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Will Unions Promote Defined Contribution Plans the Way They Promote Pensions?

How AB 195 May Help Restore “Impartiality” to Local Ballot Language

Chartercide in California

L.A. teachers in open rebellion – this time against their own union leaders

Are LAUSD Teachers Underpaid, or Does it Cost Too Much to Live in California?

In California, public sector unions pretty much run the state government. Government unions collect and spend over $800 million per year in California. There is no special interest in California both willing and able to mount a sustained challenge to public sector union power. They simply have too much money, too many people on their payroll, too many politicians they can make or break, and too much support from a biased and naive media.

The teachers strike in Los Angeles Unified School District cannot be fully appreciated outside of this overall context: Public sector unions are the most powerful political actor in California, at the state level, in the counties and cities, and on most school boards, certainly including the Los Angeles Unified School District. With all this control and influence, have these unions created the conditions that feed their current grievances?

The grievances leading the United Teachers of Los Angeles to strike center around salary, class sizes, and charter schools. But when the cost of benefits are taken into account, it is hard to argue that LAUSD teachers are underpaid.

According to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the median salary of a LAUSD teacher is $75,000, but that’s just base pay. A statement by LAUSD in response to a 2014 report on LAUSD salaries challenged the $75,000 figure, claiming it was only around $70,000. They then acknowledged, however, that the district paid $16,432 for each employee’s healthcare in 2013-14, and paid 13.92 percent of each teachers salary to cover pension contributions, workers comp, and Medicare. That came up to $96,176 per year.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking Education Budgets

This average total pay of nearly $100K per year back in 2013-14 is certainly higher today – even if salaries were not raised, payments for retirement benefits have grown. For their 35,000 employees, LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion, and their OPEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for most LAUSD employees, receives funds directly from the state that, in a complete accounting, need to also count towards their total compensation. And CalSTRS, as of June 30, 2017 (the next update, through 6/30/2018, will be available May 2019), was only 62 percent funded. Sixty-two percent!

The reason to belabor these unfunded retirement benefits is to make it very clear: LAUSD paying an amount equivalent to 13.92 percent of each employee’s salary into the pension funds isn’t enough. What LAUSD teachers have been promised in terms of retirement pensions and health insurance benefits requires pre-funding far in excess of 13.92 percent. To accurately estimate how much they really make, you have to add the true amount necessary to pay for these pensions and OPEB. This real total compensation average is well over $100K per year.

To put LAUSD teacher compensation in even more accurate context, consider how many days per year they actually work. This isn’t to dispute or disparage the long hours many (but not all) teachers put in. A conscientious teacher’s work day doesn’t begin when the students arrive in the classroom, or end when they leave. They prepare lesson plans and grade homework, and many stay after regular school hours to assist individual students or coordinate extracurricular activities. But teachers working for LAUSD work just 182 days per year. The average private-sector professional, who also tends to put in long hours, assuming four weeks of either vacation or holidays, works 240 days per year – 32 percent more. The value of all this time off is incalculable, but simply normalizing pay for a 182 day year to a 240 day year yields an average annual pay of not $100K, but $132K. Taking into account the true cost of pensions and retirement healthcare benefits, that’s much more than $132K.

This is what the LAUSD teachers union considers inadequate. If that figure appears concocted, just become an independent contractor. Suddenly the value of employer-paid benefits becomes real, because you have to pay for them yourself.

California’s Ridiculously High Cost-of-Living

If a base salary of over $70,000 per year – plus benefits (far more time off each year, pensions far better than Social Security, and excellent health insurance) worth nearly as much – isn’t enough for someone to financially survive in Los Angeles, maybe the union should examine the role it played, along with other public sector unions, in raising the cost-of-living in California.

Where was the California Teachers Association when restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375 were passed, making housing unaffordable by restricting supply? What was the California Teachers Association stance on health coverage for undocumented immigrants, or sanctuary state laws? What did they expect, if laws were passed to make California a magnet for the world’s poor? Don’t they see the connection between 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in California, and a housing shortage or crowded classrooms? Don’t they see the connection between this migration of largely destitute immigrants who don’t speak English, and the burgeoning costs to LAUSD to provide special instruction and care to these students?

From a moral standpoint, how, exactly, does it make the world a better place when, for every high-needs immigrant student entering LAUSD schools, there are 10,000 high-needs children left behind in the countries they came from, as well as fewer resources for high-needs children whose parents, some of them Latino, may have lived in California for generations?

When you make it nearly impossible to build anything in California, from housing to energy and water infrastructure, and at the same time invite the world to move in, you create an unaffordable state. When California’s state legislature passed laws creating this situation, what was the position of California Teachers Association? Need we ask?

The Union War Against Education Reform

Charter schools, another primary grievance of the UTLA, is one of the few areas where politicians in California’s state legislature – nearly all of them Democrats by now – occasionally stand up to the teachers unions. But why are charter schools so popular? Could it be that the union-controlled traditional public schools are failing students, making charter schools a popular option for parents who want their children to have a better chance at a good education?

Maybe if traditional public schools weren’t held back by union work rules, they would deliver better educational results. The disappointing result in the 2014 Vergara vs. California case provides an example. The plaintiffs sued to modify three work rules, (1) a longer period before granting tenure, (2) changing layoff criteria from seniority to merit, and (3) streamlined dismissal policies for incompetent teachers. These plaintiffs argued the existing work rules had a disproportionately negative impact on minority communities, and proved it – view the closing arguments by the plaintiff’s attorney in this case to see for yourself. But California’s State Supreme Court did not agree, and California’s public schools continue to suffer as a result.

But instead of embracing reforms such as proposed in the Vergara case, which might reduce the demand by parents for charter schools, the teachers union is trying to unionize charter schools. And instead of agreeing to benefits reform – such as contributing more to the costs for their health insurance and retirement pensions – the teachers union has gone on strike.

Financial reality will eventually compel financial reform at LAUSD. But no amount of money will improve the quality of LAUSD’s K-12 education, if union work rules aren’t changed. The saddest thing in this whole imbroglio is the fate of the excellent teacher, who works hard and successfully instructs and inspires their students. Those teachers are not overpaid at all. But the system does not nurture such excellence. How on earth did it come to this, that unions would take over public education, along with virtually every other state and local government agency in California?

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EMBARGOED: Janus attorneys and Cal Policy Center represent Los Angeles teacher in lawsuit against LAUSD, UTLA

MEDIA ADVISORY from the

LIBERTY JUSTICE CENTER and
CALIFORNIA POLICY CENTER

MEDIA CONTACTS
Kristen Williamson
kwilliamson@libertyjusticecenter.org or 847-651-8611

Will Swaim
will@californiapolicycenter.org or 949-274-1911

EMBARGOED until Nov. 13 at 10 a.m. PST

Janus attorneys and California Policy Center represent Los Angeles teacher in lawsuit against LAUSD, UTLA

LOS ANGELES (Nov. 13, 2018) – Attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center and the California Policy Centerhave filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Los Angeles teacher against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). The lawsuit alleges that the LAUSD and UTLA violated the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of association.

“After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, government employees have a choice and a voice when it comes to union membership,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney, Liberty Justice Center. “Public employers in California that continue to withhold union dues and fees from employees without clear, voluntary, and informed consent from those employees, are actively defying the Court’s ruling and are violating employees’ First Amendment rights.”

WHAT: Press conference and media availability announcing litigation filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California

WHO: Plaintiff, teacher, Los Angeles Unified School District
Brian Kelsey, senior attorney, Liberty Justice Center
Mark Bucher, CEO, California Policy Center
Mark Janus, plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME and senior fellow, Liberty Justice Center

WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 10 a.m. PST

WHERE: New Los Angeles US Courthouse – outside Broadway Street entrance
350 W. 1stStreet
Los Angeles, CA 90012

INTERVIEWS: Speakers will be available to answer media questions following a brief statement.

The Liberty Justice Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest litigation center that fights to protect economic liberty, private property rights, free speech, and other fundamental rights. First and foremost, the Liberty Justice Center seeks to ensure that the rights to earn a living and to start a business, which are essential to a free and prosperous society, are available not just to a politically privileged few, but to all. The Liberty Justice Center pursues its goals through strategic, precedent-setting litigation to revitalize constitutional restraints on government power and protections for individual rights. Learn more at LibertyJusticeCenter.org.

The California Policy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public-interest organization that promotes prosperity for all Californians through limited government and individual liberty. Learn more at CaliforniaPolicyCenter.org.

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LA Unified can’t top its high-performing charter schools, so it’s tormenting them to death with bureaucratic rules

LAUSD – Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, pro-school-choice candidates defeat union-backed rivals

UTLA’s Eli Broad Rage

LA Story: The Poorer You Are, the More Likely You Are to Support Charters

Los Angeles school teachers gathered in August in the posh, iconic – and for the group, weirdly ironic – Westin Bonaventure Hotel. They heard their union’s leaders extol their role as revolutionary defenders of the city’s poorest communities against the wealthy.

But that’s not how the city’s poor have seen it. The poorer you are, it turns out, the more likely you are to believe LA school district leaders have stranded the poor, data reviewed by the California Policy Center suggests.

It’s actually the rich who tend to like the teachers union – a fact that seems to turn the whole class-conflict paradigm on its head. While wealthy Angelenos on the north and west sides of the Los Angeles School District support the teachers union, generally poorer neighborhoods in the south and east often elect reform-minded candidates to the board of education.

CPC evaluated school district representatives – rating them either reformers or union supporters – and overlaid LA Unified’s seven local school districts with a neighborhood income map. The results are conclusive: Voters in the highest-income areas, namely Bel-Air, Porter Ranch, and Beverly Crest elected Steve Zimmer, Scott Schmerelson and Monica Ratliff – all union supporters. Voters in the poorest-income areas – downtown, South Gate and Wilmington elected Monica Garcia, Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic – all reformers backed by charter school advocates.

The split between the high- and low-income voting preferences also correlates with the Academic Performance Index of schools (API). Wealthy families have access to better schools and are therefore likely more satisfied with the status quo. Conversely, poor families send their children public schools that provide a lower level education and therefore have more reason to hope and vote for change. Large neighborhood high schools in LAUSD’s three northern districts averaged an API of 702. Their counterparts in the poorer southern districts averaged 660.

(Perhaps the worst news: even the best public schools are underperforming. California’s state target API score is 800 – 98 points above the north LA average.)

Sean Corcoran, a professor of Educational Economics at New York University, has seen this phenomenon before

“We find that low school quality – as measured by standardized tests – is a consistent and modestly strong predictor of support for charters,” Corcoran observed in a 2011 paper on Washington State Charter Schools.

It’s obvious – but jarring if you listen teachers union leaders.

At their July 31 conference, United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl depicted a Los Angeles in which the wealthy are working overtime to destroy public education.

“Billionaires across the country are looking at Los Angeles as the next and biggest opportunity to privatize and profit from the education of children,” he said. “From late August to late September, over 70 billboards, signs, bus benches and more will carry our messages that billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda, and that amazing people work in our public schools every day.”

Caputo-Pearl mentioned “billionaires” six times in his speech and “money” five times.

Ironically, the billionaires running charter schools occasionally represent LA’s best educational hope. In a 2015 comparison of union schools and charters, my colleagues at the California Policy Center found that charters cost less and teach students more effectively than union schools. In standardized testing, study authors Marc Joffe and Ed Ring noted, “Charter students outperformed the LAUSD traditional students with average [SAT] scores of 1417 to 1299.”

That performance difference might explain more than anything the preference among less wealthy voters for charter schools. Now, at last, those poorer Angelenos have a choice in schools, just like parents in LA’s richest neighborhoods. The poor are finding their voice, and they’re using it to say they want real education for their children.

Their votes have a tangible impact on the board, where the union/reform divide appears frequently. On March 8, the WISH academy (a network of two charter schools operating just west of Inglewood) petitioned to form a high school. Union-backed Steve Zimmer, the district board’s president, moved a motion to deny the petition on alleged financial grounds. When the motion was not seconded, second district trustee Garcia, a reformer, moved a motion to approve the academy charter. Third-district trustee Rodriguez, a public proponent of charters, seconded Garcia’s motion immediately.

After a two-hour debate, they voted. Garcia, Rodriguez, and Richard Vladovic (all reform-funded) voted yes. Monica Ratliff, a young, former teacher from the sixth district, joined them. George McKenna III and Scott Schmerelson voted no. As candidates, both were funded and endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles. Zimmer had the last vote – and at 4-2, he could safely take a bold stand either for or against the charter school. Instead, Zimmer abstained.

Adam Jacobs is an intern at the California Policy Center. He attends George Washington University in Washington D.C.

LAUSD Spends More Even as Enrollment Drops

Editors Note: By almost every objective standard, the educational outcomes delivered by the Los Angeles School District are among the worst in the nation. The following article documents how LAUSD has spent millions, hundreds of millions, on budget items that have little impact on the quality of classroom education, all the while attempting to blame charter schools for their budget challenges. We’ve dug into this issue in other articles published this month: “LA Story: The Poorer You Are, the More Likely You Are to Support Charters” documents how, ironically, it is the wealthy enclaves of Los Angeles where voters support union backed school board candidates, and how voters in underprivileged communities are more likely to support reform candidates and charter schools. In “ACLU Turns its Back on LA’s Poorest Students in Attack on Charter Schools” we describe recent efforts by the ACLU, surprisingly, to discredit charter school performance using biased statistics. In “Anti-Charter-School Rhetoric Isn’t Helping L.A.’s Kids,” a board director of the nonprofit Alliance College Ready Public Schools debunks the unfounded anti-charter school claims that are relentlessly pushed by the teachers union. There is a war in Los Angeles for the future of the next generation of citizens. The war is not between unions who care about students and “millionaires and billionaires trying to hijack education for profit.” The war is between innovative charter school operators, nearly all of them nonprofits, who are logging impressive successes against a teachers union that is bent on their destruction.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is hemorrhaging cash, and the teachers union wants you to believe the problem is charter schools. The real problem is closer to home: district officials and teachers union leaders who systematically raid the coffers with no regard for the consequences.

LAUSD’s new $7.6 billion budget, issued in June for the coming fiscal year, adds $700 million in new spending. Most of that new spending will fund expenses outside the classroom as the district struggles to pay for increased benefits. This new budget comes just after state officials ordered the district to stop misallocating funds intended for high-­needs students. Local advocates say the new LAUSD budget continues to violate the state order.

LAUSD continues to spend more even as the district has lost over 100,000 students since 2006 – a drop of more than 20%. Despite the exodus, union leaders have pressed the district to add teachers and administrators. The district has seen a 22% increase in administrative staff over the last five years. Those teachers and administrators earn relatively generous salaries and benefits despite the abysmal performance of LAUSD schools overall. That generosity has produced unfunded pension liabilities of roughly $13 billion – about 1.5 times the district’s annual operating budget. Its operating budget runs a deficit of $333 million and rising, projected to exceed half a billion annually by 2019-­2020.

Then there are the district’s laughable, myriad budgeting failures. LAUSD has spent $73 million for a new ethnic studies program that was supposed to cost $4 million. The district will have spent more than $200 million for a new computer system by 2018 – for which they originally budgeted $27 million. That miscalculation was so severe that it required a temporary district­wide hiring freeze.

The truth, then, is that charters are not the problem.
The problem is that LAUSD schools are consistently
among the worst in the United States – and that residents
pay a premium for those miserable results.

Last year, the district clocked several financial disasters. In April 2015 alone, Superintendent Ramon Cortines asked the school board to set aside $1 billion in additional funds for a union health care agreement – and wanted the board’s approval before they’d even been presented with the district’s annual budget. This being the LAUSD, the school board agreed, even refusing board member Monica Ratliff’s request for a 10­ year analysis of the district’s future obligations.

At the same time, the LAUSD school board unanimously approved a teachers contract that included a 10.36% pay raise and added $278.6 million a year to the district’s budget deficit. Board president Richard Vladovic, endorsed by the teachers union, claimed the contract was “the right thing to do” because teachers “are worth every penny, and more.” A good idea, but can the district afford it? Vladovic said the superintendent would figure out the math. In the same agreement, the school board agreed to hire 139 additional teachers and allowed teachers to collect 14.3% of their annual salary in back pay over the next two years.

Despite this assortment of imprudent financial decisions by the union ­controlled school board, United Teachers Los Angeles, the LAUSD teachers union, blames charter schools for the district’s problems. As part of their propaganda effort, the union funded a study claiming charter schools have cost LAUSD $591 million in lost revenue due to declining enrollment. Many district officials and charter school leaders disagree, pointing to numbers that suggest charter schools actually bring LAUSD money.

The truth, then, is that charters are not the problem. The problem is that LAUSD schools are consistently among the worst in the United States – and that residents pay a premium for those miserable results. Instead of solving its financial problems, Los Angeles Unified makes them worse with every new budget. LAUSD requires serious financial reforms to maintain fiscal solvency, and these reforms must start with reining in unions, not attacking charters, the only part of Los Angeles Unified that is successful.

David Schwartzman is a junior studying economics and applied mathematics at Hillsdale College. He is a Journalism Fellow at the California Policy Center in Tustin.

LA Story: The Poorer You Are, the More Likely You Are to Support Charters

Los Angeles school teachers gathered in August in the posh, iconic – and for the group, weirdly ironic – Westin Bonaventure Hotel. They heard their union’s leaders extol their role as revolutionary defenders of the city’s poorest communities against the wealthy.

But that’s not how the city’s poor have seen it. The poorer you are, it turns out, the more likely you are to believe LA school district leaders have stranded the poor, data reviewed by the California Policy Center suggests.

It’s actually the rich who tend to like the teachers union – a fact that seems to turn the whole class-conflict paradigm on its head. While wealthy Angelenos on the north and west sides of the Los Angeles School District support the teachers union, generally poorer neighborhoods in the south and east often elect reform-minded candidates to the board of education.

CPC evaluated school district representatives – rating them either reformers or union supporters – and overlaid LA Unified’s seven local school districts with a neighborhood income map. The results are conclusive: Voters in the highest-income areas, namely Bel-Air, Porter Ranch, and Beverly Crest elected Steve Zimmer, Scott Schmerelson and Monica Ratliff – all union supporters. Voters in the poorest-income areas – downtown, South Gate and Wilmington elected Monica Garcia, Ref Rodriguez and Richard Vladovic – all reformers backed by charter school advocates.

The split between the high- and low-income voting preferences also correlates with the Academic Performance Index of schools (API). Wealthy families have access to better schools and are therefore likely more satisfied with the status quo. Conversely, poor families send their children public schools that provide a lower level education and therefore have more reason to hope and vote for change. Large neighborhood high schools in LAUSD’s three northern districts averaged an API of 702. Their counterparts in the poorer southern districts averaged 660.

(Perhaps the worst news: even the best public schools are underperforming. California’s state target API score is 800 – 98 points above the north LA average.)

Sean Corcoran, a professor of Educational Economics at New York University, has seen this phenomenon before

“We find that low school quality – as measured by standardized tests – is a consistent and modestly strong predictor of support for charters,” Corcoran observed in a 2011 paper on Washington State Charter Schools.

It’s obvious – but jarring if you listen teachers union leaders.

At their July 31 conference, United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl depicted a Los Angeles in which the wealthy are working overtime to destroy public education.

“Billionaires across the country are looking at Los Angeles as the next and biggest opportunity to privatize and profit from the education of children,” he said. “From late August to late September, over 70 billboards, signs, bus benches and more will carry our messages that billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda, and that amazing people work in our public schools every day.”

Caputo-Pearl mentioned “billionaires” six times in his speech and “money” five times.

Ironically, the billionaires running charter schools occasionally represent LA’s best educational hope. In a 2015 comparison of union schools and charters, my colleagues at the California Policy Center found that charters cost less and teach students more effectively than union schools. In standardized testing, study authors Marc Joffe and Ed Ring noted, “Charter students outperformed the LAUSD traditional students with average [SAT] scores of 1417 to 1299.”

That performance difference might explain more than anything the preference among less wealthy voters for charter schools. Now, at last, those poorer Angelenos have a choice in schools, just like parents in LA’s richest neighborhoods. The poor are finding their voice, and they’re using it to say they want real education for their children.

Their votes have a tangible impact on the board, where the union/reform divide appears frequently. On March 8, the WISH academy (a network of two charter schools operating just west of Inglewood) petitioned to form a high school. Union-backed Steve Zimmer, the district board’s president, moved a motion to deny the petition on alleged financial grounds. When the motion was not seconded, second district trustee Garcia, a reformer, moved a motion to approve the academy charter. Third-district trustee Rodriguez, a public proponent of charters, seconded Garcia’s motion immediately.

After a two-hour debate, they voted. Garcia, Rodriguez, and Richard Vladovic (all reform-funded) voted yes. Monica Ratliff, a young, former teacher from the sixth district, joined them. George McKenna III and Scott Schmerelson voted no. As candidates, both were funded and endorsed by United Teachers Los Angeles. Zimmer had the last vote – and at 4-2, he could safely take a bold stand either for or against the charter school. Instead, Zimmer abstained.

Adam Jacobs is an intern at the California Policy Center. He attends George Washington University in Washington D.C.

ACLU Turns its Back on LA's Poorest Students in Attack on Charter Schools

The ACLU has aimed its considerable legal firepower at charter schools. The reason? They aren’t enough like our failing traditional public schools.

In a recent report, the ACLU condemns 253 California charter schools for what it sees as a violation of discrimination law, citing examples of charter schools requiring consistent attendance and, in some cases, prerequisites for admission. Although the schools on the ACLU list represent only 20 percent of all charter schools in California, the ACLU declares that these exclusionary practices are likely only the “tip of the iceberg.”

The ACLU is right to focus on the challenges facing low-income students. But charter schools are generally better than traditional, union-controlled schools — and inarguably prefered by charter students and their parents. Studies consistently show that charter schools generate better results for low-income kids.

Yet, in choosing to critique charter schools, the ACLU is once again failing to address the real problem with public education: teacher union control of public education.

20160915-cpc-acluACLU headquarters at 1313 W 8th St. in downtown Los Angeles
Whose side are they on? The teachers union? Or underprivileged students?

Consider the group’s high-profile 2010 case Reed v. California. Reed began in the aftermath of the Great Recession, when the Los Angeles Unified School District pink-slipped thousands of teachers. Because of its agreement with United Teachers of Los Angeles, the district canned the teachers based on seniority alone – not because of performance. Where do the least-senior teachers begin their Los Angeles teaching careers? In its worst-performing schools.

The ACLU, citing equal protection concerns, asked a superior court judge to stop the madness.

In 2010, the judge allowed the ACLU and LAUSD to work out a settlement that, ACLU said, “marks a departure from the LAUSD’s long-standing ‘last hired, first fired’ policy that determines layoffs solely by seniority.” The settlement banned the practice of seniority-based layoffs in 45 under-performing “Reed schools.”

Because the settlement struck at the heart of the union seniority system, it was probably predictable that United Teachers of Los Angeles filed an appeal to overturn it.

The Court of Appeals granted the union’s request on a technicality: UTLA, the court said, was not given a proper hearing in the original trial, even though the settlement directly affected a core policy of the teachers union contract.

When it became clear that UTLA would dedicate its vast resources to fighting the ACLU in court, both parties decided to settle. By April 2014, the ACLU, LAUSD and UTLA had reached an agreement that preserved the union’s power: taxpayers in the district would pay $25 million per year for three years to support “additional assistant principals, counselors and special education support staff, expanding professional development for teachers and administrators, offering a bonus to retain and recruit principals to these high-need schools, and selecting experienced mentor teachers from school staffs,” the ACLU proclaimed.

Was the real headline – as the ACLU’s April 2014 press release had it – “Settlement of Reed lawsuit delivers for students at 37 struggling L.A. schools”? Or was it that the ACLU, LAUSD and UTLA had forced district taxpayers to pay more to sustain the union’s system of seniority, a system that the ACLU had previously asserted was violating the equal protection guarantee of the California Constitution? Evidence points to the latter.

This wasn’t the first time that LAUSD had committed to providing more resources to schools in low-income neighborhoods. In fact, an earlier court case had resulted in a very similar policy to address a very similar problem.

Rodriguez v. LAUSD was filed in 1986 and argued that schools in low-income neighborhoods suffer because they often lack a stable corps of veteran teachers. The case resulted in the Rodriguez Consent Decree, which ruled that LAUSD must make efforts to achieve an equitable balance of veteran and new teachers across all schools. In addition to filling vacancies in schools in high-income areas with new teachers and filling vacancies in schools in low-income areas with more experienced teachers, the district committed $11 million per year on teacher training for schools in low-income areas.

Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, the strategy of committing more resources didn’t work then and it isn’t working now.

Over a decade after the Rodriguez Consent Decree took effect, the nonprofit Education Trust-West published a report claiming LAUSD still had not achieved an equitable distribution of experienced teachers among its schools. Academic results remained poor. But in 2006, rather than ramping up efforts to achieve educational equality, the courts rejected efforts to renew the Rodriguez Consent Decree for an additional five years. Judge Joanne O’Donnell apparently agreed with district lawyer John Walsh, who declared that an extension was unnecessary because “we have outlived it.”

And today, two years after the Reed settlement, schools in low-income areas are still primarily staffed by new and inexperienced teachers, and the district still targets those teachers for layoffs.

If the ACLU really wants to help students in low-income neighborhoods, it should return to the root problem: the “last in, first out” system perpetuated by UTLA. The ACLU has the opportunity to do so by supporting the plaintiffs in Vergara v California, a suit that argues children have a right to effective instructors, and among other things, challenges the constitutionality of seniority.

There’s ample evidence that this modest change would dramatically change the lives of individuals and transform communities. Stanford economist Raj Chetty, for instance, estimates “students would gain $2.1 million in lifetime earnings if California used effectiveness-based layoffs instead of seniority-based layoffs.”

However, instead of supporting the students in Vergara, the ACLU has turned its attention to charter schools, the only part of the public education system which functions without union interference. The ACLU has sued charter schools time and again. Meanwhile, it settles for a status quo in public schools that has repeatedly proven ineffective.

ACLU rose to prominence as an organization that defended the indefensible and challenged established institutions. Charter schools are a continuation of this entrepreneurial spirit, and their success represents what other public schools could be if freed from the demands of government-union control.

David Schwartzman is a junior studying economics and applied mathematics at Hillsdale College. Blake Dixon is a senior at Yale majoring in economics. They are journalism fellows at the California Policy Center in Tustin. This article first appeared in The Daily Journal.

Los Angeles Unified School District bid to dodge Parent Trigger Law fails

The California Senate Legislative Counsel issued last week a sweeping opinion, concluding a controversy as to whether a school district – Los Angeles Unified, in this case – can proclaim itself exempt from California’s historic Parent Trigger law, which enables parents of kids in chronically underperforming schools to transform it if a majority of parents petition for change. It’s an empowering law, allowing parents to become the architects of their children’s educational futures.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, requested the ruling from the nonpartisan Senate legal office. It concluded that LAUSD – or any district – could not exempt itself from the law.

“The legislative intent in enacting [the law] … was to allow parents or guardians of pupils enrolled in schools that have been underperforming … to request specified interventions. It would be inconsistent with that legislative intent to conclude that … [they] … are deprived of the remedy set forth … on the basis that a school district has received a federal waiver whose purpose is to relieve that district solely from compliance with federal performance requirements. t is our opinion that the … waiver … does not exempt that school district from compliance with the [law].”

The controversy began when LAUSD in August declared itself exempt from the Parent Trigger law after it was granted an unrelated waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for participating in an innovative reform coalition. Adding to the outrage was revelation that LAUSD failed to reveal its decision to California legislators who wrote the law. It remained secret for almost a year until I discovered the self-proclaimed exemption.

Correspondence between an LAUSD official and the head of an education reform group, Parent Revolution, indicated the district had taken the position no later than November 2013 that it was exempt from the Parent Trigger law. The Parent Revolution official referenced a phone call with the LAUSD official in which the district official said LAUSD would not go public with its position on exemption, but would cite the exemption in denying any parent petition for changes at an underperforming school.

Once this was discovered, a demand for an investigation was made by the California Center for Parent Empowerment on Oct. 21, followed by Huff’s request for a ruling from the Senate’s legal office on whether LAUSD was exempt from the Parent Trigger law.

In the interim, John Deasy resigned as LAUSD superintendent, and his replacement, Ramon Cortines, reversed the declared exemption.

While LAUSD was the only district immediately impacted by the controversy, the public challenge to its effort to dodge the Parent Trigger law was important in reinforcing the need for sunshine in government and refuting the notion that any taxpayer-supported entity can arbitrarily suspend laws and regulations it perceives as cumbersome or unneeded.

This is particularly important as California parents continue to mobilize to use a law, which I wrote while in the Senate, to empower parents to become agents of change when school officials fail to transform chronically underperforming schools. For example, parents at Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim are mobilizing to turn around their school. Already they have faced obstacles imposed on them by some hostile school board members and school officials, but the parents have surmounted each obstacle and could become the first parents in Orange County to succeed in using the Parent Trigger law on behalf of their children.

At a time when too many people complain about the lack of parent involvement in their kids’ educations, these parents should be celebrated as everyday heroes.

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 founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Teacher Jail Break

The “housed teacher” syndrome is a problem created by the teachers unions and administered by an inept school district.

For years, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District who have been accused of misconduct have been “housed” as they wait for investigators to figure out if they are really guilty. These so-called “teacher jails” or “rubber rooms” are district offices in which the accused sit, eat, talk to each other and text their friends Monday through Friday during school hours. The “prisoners” cannot be asked to do any office work – like filing or answering phones – which is “outside their regular duties.” Even more ridiculous, they can’t even contact subs to give them lesson plans while they are away.

In a change ordered by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, as of May 27th, the doors of the jails were thrown open and the inhabitants are now sentenced to what is tantamount to house arrest. They are required to stay at home during the work day, and are allowed to leave during that time only if they are summoned elsewhere as part of the investigation.

Does it really matter where a teacher is made to sit out their investigation? Not really, but it does help taxpayers if they don’t have to subsidize the care and maintenance of the “jails” and the supervision of the “inmates.” At this time there are about 250 teachers (there have been over 400 in the past) who will now get to stay home instead of reporting to a district office.

Just what crimes do these housed teachers commit? The misconduct can range anywhere from sexual wrongdoing to being verbally abusive, failing to follow rules for standardized tests or even excessively missing work.  Also, the teachers are often not told what they are being accused of for lengthy periods of time.

As James Poulos writes in Calwatchdog.com:

The practice highlights a series of sore spots for public education in Los Angeles and, more broadly, in California. On the one hand, teachers guilty of firing offenses are detained for an extraordinarily long period of time – 127 days on average. On the other, the vast majority of accused teachers lose their jobs and benefits when their investigations concluded. Only about 20 percent leave ‘rubber rooms’ and pick up where they left off.

This is all shameful – for the taxpayer, for the 20 percent ultimately found “not guilty” and for the teachers’ students who have to be taught by subs during the lengthy investigative period. LAUSD needs to hire many more investigators and resolve these cases much quicker. The additional hires would pay for themselves because evidence tells us that most of the teachers will be found guilty or quit before going through the pain of a trial. That will save the district and state the cost of the teachers’ salaries, health benefits and additional pension accrual, as well as outlay for hiring subs.

LAUSD showed its insouciance in another way recently. On May 1st, it was revealed that the district destroyed documents that may have held key evidence in child abuse cases. Included in the shredding was crucial ammo in the case of Mark Berndt, second grade teacher and legendary semen-topped cookie server at Miramonte Elementary School who is now in jail…the real kind.

Then just a few days ago, we learned that a Superior Court judge has ordered LAUSD to pay a $6,000 penalty for denying it had photos that show alleged sexual abuse at Miramonte. (Please keep in mind that these are the folks who are in charge of educating 600,000 students In Los Angeles!)

But there is plenty more blame to go around for teacher jails. Why do we have them in the first place? There are no “bank teller jails” or “pastry chef jails.”

Because the teacher unions are all powerful, that’s why. It’s all due to the arcane and unconscionable dismissal statues, brought to us by the California Teachers Association and their cronies in the state legislature.

(L)ess than 0.002% of California’s hundreds of thousands of teachers are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. This compares to the 1% of other California public employees dismissed annually for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance and the 8% of private employees dismissed annually for cause.

But there may be help on the way.

AB 215, now making the legislative rounds in Sacramento, is a measure that would speed up the dismissal process for teachers who commit serious crimes. Among other things, the bill would:

  • Create a separate, expedited hearing process after a school board has voted to fire a teacher for egregious misconduct.
  • Impose a seven-month deadline for the administrative law judge to issue a decision in all dismissal cases, unless the judge agrees to a delay for good cause.
  • Clarify the law to allow districts to suspend without pay teachers charged with egregious and immoral conduct.
  • Prohibit districts from cutting deals with teachers to have charges of misconduct expunged from their record – potentially enabling them to relocate to an unsuspecting district.
  • Permit allegations of child abuse or sexual abuse more than four years old to be introduced as evidence.
  • Permit dismissal charges for egregious misconduct to be filed at any time, not just during the school year.

Then there is the Students Matter case (Vergara v California), which should be resolved within the next five weeks. If the judge rules for the plaintiffs, seniority, tenure and the dismissal statutes will be excised from the state’s education code, making it considerably easier and less expensive for school districts to get rid of criminal and low-quality teachers.

But until then, we are left with a bumbling school district and a teachers union that is hell-bent on protecting every last dues paying member, no matter how incompetent or evil they may be, all the while sacrificing children and hosing the innocent taxpayer.

Privatization or home schooling, anyone?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Dump the Masters Bump

Advanced degrees for teachers have no bearing on student learning.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal brought to a national audience the news that lawmakers in North Carolina have done away with automatic pay increases for teachers who have master’s degrees.

North Carolina is the latest state to get rid of the “masters bump,” following Tennessee, Florida, Indiana and Louisiana. What these states have come to realize is that a teacher needs an advanced degree like a fish needs a sheepskin. Or, as Harvard researcher Tom Kane put it, “Paying teachers on the basis of master’s degrees is equivalent to paying them based on hair color.”

Instead, North Carolina will institute a system of merit pay based on students’ test scores. Of course, moving away from the traditional way of giving teachers raises brings out all the usual suspects whose common grouse is,

Getting an advanced degree gives teachers a deeper understanding of one subject or a better idea of how to teach students at different levels – important parts of education that aren’t always quantifiable.

It is certainly possible that teachers with advanced degrees may have a “deeper understanding” of their subject matter. But so what? How much a student learns, not how much the teacher “understands,” is the real measure of a teacher’s value.

But any attempt at “pay for performance” is particularly anathema to the union crowd because it destroys their worldview that all teachers are essentially the same, and that there is no such thing as a bad teacher. This phenomenon was spelled out in 2009 in “The Widget Effect,” a report by The New Teacher Project.

Predictably, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in on the North Carolina move, positing that, “districts and local unions should create contracts that reward teachers for master’s degrees that are relevant to classroom instruction.” She then added,

What is so ironic to me is that the same people who keep telling kids that it is really important to gain additional knowledge are the same ones saying “not so much,” when it comes to teachers.

Again, Weingarten is under the erroneous assumption that the more a teacher knows, the more their students will learn. She has apparently forgotten that we pay teachers to be teachers, not to be students.

In fact, Weingarten and her fellow travelers should become familiar with “The Sheepskin Effect and Student Achievement” with its subhead “De-emphasizing the Role of Master’s Degrees in Teacher Compensation.” The study, conducted by the Center for American Progress, delved into the uselessness and the outrageous costs of the bump.

Not only does the annual outlay for master’s bumps inflate demand for master’s degrees, it understates the full financial and social cost of this traditional facet of teacher compensation in the following three ways:

  • First, the extra cost is a lost opportunity. The billions of dollars tied up in master’s bumps are not available for compensation vehicles better aligned with a school district’s strategic goals such as improving student achievement.
  • Second, some school districts offer tuition reimbursement to teachers pursuing a master’s degree.
  • Third, many teachers leave the classroom years before earning enough additional compensation by way of master’s bumps to pay down loans or defray other expenses associated with their efforts to earn a master’s degree.

The severity of the costs cannot be exaggerated. As The Wall Street Journal reports,

About 52% of the nation’s 3.4 million public elementary and high-school teachers held a master’s or other advanced degree in 2008, compared with about 38% of private-school teachers, according to the most recent federal data. The national average salary for a teacher with five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree was $39,700 in 2008, compared with $46,500 with a master’s, according to the federal data … The nation spends an estimated $15 billion annually on salary bumps for teachers who earn master’s degrees …

Here in Los Angeles, the situation is beyond wacky. In 2011, I wrote about “The Teacher Quality Roadmap,” a study conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality that examined the relationship between advanced degrees and other “extra coursework” on teacher effectiveness.

“Out of 102 statistical tests examined,” the report notes, “approximately 90 percent showed that advanced degrees had either no impact at all or, in some cases, a negative impact on student achievement.” And teachers without advanced degrees who simply take extra coursework in their areas of specialty prove no more effective in the classroom than those who don’t.

Not only is L.A. Unified’s policy at odds with the research, it practically invites teachers to game the system. According to the district contract with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, coursework, to qualify as professional development, must be “directly related to subjects commonly taught in the District.” (Emphasis added.) So a kindergarten teacher can take “Northern and Southern Economies on the Eve of the Civil War,” say, and receive what is euphemistically called “salary-point credit” for it. Or an American history teacher could take a class in identifying different kinds of plankton and also get a bump in pay. Taxpayers pay out a whopping $519 million a year in extra salary payments to teachers who take such courses.

That’s $519,000,000 in Los Angeles and $15,000,000,000 nationally in wasted taxpayer money! For the union crowd and their acolytes who are always screaming that we need more money for education, eliminating the masters bump and ignoring all the “deeper understanding” poppycock would be a perfect place to start.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Union-backed teacher discipline bill inadequate

No one was surprised last week when the California Assembly passed Assembly Bill 375, which, allegedly, makes it easier to discipline and fire teachers accused of misconduct. The bill, which now is pending in the state Senate, is supported by the California Teachers Association, which was criticized for having defeated past efforts to streamline teacher dismissals.

Last year, Senate Bill 1530 came in response to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Miramonte Elementary School sex-abuse scandal. A former teacher is charged with 23 counts of engaging in lewd conduct with students. Despite efforts to fire the teacher, LAUSD wound up paying him $40,000 to just go away. LAUSD has since settled 58 Miramonte-related lawsuits for a combined $30 million. More lawsuits are pending, including from the district’s own insurers, who are challenging having to pay on these claims.

SB1530 was passed by the Senate and won the support of reformers, who believed that legislators would, finally, have the backbone to take on the teacher’s union. However, CTA prevailed on enough lawmakers to have SB1530 die in an Assembly committee.

Parents were outraged. One lawmaker who helped kill the bill was voted out of office – a rare outcome for an incumbent in California. CTA then teamed with Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, on a bill intended get the issue off the table and out of the headlines.

AB375 has some merit. But the underlying impetus of the bill remains protection of teachers’ due process rights, which already tip the scales heavily in their favor – even in cases of egregious acts against children. Indeed, the only supporters of the bill before the Assembly Judiciary Committee were the CTA and the smaller statewide teachers union, the California Federation of Teachers.

Seemingly desperate for any change, LAUSD officials testified they supported the bill’s “goals.”

On the other hand, the bill’s opponents included education reformers, school board and administrators organizations and several county offices of education, including from Orange County.

AB375 purportedly shortens the process for removing teachers from the classroom, thereby saving taxpayers money. But what good is shortening the timeline if it only results in a the same flawed outcome?

Additionally, AB375 creates an entirely new hearing process for suspended teachers and imposes an even higher standard of proof for districts to achieve in sustaining a case continuance. Meanwhile, taxpayers are footing the bill. No wonder many school boards and districts are opposed.

Finally, AB375 still denies a school district the authority to fire a teacher, no matter how egregious the misconduct. Rather, it maintains the “process” by which teachers can appeal their case to a disciplinary commission consisting of two teachers and an administrative law judge. Unless final firing rests with a district’s superintendent and its elected school board representatives accountable to voters, districts will assume that, even when they press a discipline case, they will probably be overruled in the end. Nothing will change.

That’s why, as odious as it is, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find districts choosing to simply warehouse bad teachers in administrative limbo (called “rubber rooms” by some) and even paying criminal teachers to simply go away. They understand the law isn’t written for the benefit of kids.

Now is not the time to settle for a disingenuous bill. If the Legislature won’t fix the problem, we the people may simply have to write our own initiative.

Gloria Romero is an education reformer and former Democratic state senator from Los Angeles.