Let’s Deep-six Prop. 30

The signatures for an initiative that would extend 2012’s “temporary” tax increase in California are due today.

Four years ago Californians voted in Prop. 30, a “temporary” tax, to pay back schools “from the years of devastating cuts.” But as I show here, there was hardly any devastation; in fact, our spending had continued to be quite robust. The measure jacked up income tax on people with incomes exceeding $250,000 through 2018 and increased sales tax on all of us through the end of this year. But, the Beholden State teachers unions are trying to get an initiative on the 2016 ballot that would continue the higher income tax through 2030. (The sales tax increase would expire as scheduled.) Earlier this month, California Teachers Association president Eric Heins told the union’s State Council that “…we need to gather 900,000 signatures to get our measure on the ballot. We are about 60 percent there, and we only have about three more weeks.”

Today, in fact, is the deadline. If enough signatures are gathered, the extension has a good chance of success. As reported by EdSource’s John Fensterwald, a Public Policy Institute of California poll found, “…among all Californians, 64 percent support the extension, 32 percent oppose it and 4 percent are undecided. Among likely voters, 62 percent back it, 35 percent oppose it and 2 percent haven’t decided. By party affiliation, 82 percent of Democrats support it while only 32 percent of Republicans do.”

When I read poll numbers like this, I always wonder if the people questioned know what we actually spend on education. My guess is that many don’t. A recent Education Next poll, which included a question about that issue, is instructive. The school districts in which their survey respondents resided spent an average of $12,440 per pupil in 2012 (the most recent data available). But when asked, the respondents estimated per-pupil expenditures in their local school district, they guessed, on average, just $6,307 – about half of what was actually spent. (By the way, these dollar amounts would be considerably higher if expenditures for transportation, capital expenses, and debt service were included.)

Should Prop. 30 (or any future such tax increases) make it on to the ballot, I would ask voters to consider the following:

  • The unions will tell you that the tax is only on the wealthy, whom they claim don’t pay their fair share. But a look at the actual numbers tells a different story. A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 shows that the top one percent of income earners across the nation paid 39 percent of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13 percent of the income. Hence, it’s clear that the rich are already paying considerably more than their “fair share.”
  • Courtesy of Cato Institute’s late, great Andrew Coulson, we see that between 1972 and 2012 California’s education spending (adjusted for inflation) has doubled, while our students’ SAT scores have actually declined.
  • The latest study on the relationship between spending and achievement, recently conducted in Michigan, found no statistically significant correlation between how much money the state’s public schools spend and how well students perform academically. Mackinac Center Education Policy Director Ben DeGrow, who coauthored the study said, “Of the 28 measurements of academic achievement studied, we find only one category showed a statistically significant correlation between spending and achievement, and the gains were nominal at best.” He added, “Spending may matter in some cases, but given the way public schools currently spend their resources, it is highly unlikely that merely increasing funding will generate any meaningful boost to student achievement.”
  • Unconditional money poured into public education from the private sector doesn’t help either. In 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to the Newark public schools, which was matched by another $100 million from unnamed donors. As documented in The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools, a book about the gift, the money went up in smoke, with the teachers union playing a big role in vaporizing it. As reported by the New York Times, Newark Teachers Union leader Joe Del Grosso “demanded a ransom of $31 million to compensate for what he felt members should have received in previous years — before agreeing to discuss any labor reforms.” The new labor contract accounted for almost half the $200 million. In a review of the book, Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick wrote, “The union boss… made the back pay a condition for even holding the negotiations. ‘We had an opportunity to get Zuckerberg’s money,’ Del Grosso later explained, ‘Otherwise, it would go to the charter schools. I decided I shouldn’t feed and clothe the enemy.’” But it wasn’t only the unions that abused the gift. As Bedrick says, “The Prize demonstrates in depressing detail just how difficult it is to reform public schooling in the United States. Laws, regulations, and labor contracts favored adult jobs over kids’ education and this entrenched bureaucracy was difficult to change—especially because reforms met opposition from special interests and their political allies.”

With a debt of over $1 trillion and counting, California clearly has a spending problem, not a too-little-tax problem. The taxpayers must take action. First, we all need to know specifically where our edu-bucks are being spent. You can start at the Ed-Data website for general expenditures. Do some digging to find out how teacher union (and all public employee union) pensions are bankrupting cities across the state. For that kind of information, Pension Tsunami is an invaluable resource. Perhaps most importantly, communicate with legislators and demand school choice. Among other things – just as in business – competition lowers prices while increasing product quality. And God knows we would benefit from both.

Randi Weingarten and other union leaders have a prized talking point: “You can’t fire your way to a teaching force.” It’s a ridiculous claim, which I debunked last week. And at the same time, they erroneously believe we can spend our way to success. But they make no real case for this, because there isn’t one. It’s time for all of us to stop falling for the feel-good fairy tales. Just saying “No!” to the Prop. 30 extension – should it get to the ballot – would be a great 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 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.

Supreme Court Tone Appears to Favor Ending Agency Fees to Unions

Last month a group of California teachers fighting mandatory union fees at the U.S. Supreme Court had, by all appearances, a good day.

Supreme Court justices seemed receptive to the arguments brought by teachers in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case. If the case is successful, Rebecca Friedrichs and other government workers across the nation will gain the ability to opt out of agency fees unions charge to nonmembers.

Remarks from several of the justices indicated they agree with Friedrichs on a central point, that public sector union negotiations are inherently political because they involve taxpayer money, public employees, and government services. This fact makes collective bargaining in government workplaces different from its counterpart in the private sector.

This is crucial to the Friedrichs case because the First Amendment protects against compelled political speech, and the CTA — like many public sector unions — takes mandatory agency fees from nonmembers to cover its collective bargaining costs.

Rebecca Friedrichs is a teacher who is the lead plantiff in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association U.S. Supreme Court case.

Rebecca Friedrichs is a teacher who is the lead plantiff in the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association U.S. Supreme Court case.

“The problem is that everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition,” Justice Antonin Scalia said.

“When you are dealing with a governmental agency, many critical points are matters of public concern,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said, adding, “The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree.”

Regarding union negotiations on teachers pay, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “the amount of money that’s going to be allocated to public education as opposed to public housing, welfare benefits, that’s always a public policy issue.”

Kennedy, Roberts, and Scalia are considered the swing votes in the case. Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas are widely expected to rule in favor of letting teachers and other public employees decline union membership without being forced to pay agency fees.

Patrick Wright, the vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, attended oral arguments and said the justices’ comments were a good sign for Friedrichs and her fellow petitioners.

“The court seemed quite receptive to the argument that agency fees subsidize speech that many public employees strongly disagree with, thereby converting them into compelled riders,” Wright said.

The biggest surprise, he said, was Kennedy’s skepticism of agency fees in the public sector.

“If the tone of oral argument translates to votes, it seems likely that there are five votes to find that compelling subsidization of union speech through the use of agency fees will be declared unconstitutional,” Wright added.

California Solicitor General Edward DuMont, speaking against the teachers seeking an end to agency fees, made little effort to dispute the notion public sector collective bargaining is political.

Under questioning from Roberts, DuMont conceded that “there are deep public policy implications to many of the topics and to the general tenor of public employee bargaining.

DuMont argued primarily in defense of exclusive representation in the public sector, which means a bargaining unit in a government workplace can be represented by no more than one labor union. A win for Friedrichs would not affect exclusive representation.

DuMont, union attorney David Frederick, and Obama administration Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said government employers support agency fees, and asked the court to stand by the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision allowing mandatory union fees in the public sector.

States, Frederick said, “can make rational and reasonable judgments that for their workability of a system, they can have an agency-fee process.”

“Overruling Abood now would substantially disrupt established First Amendment doctrine and labor management systems in nearly half the country,” Frederick warned.

Ending agency fees in the public sector, Verrilli said, would “disrupt those long-term relationships that have developed over time” between government employers, employees, and unions.

DuMont, Frederick, and Verrilli defended the Abood precedent with help from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Elena Kagan, and — to a lesser extent — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Stephen Breyer.

Kagan emphasized her concern that ending agency fees could disrupt “tens of thousands of contracts,” particularly their provisions concerning agency fees.

Calling mandatory fees from nonmembers “bargained for benefits” in existing contracts, Kagan continued, “the unions would have gotten different things if that provision had not been there.”

After insisting the California Teachers Association is a government entity under state law, Sotomayor wondered aloud if the government itself could fund public employee unions in the absence of agency fees.

Michael Carvin, attorney for the Friedrichs petitioners, argued that concerns over existing contracts were not a reason to stick with the Abood precedent because “Abood erroneously denies a fundamental right.”

A decision in the case is expected in June; until then, even the most informed observer can only speculate as to how each justice will rule.

About the Author: Jason Hart is an Ohio-based reporter covering labor issues for, with a focus on right-to-work, public employee unions and Obamacare. Before joining Watchdog, Jason was communications director for Media Trackers Ohio. His work has been featured at, The Daily Signal, RedState, Washington Examiner, Townhall and elsewhere. His investigations into labor union spending and Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion have been cited by national commentators including Michelle Malkin, Erick Erickson, Dana Loesch and Mark Levin.

Teachers Unions’ Private Practices

The unions like choice and privatization except when they don’t.

A recent story out of Michigan illustrates the two-faced nature of teachers unions on the subject of privatization. Seems that the Michigan Education Association (MEA), state affiliate of the National Education Association, paid private, non-unionized companies between $5,500 and $86,112 – totaling over $155,000 – for janitorial services in 2012-2013.

The union had no comment on its cost-saving measures, as reported by Michigan Confidential, a news service for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank in the Wolverine State. In fact, according to the MEA website, the union remains unequivocally against privatization when it comes to the hiring of private contractors by school districts.

The appeal of privatization is based on the flawed economic assumption that private companies can provide the same services as public school employers at lower costs. Theoretically, a good contract with a private firm could provide the same services with the same quality, responsiveness and accountability as an in-house operation. The problem is that to achieve this, a private contractor is very likely to charge more than it costs to provide the service in-house. Private contractors need to earn profits, finance corporate overhead and pay taxes. These factors drive the cost of the contract up and/or the quality and quantity of the service down. Time after time, districts that try to save money by hiring private contractors end up with inferior service, higher costs or both. 

Their hypocrisy blazing, the MEA went so far as to sponsor a Statewide Anti-Privatization Committee. And at its most recent annual conference, the union held several sessions on fighting privatization. Participants learned how to “recognize the threat of privatization,  fight privatization battles, defend members’ careers, and  take steps to protect your own local.”

One thing that was most definitely not included in the anti-privatization sessions was a report issued by Mackinac in January which found that when districts privatize they save money, improve services and pay their teachers more.

… 43 school districts reported that they have privatized food, custodial and transportation services. Far more districts (186) reported they do not privatize any of these services. And 65.5 percent of districts reported that they outsourced at least one service.

An examination of salary levels in these districts reveals that in the districts that privatize all three services the average teacher salary was approximately $60,000, while the average teacher salary in the 186 that don’t privatize those services was approximately $56,000. (Emphasis added.)

The most damaging area of privatization for organized labor is education, because the unions lose serious money when teachers take jobs in non-unionized, non-public schools. And no union “privatization committee” is going to broadcast the financial facts here either. While Michigan spends over $10,600 per year on each public school student, it costs the state’s private schools only $6,468 on average to educate the same child.

Nationally, the numbers are just as striking. Across the country the average annual cost per public school pupil is $15,171. But private schools only spend $9,242 per student.

What about quality? Where parents have a choice and send their children to a private school, the results are unambiguous and just as striking. In A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Friedman Foundation senior fellow Greg Forster looked at 12 empirical studies that “examined academic outcomes for school choice participants using random assignment, the ‘gold standard’ of social science. Of these, 11 find that choice improves student outcomes—six that all students benefit and five that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. No empirical study has found a negative impact.” And of course, at the same time, the taxpayers are shelling out fewer education dollars.

Maybe Henry Mabry, president of the Alabama Education Association, has been reading the Friedman Foundation report. His two children attend the (private) Holy Cross Episcopal School in Montgomery. But at the very same time, Mabry’s AEA filed a politically-driven lawsuit, alleging that Alabama’s new educational choice program – which especially benefits low-income kids stuck in failing schools – is unconstitutional. Sadly, Montgomery County circuit court Judge Eugene Reese decided in favor of the union. An appeal is imminent, however.

Mabry, like his union brothers in Michigan, has decided what’s good for the goose is bad for the gander. Shame on the whole gaggle of hypocrites.

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.

(A slightly different version of this post appeared in Saturday’s CA Political Review.)

Battle for Right-to-Work is a marathon, not a sprint

Labor unions have a virtual lock on Illinois politics. Unionized government delivers services ever-less efficiently in rough proportion to its ever-increasing size. It promulgates taxes and regulations that stifle private sector growth. It’s impossible to break the unions’ grip on Illinois’ fiscal health.

Substitute “Michigan” for “Illinois” and one might have said the same thing about the Great Lake State a few years ago. Yet Michigan, the cradle of organized labor and national stronghold of its power, became the 24th state to pass a Right-to-Work law in December 2012.

How did this happen, and what does it mean for Illinois?

An Olympic champion gets the gold by winning the race just before medals are handed out. But that doesn’t explain everything that put the right runner with the right training in the right race at the right moment. It takes tons of heart, gallons of sweat, hundreds of good decisions and many years. Similarly, Michigan’s story of Right to Work is one of endurance and persistence.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is the Illinois Policy Institute’s Michigan counterpart. Mackinac suggested in 1992 that the state would be better off giving workers, not unions, the choice over whether to pay dues to hold a job. This was the first serious proposal for Right to Work by any organization with a statewide voice.

The silence in response was deafening.

Three years later, I asked a question in the state’s largest newspaper: “Should workers be compelled to join a labor union to hold their jobs?” The Right-to-Work idea began to make progress as the silence gave way to ridicule and attack.

Meanwhile, Mackinac wrote a library of studies and analyses of Right to Work. Its legislative testimony in 1999 raised the profile of Right to Work again. But unions responded with threats and attacks that cost Mackinac’s adjunct economist his executive-level job at a major Michigan institution.

Mackinac didn’t give up, but instead rallied others to the cause as its analysts continued studying and promoting Right to Work.

Whenever unionists picketed Mackinac events the public got a chance to compare Mackinac’s approach – reason, persuasion and choice – with the unions’ approach – threat, intimidation and compulsion.

Even in the early 2000s, lawmakers were nowhere near ready to pass Right to Work, but Mackinac made the impossible idea impossible to ignore. A 2006 Detroit Free Press poll showed 56 percent of likely voters supported Right to Work, an amazing development resulting from years of Mackinac-led study and outreach. The idea phase continued, but a political phase began as political and business leaders stopped asking Mackinac, “Why won’t you go away?” and quietly started asking each other, “How can we do this, and when?”

Serious work began on a Right-to-Work ballot measure strategy in 2007, but it was a false start. Then Republicans gained control of Michigan’s government and major labor reforms passed in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana. Unions sought to amend Michigan’s Constitution in 2012 to give government union contracts power to trump state law. We knew if the people rejected the unions’ radical amendment soundly, the stage would be set for a legislative Right-to-Work strategy.

That’s exactly what happened. Labor reform allies worked furiously to beat the amendment and, behind the scenes, to tee up Right to Work. Then, in the waning days of the legislative session, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder publicly announced that Right to Work was “on his agenda.” Lawmakers introduced bills two days later and the governor signed them five days after that. What had once been impossible had become inevitable. A key political insider said, “Right to Work wouldn’t have been on the table if the Mackinac Center hadn’t put it there.”

Illinois isn’t Michigan and it shouldn’t try to replicate Michigan’s every move. But both states have scores of laws that heavily tilt government employment and spending in favor of union interests, and both states find organized labor’s political power to be the chief obstacle to their most promising fiscal reforms.

For Right to Work to move from impossible to inevitable in Illinois, reformers should focus first on the idea phase to create the environment for a future political phase. Starting with the political phase guarantees setbacks because lawmakers usually won’t stick their necks out for an idea the people won’t get behind. That’s why the Illinois Policy Institute is so critical. Like Mackinac, it understands the power of developing an idea in order to make it politically possible.

Not every impossible idea becomes reality, but strategies exist for transforming impossible ideas into reality. Illinois is becoming surrounded by states that are taking on unions to regain control of their fiscal destinies. Chances are it won’t take as long for the Illinois Policy Institute to make Illinois a Right-to-Work state as it took for Mackinac to win its victory.

About the Author:  Joseph Lehman lived in Illinois for more than 20 years and graduated from the University of Illinois. He was an engineer for Dow Chemical Co. and also served as vice president for communications at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. He is now president of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy. This article was originally published by the Illinois Policy Institute and is republished her with permission.