a 2010 study by CATO institute notes. [1]

Actual per pupil spending must also include total operational costs such as capital expenses, transportation costs, administrative, clerical and support staff wages and benefits as well as debt service, which significantly increases the reported baseline figure.

States differ in the amount budgeted for education, often with little to no apparent correlation between number of dollars spent and graduation rates or scores on achievement tests. For example, New York spends about 80% more per student than the national average. Public schools in New York City spend $20,331 per pupil. Their 61.3% graduation rate is lower than the national as well as the state average. NYC charter schools spend considerably less per pupil and have a 70% graduation rate.

The District of Columbia rivals New York for per pupil spending. DCPS average per pupil spending is $19,847. The class of 2014 graduation rate reported by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education was 58%, significantly lower than the national average. The graduation rate from charter schools was 69%.

Large urban centers with powerful political and union lobbies spend significantly more per pupil as Fox Business Network reported. [2] Per pupil spending is $23,356 in Camden (NJ), $20,663 in Trenton and $22,267 in Newark. The inflated costs produced a disappointing 40% graduation rate.

The poor outcome suggests a need for reform, not increased funds. As a recent California Policy Center study notes, per pupil spending by public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District ($15,372) was 44% higher than per pupil spending by Alliance Charter Schools ($10,649) yet Alliance had higher SAT scores and graduation rates. [3] Alternative education options can reduce costs and increase benefits.

Education represents the largest share of any state’s annual budget. It generally ranges from 20-40%. California voters passed Proposition 98 in 1988 which established a minimum level of funding for education at 43% of general tax revenues. Proposition 111 in 1990 amended that mandate which now guarantees additional funds every year.

In his 2015 California state budget, Governor Brown designated $68.4 billion for education. Only 40% is earmarked for teachers’ salaries. The balance is divided between salaries for administrative and support staff and employee benefits.

Because of the lack of transparency, the public remains in the dark about the truth and dutifully votes to approve nearly every ballot measure for additional funds to educate our children. In every instance, it burdens taxpayers with higher income and sales taxes as well as local property taxes.

Inflated school payrolls and paychecks for top administrators account for much of the increased costs. School superintendents, in fact, are among the highest paid government employees. The average salary for a superintendent is $162,000. Benefits such as cell phones, cars, vacations, membership fees to fitness clubs and costs to obtain a doctorate or pay for a child’s college tuition can pad the base salary by as much as 80%.

In California, New York, New Jersey and nine other states, school superintendents make more than their governors, sometimes more than twice as much. In NJ, 80 superintendents take home over $200,000. Governor Christie earns $175,000.

In Long Island, two superintendents take home over $500,000. Governor Cuomo’s annual salary is $179,000. The superintendent for Los Angeles’ huge LAUSD is paid $330,000, double what Governor Brown is paid.

Another costly scam is double dipping, an increasingly common practice. Educators retire early, collect a pension, get rehired elsewhere and pocket a second paycheck. The practice further balloons budgets. California has 5,400 CALSTRS retirees who double dip.

The teachers’ unions lack transparency as well, making it difficult to get data on salaries and benefit packages of their top executives. Dennis Von Roekel, head of the National Education Association, earns $362,000. He actually takes home $460,000 after perks and benefits have been added.

Randi Weingarten, executive director of the American Federation of Teachers, takes home $493,000, significantly more than her $407,000 base pay. Teachers might think twice about paying hefty union annual dues if they knew more than 600 NEA employees were getting six-figure paychecks.

The disconnect between reported and actual costs for student spending raises troubling questions about accountability and financial mismanagement. Equally troubling is the striking difference between the costs for public compared to private schools. Public education’s steep price tag should be sufficient impetus to establish markedly increased numbers of charter as well as private and parochial schools.

The author of the CATO study cited earlier in this article proposes legislation that would require school districts to create and maintain a revenue and expenditure website with detailed data on exact spending per pupil. The online data must be easily accessible and understandable to the public and updated on a monthly basis. A template for the proposed Financial Accountability in Education Act can be found in Appendix B. It is a valuable piece of work.

Poor student performance despite the escalating cost of public education is unacceptable. It is a situation in need of vigilant oversight. 10 separate agencies currently share oversight responsibility for public education in California. Consolidating the bureaucracy would result in significant savings for taxpayers as well as lessen the likelihood of mismanagement or fraud as would trimming bloated salaries and benefits.

The bill for K-12 public education in America is $600 billion. Taxpayers are not getting their money’s worth. They should demand greater transparency and accountability and not settle for less.

A psychiatrist might say taxpayers, not unlike children, have obediently acceded to the demands of their political fathers. Their passive acquiescence has been costly and destructive, particularly to the institution of public education. The need to end this regressive behavior is long overdue. It is time to take charge and start the process of reversing a tragic situation. Americans deserve better.


About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.





Lessons for Reformers from Governor Scott Walker

Certainly there are scores of Beltway conservative reformers (and movement conservatives disinterested in education policy) who are dismayed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s decision yesterday to halt his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. After all, the onetime state legislator and former Milwaukee County Executive-turned-governor has been highly-touted by them for his success in abolishing collective bargaining for NEA and AFT affiliates (along with other public-sector unions) in the Dairy State, as well as for surviving efforts by those outfits and progressive groups to oust him from office. So to see him leave the presidential campaign trail — and leave the stage to the likes of oft-unsuccessful real estate developer-turned-politician Donald Trump and famed surgeon Benjamin Carson (even with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former House Budget Committee Chairman-turned-Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the field)  — is distressing to them.

Yet there are at least two lessons that reformers of all stripes can learn from the collapse of Walker’s campaign. Not one of them is comforting.


Being president is different than being a governor — and voters know it: Back in 2007, a year before the presidential campaign that would come, then-American Spectator Assistant Managing Editor Jeremy Lott and I speculated that competence in managing government would be the top issue on the minds of voters. After all, the complaints about outgoing President George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the economic malaise that was just beginning to manifest were fresh on the minds of pundits and other commentators. Based on that thinking, your editor thought that either former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani or former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would ultimately face off against a Democrat, possibly former Indiana governor-turned-U.S. Senator Evan Bayh or Iowa’s Tom Vilsack, with substantial experience as a governor.

But both Lott and I were wrong. As it turned out, the presidential nominees for both parties,were two senators, Barack Obama and John McCain, with no experience running states or municipalities, while the experiences of Giuliani, Romney, Bayh, and Vilsack amounted to nothing. One of the lessons your editor learned: What voters turned out to be concerned about had nothing to do with competence in running government, as prognosticators see it. What they wanted was a president who understood that his key role has less to do with running a federal bureaucracy that is far larger than any state or municipal operations. This means setting a political agenda for the nation, selecting political appointees who also understand that their job is to set agendas within their own respective bureaucracies, serving as the ambassador for the world’s most-important superpower on the foreign policy front, being a constant charismatic-yet-even tempered campaigner for the agenda he is setting, interfacing with state governments over which the federal government has little real direction outside of subsidies, and exuding confidence and hope even during times when circumstances seem hopeless.

The best way to measure how well any presidential candidate can be president is not by looking at the gubernatorial record. This is because the role of governors — which can differ greatly from state to state — fundamentally different in substance (if not in form or style) from being Commander-in-Chief. It is hard to know how well the governor of a state in which the role is constitutionally weak like Texas or Indiana will compare to counterparts from New York or Florida, where the governors have strong control over every aspect of the executive branch. In general, there’s little about being governor that compares to being president. This is something voters, who have picked chosen governors to become president with mixed success for most of the past 40 years, have come to learn the hard way. The only way you can know how well a presidential candidate may govern is by actually watching them run for the top job. This is because running a billion-dollar campaign for the nation’s highest office is the closest approximate to actually being president.

On that test, Walker failed miserably. From Walker’s poor performance in two Republican presidential debates, to his failure to pick campaign managers and other staffers who could properly set agendas, to his own inability to cast a profile that measured up to the men who had (and currently) occupy the Oval Office, Walker showed that he wasn’t presidential material. This was especially problematic for the governor because, as New York Timescolumnist Ross Douthat points out, his greatest success — abolishing collective bargaining rules that wreak havoc on state governments, municipalities, and traditional school districts — is rather meaningless at the federal level, where public-sector union influence is limited largely to lobbying Congress and agencies. Unable to prove the relevance of his work as a state chief executive to the presidency, and incapable of demonstrating his fitness for the job through an effective national campaign, Walker had little choice but to stop running.

For reformers, Walker’s failures on both fronts may serve as harbinger of what will happen over the next few months. If Jeb Bush doesn’t improve his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, his success in overhauling public education in the Sunshine State won’t matter at all. Same is true for the remaining governors in the field, as well as for Hillary Clinton, whose second run for the presidency is faring just slightly better than the last one. This could mean that federal education policy could be a secondary (though important) issue on Election Day next year. Which, in turn, may lead to an ally of traditionalists setting the direction of federal education policy to the detriment of systemic reform.

Flip-Flopping on Common Core has done little to help Walker or his counterparts gain traction:
One of Walker’s key talking points during his campaign was the fact that he had pushed to halt implementation of Common Core reading and math standards after having supported their implementation five years ago. From ordering the state education department to stop rolling out the standards two years ago, to promising to stop the implementation during his successful re-election bid for governor last year, to trying to cut funding for the use of Common Core-aligned tests provided by the Smarter Balanced coalition, Walker worked overtime to prove that he shared cause with movement conservatives unconcerned with education who wrongly view the standards as a federal takeover of public education.

But as it turns out, Walker’s backtracking on Common Core implementation won him no supporters. Movement conservatives (including a branch of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum) and hard-core progressive traditionalists (the latter of which never would have voted for Walker or any Republican) issued a letter last July demanding the governor to take a clear stand against Common Core implementation and standardized testing in general. As Walker’s now-former colleague on the presidential campaign trail, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal found out the hard way, movement conservatives opposed to the standards, who know that the Wisconsin governor has flip-flopped on the issue, see him as just another cheap-suit politician. For them, Walker is hardly presidential material. As for moderate Republicans concerned about education policy who are divided on the standards? His performance on the campaign trail, along with the flip-flopping on Common Core, simply make him a less-compelling candidate.

That’s when Republicans, along with Democrats, are giving any thought at all to education policy. For most Republicans, reversing the Obama Administration’s legacy (along with that of George W. Bush) on almost every front, and tackling immigration policy, are far more-pressing issues than education. As a result, Common Core implementation hasn’t been a subject of conversation outside of the pages of education policy journals and political punditry. For all the energy Walker and his peers in the Republican presidential field exercised on reversing themselves on rolling out the standards, they would have been better off standing by their support for the efforts while focusing more time on building strong campaign operations.

For reformers, Walker’s failure to capitalize on what Common Core foes claim to be widespread opposition to the standards is another reminder that transforming American public education is not an exercise in winning popularity contests. As civil rights activists and other social reformers learned long ago, rarely has any change that benefits children and people ever been popular. Just as importantly, the fact that federal education policy discussions hasn’t been a defining issue during this election should be humbling.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

How Government Unions Are Destroying America

Not one presidential candidate, apart from Gov. Walker’s last-ditch rhetoric prior to dropping out, has discussed the problems with unionized government as a major issue. That’s too bad, because these problems are bigger than even most critics acknowledge.

When people discuss the need to reform, if not eliminate, public sector unions, the only reason typically cited is that their demands are bankrupting our cities and states. And reformers also usually fail to communicate the fundamental differences between government unions and private sector unions, or emphasize the bipartisan urgency of public sector union reform. Government unions don’t merely drive our cities and counties into service insolvency if not bankruptcy, they are distorting policy decisions of fundamental importance to the future of America.

With a focus on California, and in no particular order, here is an attempt to summarize how this is occurring:

(1) The Economy

California has the highest taxes and fees in the U.S., and is consistently ranked as the worst state in America to do business. California also has the highest paid public employees in the United States, and with state and local debt and unfunded retirement obligations now hovering around $1.0 trillion – nearly half of the state’s entire GDP – virtually all new state and local taxes and fees are to pay for services that have already been performed. The uncontrollable political power of state and local government unions, combined with their insatiable appetite for more pay, more benefits, and more members, has – across all areas of policy – shifted political priorities from the public interest to the interests of public employees. The primary reason for excessive taxes and fees, as well as fewer services and less infrastructure investment, is because California’s unionized state and local government workers receive pay and benefits that are twice what the average private citizen earns.

(2) Cronyism and Financial Special Interests

When government unions control the government, big business either gets out of the way or gets on board. The idea that government unions protect the public interest against big corporate interests is absurd. Government union backed policies create deficits that bond issuers earn billions underwriting. Excessive pension benefits create additional hundreds of billions in pension fund assets invested on Wall Street. Excessive regulations are enforced by additional unionized government employees, to which only the biggest corporations can afford to comply. Government unions enable and enrich the largest corporate and financial interests at the expense of small independent businesses and emerging competitors.

(3) Environment

When it comes to cronyism, the “clean-tech” sector has risen to the top of the list. Government unions are partnering with “green” venture capitalists to carve up the proceeds of California’s carbon emission auction proceeds, a tax by any other name that will eventually extract tens of billions each year from California’s consumers to fund investments that wouldn’t make it in a normal market. From high speed rail to side loading washers that tear up fabric, strain backs, and require expensive maintenance, “green” projects and products are being forced on Californians in order to enrich investors and corporations. But it doesn’t end there. A bad fire season isn’t because of normal drought recurrence, no, the cause is “man made climate-change,” so fire crews have a claim on CO2 emissions auction proceeds. A heat wave isn’t a heat wave, it’s global warming – and since crime is statistically known to increase during hot weather, police agencies also have a claim on CO2 emissions auction proceeds. Code inspectors and planners? Climate change mitigation via enforcing “additional” energy efficiency mandates and higher housing density. Transit workers whose conveyances replace cars? Ditto. Teachers who insert climate change indoctrination into curricula? Ditto.

An entire article, or book for that matter, could be written on the synergistic symbiosis between environmental extremists, big business/finance, and government unions. What about the artificial scarcity environmentalism creates by restricting development of land, energy, water, and other natural resources? When this happens, the wealthiest corporations and developers make higher profits while their smaller competitors go out of business. Utilities, whose margins are fixed, raise revenues which increases their absolute profits. Union controlled government pension funds, whose entire solvency depends on asset bubbles, ride investments in these artificially scarce commodities to new heights. Property tax revenues rise because home prices are artificially inflated.

(4) Infrastructure

California’s deferred maintenance on existing infrastructure – roads, bridges, rail, port facilities, utility grid, dams and aqueducts – has been assessed in the hundreds of billions. New infrastructure to solve, for example, water scarcity, would include toilet-to-tap sewage reuse, desalination, enhanced runoff capture, and – dare we say it – a few new dams. But none of these projects get off the ground, not only because environmentalists oppose them based on mostly misguided principles, but because artificial scarcity enriches established special interests, and because all the public funds that can possibly be found are instead perpetually needed to pay unionized government workers. More pay. More benefits. More government workers. Infrastructure? It’s environmentally harmful.

(5) Immigration

No matter where one stands on this sensitive and complex issue, they must recognize that government unions win when immigrants fail to prosper or assimilate. While American culture retains a vitality that is almost irresistible to newcomers and may overcome all attempts to undermine and fragment it, if government unions had their way, that’s exactly what would happen. Because the more difficulties new immigrants encounter, the more government workers are required. If immigrants fail to find jobs, if they become alienated and traumatized, if they turn to crime or even terrorism, then we need more welfare and social workers, we need more multilingual teachers and bureaucrats, we need more police, and we need more prisons. The unpleasant truth is this: If we import millions of destitute immigrants into America – people with marginal skills from cultures that are hostile to American values – it is a meal ticket worth billions of dollars for government unions, and for every crony business who services the programs they administer.

(6) Authoritarianism

By over-regulating all activity that so much as scratches the earth, whether it’s to develop land, water, energy, minerals; to farm, transport, build, manufacture; to enforce these rules, more government powers are required. Similarly, by upending the cultural fabric that’s nurtured a social contract in America so strong that volumes of law never had to be written, but were instead the stuff of mutually understood courtesies and customs, we invite strife. To manage this, more rules and referees are necessary, enforced by more government. As society loses its cohesion, and as ordinary honest citizens rebel against excessive taxes and regulations, government unions benefit from training their members to mistrust the fractious and rebellious public. After all, unionized government workers are now a special class. As society fragments, they become more cohesive. As the middle class dissolves, they retain their economic privileges. Perhaps more than any other factor, government unions impel the growth of a police state.

(7) Education

To consider education is to save the most important for last. Because everything that is wrong with where our culture is headed can either be magnified or mitigated by how we educate our young students, regardless of their income or gender or culture or faith. As it is, in California’s public schools, students are taught that open space is sacred, that energy development will destroy the planet, that capitalism is innately flawed if not irredeemable, and that the legacy of Western European culture is a primary cause for most problems in the world. Instead of teaching children to develop functional skills in reading and math, they are being indoctrinated to believe that any failure or disappointment they ever encounter is the result of discrimination. Given the demographics of California’s youth, the union fostered educational environment currently imposed on them is nothing short of a catastrophe.

The reader may not agree with all seven of these assessments, but regardless of the scope of anyone’s reform advocacy, they must confront government unions. Because reform in all of these areas is stopped by government unions. Do you want to unleash California’s economic potential? Do you want to reduce the power of the financial special interests and crony capitalists? Do you want to restore balance to environmental policies, and build revenue producing infrastructure that eliminates scarcity and lowers the cost of living for ordinary people? Do you want to stop importing welfare recipients and instead admit highly skilled and highly educated workers who will enliven our economy and our culture with spectacular success? Do you want to avoid living in a police state? Do you want California’s children to be taught lessons that build their character and give them useful skills?

Reformers must recognize that government unions have a natural interest in preventing any of these reforms from ever happening. Addressing any of these issues without also taking on the government unions is futile. Conscientious members of government unions can play a vital role in reforms, by the way, if they are willing to make their personal interests secondary to their duties as a public servant. If California can be rescued from the grip of government unions, eventually everyone will benefit. And as goes California, so goes the nation.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Palm Lane Reform Activists Win Court Ruling – District Immediately Appeals

The yearlong battle with the Anaheim City School District and Anaheim City Board of Education has ended. The parents of the 733 students enrolled at Palm Lane Elementary School have finally been granted the right to restart their decade-long failing school as an independent charter school.

Judge Andrew P. Banks, Orange County Superior Court, issued his 9-page ruling July 16th on the written and oral arguments that exposed the lengths to which the district bureaucrats went to deny the parents their legal rights to free themselves and their children of union control.

The parents submitted valid signed petitions to ACSD in January. They filed a Writ of Mandate after the Board of Education rejected their petition and requested the Court to order the District to accept the petition. The parents asserted they had gathered valid signatures from more than 50% of the parents as required by the Parent Empowerment Act.

The District responded that the parents failed to submit the correct number of valid signatures and failed to include a separate list with the names of the lead petitioners. They also asserted Palm Lane was NOT a subject school and parents failed to exhaust all of the available administrative remedies before filing the writ.

Judge Banks refuted all of the respondents’ arguments, ruled in favor of the parents and rebuked ACSD for their unseemly conduct. On multiple occasions he chastised them for acting in bad faith by their failure to work cooperatively with the Palm Lane parents as they were legally required to do by the Act as well as a formal California Teachers’ Association Advisory on Parent Empowerment Act Regulations dated 1/5/2012. [1]

The Act instructs school districts to collaborate with parents to verify the collected signatures, granting them 60 days to do so in questionable cases and to request a personal appearance by a parent at the district office if need be.

Judge Banks censured ACSD for making no attempt to collaborate, contact or meet with the lead parents on even a single occasion. He also rebuked them for the process they employed to verify signatures, calling it “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair.”

To verify signatures, ACSD hired a temporary employee whom they failed to educate in the specifics of the Parent Trigger Law, failed to train, supervise or provide with a written script for the telephone contacts with parents. They also restricted her calls to parents to the normal 8:30-4:30 workday, thereby insuring many parents would not be contacted. The unverified petitions, designated pending, were subsequently all discarded as invalid.

At its 2/19 meeting, the AC Board of Education rejected the petition, declared the parents had failed to meet the 50% requirement, falling 12 short of the necessary 355 signatures. Judge Banks personally reviewed the signatures and found a minimum of 378 to be valid.

Despite being labelled a subject school by the district superintendent in her letter to Palm Lane parents last October and in multiple internal memoranda, ACSD maintained Palm Lane was not a subject school in court testimony. The designation is determined by the Average Yearly Progress score, a number the State uses to assess a school’s improved performance.

Because California did not issue AYP scores for 2014, another test was used to measure yearly performance which ACSD insisted disqualified Palm Lane from being considered a subject school. Judge Bank disagreed.

Citing a memo from State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson in which he orders school districts to use the most recent AYP in place of a 2014 result, Judge Banks stated ACSD should have used Palm Lane’s 2013 AYP, a test result that capped a decade-long record of failure. Relying on the Torlakson memorandum, Judge Banks determined Palm Lane qualifies as a subject school.

The Court questioned the district’s credibility. One witness asserted under oath that she affixed her signature to an essentially blank page that lacked the text contained in every other copy of the petition.
Refusing to withdraw or correct her testimony, it highlights the persistent lack of integrity exposed during the court proceedings and the basis for Judge Banks’ repeated rebukes of the district’s conduct, calling the superintendent’s comments “troubling”.

The most credible witness in the case was Alfonso Flores, a decorated war veteran hired as a consultant to educate and train the parents in the petition gathering process.

Judge Banks ordered the school district to accept the petition and allow parents to solicit charter school proposals. As the Wall Street Journal noted in its July 21st editorial, “the case shows how far the union and administrative bureaucracy will go to preserve their monopoly, even breaking the law.” [2]

The civility of Court’s language stands in stark contrast to the deliberate misrepresentations in the district’s communications with the parents and the bullying and intimidation their union representatives employed to frighten the parents.

Cecilia Ochoa and the lead parents, Mark Holscher and the pro-bono Kirkland and Ellis legal team and Senator Gloria Romero and her Center for Parent Empowerment are to be congratulated for their persistence.

The school district, elected school board members and the powerful teachers unions have been handed a well-deserved public rebuke. We hope it is the first of many. They have been exposed as acting in their own self-interest, not in the interest of the students or their parents. Congratulations to Judge Banks for taking them down a few pegs.

Not unsurprisingly, ACSD almost immediately announced they will appeal Judge Banks’ decision. Unions do not relinquish money and power until they’ve exhausted all options and are forced to do so.

About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.




Exposing Teachers Union Front Groups Against Minority Kids

Hope remains eternal — at least among those who want Congress to pass a reauthorized version of the No Child Left Behind Act being considered by the Senate this week. Even as the likelihood of passage remains as unlikely as it was back in March, when House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline’s plan was kiboshed amid opposition from movement conservatives within the Republican majority, there are still some who think that the version under consideration now could pass if Kline’s colleague, Lamar Alexander, can get his plan into conferencing. The fact that conservative Republicans are no more interested in supporting Alexander’s plan than that of Kline (and that there will be pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to reject the entire measure without a single thought) doesn’t seem to factor into their thinking.

But the low likelihood of No Child reauthorization hasn’t exactly stopped Beltway players from the usual gamesmanship that has been a feature of past efforts. This includes the American Federation of Teachers, with the help of another group of so-called social justice players to lobby against the accountability and standardized testing measures that have helped more children gain high-quality education.

Three minority children

Earlier today, a group calling itself Journey for Justice Alliance released a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat leader Harry Reid demanding that they pass a version of No Child that eliminates “regime of oppressive, high stakes, standardized testing”. Echoing arguments made last month in the pages of the Hill by Schott Foundation President John Jackson, Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project and wishy-washy education professor Pedro Noguera, Journey for Justice declares with no evidence that testing and accountability has somehow harmed poor and minority kids as well as supposedly “narrowed curriculum” (an argument that has been proven false by research from the likes of the U.S. Department of Education and Quadrant Arts Education Research’s Robert Morrison). As far as the group is concerned, the Senate should pass a version of No Child that eliminates any kind of accountability and spend even more money on a grab-bag of programs that includes “restorative justice coordinators” to reduce overuse of suspensions and expulsions.

Certainly Journey for Justice hasn’t paid much real attention to the Alexander plan for No Child. If they did, they would know that Alexander’s plan would all but solidify the Obama Administration’s move over the past few years to eviscerate No Child’s Adequate Yearly Progress provisions, which have exposed the failure of traditional districts to provide high-quality teaching, curricula, and school cultures to poor and minority children (as well as those condemned to the nation’s special ed ghettos). One can easily argue that the Alexander plan, like the one offered up by Kline, is a roll-back of strong federal education policy back to the bad old days when states and districts were allowed to educationally abuse children black and brown with impunity. For families, especially from poor and minority households, the Alexander plan’s evisceration of accountability makes it harder for them to gain high-quality data on how schools (and the adults who work in them) are serving the children they love.

But none of these points matter much to Journey for Justice’s signatories. Why? Because they are acting on behalf of AFT. This is because nearly all of them are dependent on the union’s financial largesse. And as you expect, this inconvenient fact goes all but unsaid by Journey for Justice in its letter.

As Dropout Nation noted last month, AFT, along with National Education Association, is struggling to gain support for its efforts against accountability (and, more-importantly, standardized testing) from civil rights groups such as Education Trust and NAACP. In order to buttress support for its goals, the union and other traditionalists have had to cobble together a motley crew of progressive groups and social justice outfits almost-totally dependent on its dollars.

The list of AFT vassals signing onto Journey for Justice’s letter such main members of the group as Alliance for Quality Education, which picked up $200,000 from the union and its New York State affiliate, NYSUT, in 2013-2014 alone. Other members include the Philadelphia Student Union (which collected $20,000 from AFT last fiscal year and whose board includes Anissa Weinraub, a flunky with the union’s City of Brotherly Love local), Youth United for Change (another Philadelphia-based outfit which picked up $60,000 from the union last year), and ACTION United, the beneficiary of $49,120 in AFT largesse for helping the union stall systemic reform of the traditional district there. The Annenberg Institute for School Reform, a recent beneficiary of AFT largesse (in exchange for opposing the expansion of charters) to the tune of $49,963), is one of Journey for Justice’s “allied organizations, as is AFT.

Look further down the list of signatories and you see AFT dependents all over the place. One of them is Center for Popular Democracy, which not only received $60,000 in 2013-2014 from the union, it even has union president Randi Weingarten serving on its board. As Dropout Nation readers already know, Popular Democracy has helped AFT in its effort to weaken efforts to expand public charter schools (as well as conceal the fact that the union’s opposition to them is spurred in part by the failures of its Big Apple affiliate to run one properly). Other AFT dependents include the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (which picked up $5,000 from the teachers’ union last fiscal year), Pride at Work ($5,000 in 2013-2014), New York Communities for Change ($10,000 in AFT funding within the last year alone), and Pride at Work.

Remember: Many of these groups do little when it comes to education policy, advocacy, and institution building — other than feast upon the dues AFT often-forcibly collects from teachers regardless of their desire for membership.

As you would suspect, Schott Foundation, which has become the favored ally of AFT (as well as NEA) in its efforts to condemn poor and minority kids to low expectations, is also a signatory on the letter. Befitting its eagerness to earn every one of the $480,000 it has collected from the Big Two in 2013-2014, Schott’s Opportunity to Learn campaign is also heavily promoting the letter through social media, calling the signatories civil rights groups even though just three such outfits — all affiliates of NAACP (which is supporting accountability and testing) — have signed onto the document. But hey, why let some inconvenient facts get in the way of spin?

Also signing the letter: Ten of AFT’s affiliates and locals — including the United Federation of Teachers and United Teachers Los Angeles. As you probably guessed, they also corralled their vassals to sign onto the claptrap. Chicago Teachers Union, for example, managed to convince its cadre of dependents — including the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Pilsen Alliance — to back the anti-accountability letter. UFT brought along the A. Phillip Randolph Institute (to which the union gave $6,550 in 2013-2014), Citizen Action of New York ($5,500), and Make the Road ($5,000 from UFT to the outfit’s political action wing).

The closer you look at the list of signatories, the more you realize that Journey for Justice is just another AFT front group for the union’s other villeins, giving the union (and other traditionalists) cover. All of this for the union on the cheap. Sadly, this isn’t surprising. Given that many of these nonprofits lack the financial wherewithal (even such resources as printers, copying machines, and conference space) to hold meetings and conduct business — and that reformers often fail to extend their considerable resources to help them — it is easy for them to go to AFT and its affiliates for help and even easier to support the union’s agenda in return. That some of these groups are led by middle-class black political and social leaders, who are often more-concerned about defending their pockets and their allies within teachers’ unions (while often refusing to send their kids to the failure mills they are protecting) also factors into their willingness to do work for AFT and other traditionalists.

Yet by supporting AFT’s efforts to eviscerate accountability and standardized testing, these groups are essentially declaring that they care not one bit about the futures of the very black, brown, and poor children for whom they proclaim concern. By siding with AFT, these groups are perpetuating the educational genocide that has wrecked havoc on our children and communities, and have hobbled efforts to end the racialist policies such as overuse of suspensions and expulsions (which many AFT locals, along with those of NEA, vigorously defend).

Your editor would say that Journey for Justice and AFT should be ashamed of themselves. But that would be a waste of breathe. After all, shame requires having a conscience and being willing to turn down money for advocating against poor and minority children.

About the Author:  RiShawn Biddle is Editor and Publisher of Dropout Nation — the leading commentary Web site on education reform — a columnist for Rare and The American Spectator, award-winning editorialist, speechwriter, communications consultant and education policy advisor. More importantly, he is a tireless advocate for improving the quality of K-12 education for every child. The co-author of A Byte at the Apple: Rethinking Education Data for the Post-NCLB Era, Biddle combines journalism, research and advocacy to bring insight on the nation’s education crisis and rally families and others to reform American public education. This article originally appeared in Dropout Nation and is republished here with permission from the author.

A Challenge to Moorlach and Glazer – Build A Radical Center

On March 22, 2015, John Moorlach was officially sworn in as state senator for California’s 37th District. On May 28, 2015, Steve Glazer took the oath of office as state senator for the 7th District. Moorlach is a Republican serving mostly conservative constituents in Orange County. Steve Glazer is a Democrat serving mostly liberal constituents in Contra Costa County.

Different parties. Different constituents. You wouldn’t think these two men had much in common. But you’d be wrong.

John Moorlach and Steve Glazer have both distinguished themselves as politicians and candidates by doing something that transcends their political party identity or conventional ideologies. They challenged the agenda of government unions. As a consequence, both of them faced opponents who were members of their own party who accepted money and endorsements from government unions.

It wasn’t easy to challenge government unions. Using taxpayers money that is automatically deducted from government employee paychecks, government unions in California collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year. These unions spent heavily to attack Moorlach and Glazer, accusing – among other things – Moorlach of being soft on child molesters, and accusing – among other things – Glazer of being a puppet of “big tobacco.”

This time, however, the lavishly funded torrent of union slime didn’t stick. Voters are waking up to the fact that the agenda of government unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest. Can Moorlach and Glazer transform this rising awareness into momentum for reform in California’s state legislature?

Despite sharing in common the courage to confront California’s most powerful and most unchecked special interest, Moorlach and Glazer belong to opposing parties whose mutual enmity is only matched by their fear of these unions. With rare exceptions, California’s Democratic politicians are owned by government unions. Fewer of California’s Republican politicians are under their absolute control, but fewer still wish to stick their necks out and be especially targeted by them.

The good news is that bipartisan, centrist reform is something whose time has come. Democrats and Republicans alike have realized that California’s system of public education cannot improve until they stand up to the teachers unions. Similarly, with the financial demands of California’s government pension systems just one more market downturn away from completely crippling local governments, bipartisan support for dramatic pension reform is inevitable.

There are other issues where voters and politicians alike realize current policy solutions are inadequate at best, but consensus solutions require intense dialog and good faith negotiations. An obvious example of this is water policy, where the current political consensus is to decrease demand through misanthropic, punitive rationing, when multiple solutions make better financial and humanitarian sense. Supply oriented solutions include upgrading sewage treatment plants to reuse wastewater, building desalination plants, building more dams, increasing cloud seeding efforts, and allowing some farmers to sell their allocations to urban areas.

Imagine a centrist coalition of politicians, led by reformers such as Moorlach and Glazer, implementing policies that are decisive departures from the tepid incrementalism and creeping authoritarianism that has defined California’s politics ever since the government unions took control. How radical would that be?

Ultimately, forming a radical center in California requires more than the gathering urgency for reforms in the areas of education, government compensation and pensions, and, hopefully, infrastructure investment. Beyond recognizing the inevitable crises that will result from inaction, and beyond finding the courage to stand up to government unions, Moorlach and Glazer, and those who join them, will have to manifest and pass on to their colleagues an empathy for the beliefs and ideologies of their opponents.

Ideological polarities – environmentalism vs. pro-development, social liberal vs. social conservative, libertarian vs. progressive – generate animosity that emotionalizes and trivializes debate on unrelated topics where action might otherwise be possible. The only solution is empathy. The extremes of libertarian philosophy are as absurd as those of the progressives. The extremes of social liberalism can be as oppressive as an authoritarian theocracy. Economic development without reasonable environmentalist checks is as undesirable as the stagnant plutocracy that is the unwitting consequence of extreme environmentalism. And while government unions should be outlawed, well regulated private sector unions play a vital role in an era of automation, globalization, and financial corruption.

Despite being inundated with a torrent of slime by their opponents, John Moorlach and Steve Glazer took the high road in their campaigns. They are worthy candidates to nurture the guttering remnants of empathy that flicker yet in Sacramento, and turn them into a roaring, radical centrist fire.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Union Controlled Anaheim School Board Forces Parent Activists to Fight in Court

Over 40 years ago, California’s Supreme Court recognized that a child’s access to an adequate education – regardless of race, ethnicity or wealth – is a fundamental right of the highest order. In Serrano v. Priest the Court affirmed “education is a major determinant of an individual’s chances for economic and social success in our competitive society”, “the lifeline of both … individual and society.”

Resolved to secure a better education for their children, parentsof Anaheim’s Palm Lane Elementary School united. On January 14 they became the first Orange County parents to use California’s Parent Trigger law to bring meaningful reform for the school by restarting it as an independent charter school. They filed their Parent Trigger petition – signed by almost 70 percent of school parents – on the eve of the national holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a symbolic gesture of their pursuit of education as the cornerstone of the American Dream.

Palm Lane had been classified as a failing school for over a decade. Sixty-two percent of Palm Lane students are not proficient in English-language arts, and 47 percent are not proficient in math. The school suffered from the constant reshuffling of principals, causing disorganization and disruption of student learning extending beyond the elementary years.

Indeed, Anaheim’s city schools were even cited in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the ACLU seeking dismantling of its at-large electoral system. The lawsuit underscored growing acknowledgment that the foundation of great cities and economic prosperity begins with great schools and student achievement.

But a quality education is precisely what Anaheim City school officials have denied Palm Lane students for over a decade. Rather than accept the parent’s petitions, the District rejected 133 signatures as “invalid” or “unverifiable,” leaving parents an mere 12 names short of the 50 percent threshold. But the District’s inability to verify petitions does not make them invalid. Despite clear requirements that the District reveal which signatures were found to be invalid or unverifiable so that parents can correct and resubmit, they purposefully withheld details – either in an insidious attempt to delay determination that the law’s legal requirements had already been met, or to deprive the parents of their right to correct and resubmit the petitions.

Hence, last week Palm Lane parents filed for court intervention to enable them to transform the school. Explained attorney Mark Holscher, “at every turn the district has done everything it can to try to block the petition in violation of the law.”

Not only do the parent actions open a new chapter in the parent empowerment movement nationally, but they follow in the footsteps of another set of parents who, eight decades ago, similarly filed in an O.C. courthouse demanding equality of educational opportunity. That case, Mendez v. Westminster, was the precursor of Brown v. Board of Education.

The Anaheim District officials are behaving shamefully – at taxpayer expense – and shortchanging their own pupils. They initially tried to prevent parents from gathering the needed signatures, but when that tactic failed, they subsequently concocted a claim that their school is not even subject to the law. In claiming exemption, the District negates clear precedent from federal and state authorities. Ironically, they now seek to ignore their own admission to the contrary in a letter they mailed to parents last October – prior to the parents’ petitions – informing them that the school is not performing well and even writing that “Parent Empowerment” is an option that parents, “dissatisfied with their children’s struggling schools,” may employ to affect change.

Apparently, District officials thought parents would not understand or care. Not only did they understand, they cared enough to act – in the proud tradition and history of the Mendez parents preceding them.

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.

NEA’s Sorry Spin

The latest teachers union PR ploy is pure cowplop.

“Persuading the People on Public Schools,” a National Education Association document posted by the The Daily Beast’s Conor Williams, details the union’s new communication strategy. Subtitled “Words to avoid … Words to Embrace,” the previously internal “research brief” gives us a look into the mindset of an entity that is losing the national debate with school choicers and other reformers. To be sure, a political body like NEA needs jargon, mediaspeak, spin, whatever, to sell its message, but if its latest effort – with the help of two progressive communications outfits – is any indication, the hole it has dug for itself could become an abyss in no time. Just a few examples….

Instead of using the word inequality, NEA is now advising its people to use living in the right zip code. This of course plays right into the hands of reformers who constantly and correctly make the point that throughout much of the country we have a rigid government-run monopoly by zip-code education system. As RiShawn Biddle writes, “NEA leaders will then have to explain why their affiliates, along with that of AFT,  fight vigilantly throughout the nation against the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of choice that have proven to improve graduation rates for black and Latino children.”

The brief suggests dumping educational equity and replacing it with the squishy committed to the success of every child. I guess the monopolists at NEA aren’t comfortable with equity, because using that term leaves them open to blame for keeping poor and minority kids in urban failure factories by waging war on policies that would help them escape.

NEA wants to change the narrative from meaningful, rigorous evaluations to the argument that testing takes time from learning. The union really doesn’t loathe testing per se, but it cannot abide the fact that a teacher’s evaluation should reflect – at least in part – how well students perform on a standardized test. (We really need to lose the test-phobia that seems to be gripping the nation these days. Unionistas and others keep carping that we have “too much testing.” Maybe we do – and of course, too much of anything is not good. We need food to live but too much of it will make us obese and possibly send us to an early grave. But we don’t want to do away with food; we just need eat better and more moderately. Same mentality should be applied to testing.)

Perhaps most telling is that the union wants to use get serious about what works and avoid research driven practices. Sounds as if the union knows that it is getting clobbered by a parade of studies which show that charter schools, privatization and other forms of school choice are effective, and it is trying to divert us from this reality.

The rest of the communiqué is riddled with euphemisms that the union hopes will fool the public. But, mercifully, people have gotten hip to teacher union twaddle and a majority now sees the unions as a stumbling block to school reform.

In a sense there is nothing new about the document. For a while now, the unions have been aware that much of its language has been losing favor with the general public. Tenure and seniority both have received black eyes of late – due, at least in part, to California’s Vergara case – and have been replaced with the kinder and gentler due process and importance of experience.

In another example of pre-document union wordplay, Tennessee Education Association president Gera Summerford, talking to supporters in March 2014, explained, “This march to corporatization – that’s the word that we’ve been trying to use because it does sound a little more ‘evil’ than privatization.”

Maybe some will be taken in by this nonsense. But thousands of kids and their families who have won the lottery (literally) and have been given a shot at a good life via a good education by the likes of Eva Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academies, KIPP Schools and the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program undoubtedly won’t. The union’s “evil corporations taking over education” meme has quickly turned into a tired old cliché.

Like teacher union spin, manure comes with many different names – dung, fertilizer, cowplop, etc. But whatever you call it – it still stinks.

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.

Education Reform: #1 Issue on the Ballot in California

Reformer battles with teachers union darling for top education position in Sacramento.

“Teachers Unions Are Putting Themselves On November’s Ballot” was the headline in a recent article by Haley Edwards in Time Magazine. Okay, this is hardly news, but the extent of the largess is eye-opening. Considering that this is not a presidential election year, the political spending is noteworthy.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, is on track to spend between $40 million and $60 million this election cycle, while its smaller sibling, the American Federation of Teachers, plans to throw in an additional $20 million – more than the organization has spent in any other year.

The reason for the spending orgy is easy to understand: education reform – at long last – has become an important issue with voters across the country. As Edwards writes,

While the issues at stake vary by state, a number of elections this cycle will hinge on a variety of education-related questions, including recent cuts to public schools, growing class sizes, Common Core State Standards, access to pre-K education and the availability of state-funded student loans for college. A June Rasmussen report found that 58% of total expected voters ranked education as “very important,” while local polls indicate that voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas and Illinois rank education as among the top three most important issues this cycle.

In California, perhaps the most ballyhooed contest is not for a legislative position, but rather the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction.  As Fox & Hounds Joel Fox points out, the election is a referendum on teachers unions, pitting reformer Marshall Tuck against incumbent Tom Torlakson, the bought-and-paid-for choice of the California Teachers Association. The SPI’s various responsibilities include acting as chief spokesperson for public schools, providing education policy and direction to local school districts, and working with the education community to improve students’ academic performance.

Typically, in a race that pits union guy vs. reformer, organized labor gets its way. But maybe not this time.

First off, Tuck is passionate, articulate and a pit-bull on the issues. He worked on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley before serving as president of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school management organization. He then became CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s collaboration with the Los Angeles Unified School District to operate 17 struggling public elementary, middle, and high schools.

Torlakson was a teacher before entering politics as a city councilman in 1978. He served as a California State Assemblyman and Senator before becoming SPI in 2010.

Perhaps the difference between the two is best exemplified by their responses to the Vergara ruling, which saw a judge throw out the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority laws. Tuck saw the decision as a victory for kids, while Torlakson claimed it was unfair to teachers. Moreover, the incumbent asked the California attorney general to appeal, which she did.

As writer Steve Greenhut points out, the challenger has direct experience dealing with issues raised by the Vergara case. After Tuck took over some of LA’s most troubled schools as CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, “about half of his teachers received layoff notices because of the system’s seniority based layoff system, which protects older teachers regardless of job performance.” Tuck explains,

The CTA should always be part of the equation because teachers are so important but their influence is too large right now. … The state superintendent is a nonpartisan position, right? Not Republican, not Democrat … and it’s supposed to just be focused on advocating for kids, yet the state superintendent has never disagreed with the CTA. It’s insane.

As a result of this ‘undue influence,’ the state ends up with ‘laws like two-year tenure and seniority based layoffs, laws that we know are not good for kids; they stay on the books for year after year. … Our kids are harmed dramatically by them to the point where the judge said the evidence shocks the conscience.’

Additionally, he refers to California’s behemoth educational code as

… the ‘visual definition of bureaucracy’ and wants to help public schools — traditional ones and charters — receive waivers from the red tape and allow more local control and flexibility. He wants to give parents a seat at the table in determining school policy.

Torlakson and his CTA friends are losing the battle of ideas, basically because they don’t have any. Instead, they disparage Tuck’s previous work as a “Wall Street investment banker.” They also idiotically claim that the challenger wants to turn schools over to “for-profit corporations” and “sell off our schools and sell out our kids.” The October issue of CTA’s magazine, California Educator, is full of anti-Tuck blather, including an editorial by union president Dean Vogel in which he solemnly proclaims that the challenger is a “well-funded corporate education reformer who supports the privatization of public schools and efforts to obliterate due process for teachers.” Also, in a talk a few months ago, Vogel asserted that, “We know who Tom is. He is one of us….”

He sure is.

Invariably in races like this, CTA manages to outspend the reformers. This one, however, may be an exception, as Tuck’s donations have been keeping up with Torlakson’s. The challenger has found some deep-pocketed backers whose donations have matched the free-spending CTA. As reported by EdSource,

Nine wealthy backers of Marshall Tuck – led by $1 million donations each from William Bloomfield of Manhattan Beach and Eli Broad, a longtime funder of reform efforts in Los Angeles – seeded a new independent expenditure committee with $4 million. That brought outside fundraising for Tuck nearly even with outside fundraising by the California Teachers Association, the biggest financial backer of Supt. Tom Torlakson. The CTA contributed an additional $1.4 million this week to the $5.7 million it has already contributed to Torlakson. The new donations, as of Oct. 10, will push expected spending by groups not affiliated with the candidates to about $14 million, split about 40 percent for Tuck and 60 percent for Torlakson.

The two candidates themselves have raised about $4.4 million in direct contributions as of Oct. 10 … That combined total is already more than twice the total raised by the candidates in the 2010 election, in which Torlakson defeated a retired school district superintendent, Larry Aceves. As of the latest campaign finance disclosure period, which ended Sept. 30, Torlakson had about $608,000 left in the bank, while Tuck had close to $700,000.

Money, however, isn’t the only important factor in elections. Teachers unions have a great advantage in races like this. In California, they have easy access to 300,000 teachers who are being told, in no uncertain terms, that Torlakson “is one of them” and that Tuck is the corporate reformer from Hell.

But interestingly, Tuck is getting a major boost from the mainstream media. Just about every major daily in the state, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times has come out – forcefully – in favor of Tuck. The Sac Bee editorial board endorsed the challenger because it believes that “teachers unions have a chokehold on the state’s public education system and that’s been detrimental for everyone, including teachers.”

With two weeks to go, polls show an even race with many still undecided; it’s anybody’s guess as to who will ultimately prevail. I suspect that the teachers unions will ramp up their spending down the home stretch because they know that if Torlakson loses, the status quo is history. And for a reactionary bunch like CTA, that is a fate worse than death.

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.

Race for California Governor Should Emphasize Education Reform

On Thursday, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown will face off against Republican challenger Neel Kashkari in their only scheduled debate. Although Kashkari asked for 10 debates, Brown chose to do just one.

Undoubtedly, a slew of issues will be discussed, from economic policy, including taxation and tax credits, to border security and immigration, earthquake preparedness, California’s death penalty and even the ethical lapses of legislators.

Somewhere in that one-hour debate the candidates also will be asked about their views on education policies and practices in the Golden State. After all, education consumes almost half the state budget, and a new funding formula has recently been enacted. The Legislature has also suspended its testing of students as California prepares to adopt the Common Core curriculum, amid some public souring on its implementation.

The perennial debate over the quality and expansion of independent public charter schools continues to dominate discussion. An increasing number of local education agencies are tying to curtail their availability, even though at least 50,000 children remain on waiting lists to get into a quality charter school.

Like many other Californians, I will, most likely, watch the debate on television. Not all questions can be asked – much less thoughtfully discussed – in the scant allocated time of 60 minutes. Nonetheless, let me suggest a few questions:

(1) Nationally, we’ve seen a parent empowerment movement demanding greater parental rights in school choice options. Do you support ending school assignment by ZIP code, enabling parents to bypass their “local” school, particularly if it is chronically underperforming?

(2) In 2010 the Legislature enacted the Parent Empowerment Act, which allows parents to turn around chronically underperforming schools if 50 percent of the parents sign a petition choosing a transformation option, such as converting to a charter school. Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District shocked many when it claimed “exemption” from the law due to a federal Department of Education waiver combined with suspension of state testing. Do you concur that these “reform” districts are exempt from the law, and can any district self-proclaim exemption from state laws?

(3) In a school near Disneyland, a group of mostly Latino mothers are using the Parent Trigger law to transform their school, which has chronically underperformed for 10 years. They are being met with resistance from the teachers union and some elected officials. If you could meet with them, what would you say you could do to help realize their educational dreams for their children?

(4) Nine students sued the state of California, claiming that teacher employment and dismissal laws, including tenure and seniority, deprive students of equality of educational opportunities. L.A. Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu sided with the kids, ruling the statues unconstitutional, and the decision is being hailed nationally as a significant education and civil rights victory. What is your position on the Vergara ruling, and do you support an appeal of the decision or settling it and calling the Legislature into special session to rewrite these laws?

Many more questions could be asked of the candidates. But these are worth posing to Brown and Kashkari, for one of them will govern California’s 6 million public school kids, impacting their parents and utilizing half the state budget for the next four years.

Of course, one hour to debate all the issues is not enough time. Another debate is needed. Democracy thrives when the citizenry is educated. Californians deserve to know.

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. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

The Looming Bipartisan Backlash Against Unionized Government

Whenever discussing politically viable policy proposals to improve the quality of life in California, the imperative is to come up with ideas that strongly appeal to moderate centrists, since that is how most Californians would describe themselves. And there are two compelling issues that offer that appeal: making California’s system of K-12 education the best in the world, and restoring financial sustainability to California’s state and local governments.

While these two objectives have broad conceptual appeal, there is a clear choice between two very different sets of policies that claim to accomplish them. The first choice, promoted by public sector unions, is to spend more money. And to do that, their solution is to raise taxes, especially on corporations and wealthy individuals. The problem with that option, of course, is that California already has the highest taxes and most inhospitable business climate in the U.S.

The alternative to throwing more money at California’s troubled system of K-12 education and financially precarious cities and counties is to enact fundamental reforms. And these reforms, despite the fact that each of them arouses relentless, heavily funded opposition from government worker unions, are utterly bipartisan in character. They are practical, they are fair, and they are not ideologically driven.

Education Reforms:

  • Faithfully implement the Vergara Ruling – abolish the union work rules that (1) grant teacher tenure well before new teachers can be properly trained and evaluated, (2) protect incompetent teachers from dismissal, and (3) favor seniority over merit when implementing workforce reductions.
  • Streamline permitting for charter schools. These independent enterprises allow far greater flexibility to teachers and principals, creating laboratories where new best practices can rapidly evolve. Poorly performing charter schools can be shut down, successful ones can be emulated.
  • Enable school choice, so parents can move their students out of bad schools. Start by aggressively promoting and supporting California’s 2010 Open Enrollment Act, that empowers any parent whose child attends one of the state’s 1,000 lowest performing schools to move them to the school of their choice.

Financial Sustainability Reforms:

  • Roll back defined benefit pension formulas to restore viable funding and protect taxpayers. Adopting “triggers” that prospectively lower pension benefit accruals for existing workers and suspend COLAs for retirees, will preserve the defined benefit. One more market downturn will make this choice unavoidable – the sooner this reform is accepted, the more moderate its impact.
  • Reform public employee compensation. The average total compensation for California’s state and local government workers (taking into account all employer paid benefits including retirement benefits and annual paid vacations/holidays) is now more than twice the median compensation for private sector workers. Typically, approximately 70% (or more) of local government budgets are for personnel costs. Public sector compensation needs to be frozen – or even reduced – until the private sector can catch up.
  • Modernize and streamline public agencies. Introduce flexibility to job descriptions and eliminate unnecessary positions. Upgrade and automate information systems.
  • Improve financial management and accountability. The public sector needs to adhere to the same accounting standards that govern the private sector. If anything, public sector reporting should be more standardized, and faster, than what is required in private industry – currently the opposite applies.
  • Eliminate exploitative financing mechanisms: Outlaw capital appreciation bonds, revenue anticipation bonds, and pension obligation bonds, for starters. Nearly all of the “creative” financing instruments being foisted onto relatively unsophisticated city councils are short-term solutions that create long-term financial nightmares.

There are many other fundamental reforms that could rescue California’s K-12 educational system and rescue California’s state and local finances. But the ones listed here would be a very good start. And while there is plenty of room for debate over the particulars of each of these proposed reforms, there is only one powerful interest group that vigorously opposes all of them – public sector unions.

The reality of California’s unacceptable educational results and insolvent cities and counties will compel concerned citizens of all political persuasions to examine these issues over the next several years. And in that process, the inherent conflict between public sector unions and the public interest will become increasingly obvious. To survive, public sector unions will have to accept reforms that challenge their agenda. They will have to accept meaningful pension and compensation reform. They will have to accept smaller, more efficient workforces. They will have to embrace individual accountability and reward individual merit in public education and throughout public agencies. They will have to abandon their symbiotic relationship with financial predators that pump cash into bloated, unionized public agencies on terms that are usurious to taxpayers.

To the extent public sector unions are not willing to attenuate their power and adapt their agenda to the public interest, their recalcitrance will invite a bipartisan fury from a betrayed people. Even in California.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

California's "Open Enrollment Act" Empowers Students to Transfer Out of Underperforming Schools

Have you ever wanted to know if your child is attending a chronically underperforming school?

Well, start spreading the word: the list is out. Due to a law I wrote while serving in the California Senate, the 2010 Open Enrollment Act identifies the 1,000 chronically underperforming schools in California and empowers parents of kids enrolled in these to be able to seek enrollment in any higher performing California public school. The Act is particularly important for the hundreds of thousands of students who are trapped in chronically failing schools – yet their own school officials fail to exert turnaround efforts.

I wrote the bill because year after year I continued to see unpublicized lists of schools identified as underperforming. Yet, nothing was ever done. Even worse, parents of kids attending these schools had no knowledge of their school’s status. Unless a parent is wealthy and can send their child to a private school, most parents are forced to stay in their government assigned school – even when state officials have identified it as a chronically underperforming school.

But what happens when some schools are nothing more than dropout factories and school officials dare not restructure the contracts of the adults employed in them? Where else do we use geographic assignment – ZIP code – in vital aspects of American life?

Racial restricted housing covenants were barred long ago, freeing us to buy homes in any neighborhood. It’s unthinkable that a “local” health department official would assign your child to a “local” dentist based on your address. Have you ever driven across town to worship at the church or temple of your choice – imagine if your ZIP code was checked at the entrance? As families, we can pack up the car or get on the bus and go to any park we choose for a Sunday outing. Imagine the controversy if officials barricaded the entrance, telling you that this was not your “local” park: admission denied!

Yet in our American education system, a government bureaucrat who does not know you or your child, each school year designates your child to a school based on five digits – your ZIP code – regardless if it’s been failing for years. Even when school bureaucrats know that a school to which a student is assigned is failing, kids, and unknowing parents, keep being assigned to them. Indeed, ZIP code is the new five degrees of separation that can influence whether a child today will be one of tomorrow’s doctors or drop outs, inventors or illiterates.

The just released “Romero” Open Enrollment List for the 2014-15 school year can be viewed at The new Foundation for Parent Empowerment will work with parents to teach them about the law. The current list identifies schools from 515 school districts – some with an Academic Performance Index as low as 374 (the state targeted goal is 800). Almost every Orange County school district has schools listed. Some schools, due to formulaic pressures, should be excluded; many are “repeat offenders” necessitating radical transformation.


In writing the law, I didn’t just want to “name names.” But absent a spotlight on failing schools, too many have simply been abandoned. Compilation of the list is a revealing opportunity for Californians to begin to publicly identify chronically underperforming schools and finally exert pressure to use existing state and federal laws to transform them.

Automatic assignment by ZIP code is the complete absence of parental choice. Parents now have the choice: keep waiting for change, like the fictional characters Vladimir and Estragon wait endlessly and in vain for the mythical Godot, or they can empower themselves and begin to vote with their feet and enroll their child in a school of their choice. That’s parent power – and it’s now the law.

Gloria Romero is an education reformer from Los Angeles. Romero served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission.