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Limiting Charter Growth by Any Means Necessary

Teachers unions in Chicago and Massachusetts are doing their darndest to stop the spread of charter schools.

Amazingly, the Chicago teachers’ strike didn’t come off.  Less than 10 minutes before a midnight strike deadline on October 10th, the district and union cobbled together a deal, pending approval by the rank-and-file. One of the more contentious issues was the so called “pension pick-up.” Teachers in the Windy City are obligated by law to contribute 9 percent of their salaries to their retirement. But in fact, for 35 years the Chicago Public School district has been picking up 7 of the 9 percent. Existing teachers will continue to receive this taxpayer-hosing perk, but teachers hired in 2017 and beyond will have to pay the full 9 percent. (But then again, the newbies will get a salary bump and won’t feel the pinch.) No one yet really knows what the fiscal ramifications of the pension pick-up – or any of the other contract particulars – will be.

One thing that jumped out in the agreement is a stipulation that there will be no new charter schools opened for the duration of the new 4-year contact. You would think that in a city where just 25 percent of 8th graders are proficient in math and 24 percent are in English, that charters would be welcome. According to the Illinois State Board of Ed, attendance in the public schools of choice has doubled in the last five years – primarily in low-income areas – and now has almost 59,000 kids enrolled. The University of Chicago Consortium for School Research reports, “charter school students account for 25 percent of the city’s high school graduates but account for almost half of the students who will enroll in college.” But educating kids, you see, is not a priority for the Chicago Teachers Union.

And then there’s Massachusetts, where on Election Day, Question 2 will ask voters if they support giving the state the authority to lift the cap on charter schools. As it stands, no more than 120 charter schools are allowed to operate in the Bay State. The referendum, if successful, would give the Massachusetts Department of Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year.

Most of us would not consider 12 new charter schools a year a radical move, but then again, most of us are not members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. With an assist from some local school boards and 275 district superintendents, the union’s main arguments against the proposition are their usual ones – charters drain money from traditional public schools, charters cherry-pick their students, yada, yada, yada.

The union’s blather is not going unchallenged, however. According to a Manhattan Institute study, while charter-school enrollment does reduce the net amount of state aid school districts receive in Massachusetts, “it increases per-pupil spending in the 10 districts with the largest number of charter-school students.” The report’s author, Max Eden, explains that while charter enrollments cost district schools over $400 million a year, after the state’s “unique reimbursement” – which he claims is one of the most generous reimbursement plans in the nation – districts are getting paid a significant amount of money for students they no longer teach. In other words, the traditional public schools have fewer students, but more money to spend on those students.

Regarding the union’s cherry-picking mantra – bad idea to use this talking point in Massachusetts. Boston is acknowledged to have the best charter schools in the country. Many use lotteries to determine which students can attend. As researcher Thomas Kane writes, “Oversubscribed charter schools in the Boston area are closing roughly one-third of the black-white achievement gap in math and about one-fifth of the achievement gap in English—in a single school year!”

The good news for the pro-charter forces in Massachusetts is that they have money flowing into the campaign, including $240,000 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $1.8 million from Wal-Mart heirs Jim and Alice Walton. As a result, the unions and their fellow travelers, which are being outspent, are forced to dredge up their time-honored whine about the evils of “outside money” and “dark money.”

The outside money line is amusing because the National Education Association, parent of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and headquartered in Washington, D.C., has sent $4.9 million in “outside money” to the Bay State to oppose Question 2.

The “dark money objection” is even more two-faced. In 2014, the American Federation of Teachers was outed after making an illegal $480,000 ad buy that helped propel Martin Walsh to a Boston mayoral victory over John Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. AFT’s dark (and illegal) money groups got dinged to the tune of $30,000 for “failure to organize as a PAC, failure to disclose finance activity accurately, contributions made in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions, receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with campaign law, and use of wire transfers.” (After illegally and successfully spending almost a half-million dollars, a measly $30K fine barely qualifies as a slap on the wrist.) And this “dark money” gambit was hardly a one-off for the unions.

Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT chicanery, and in 2014 tried to pass laws requiring more transparency. The Massachusetts Teachers Association balked at the legislation, and citing “technical issues,” tried to kill it. But this past August, after two years of legislative wrangling, H.543 became law, much to the consternation of the unions.

To sum up, in Massachusetts, Chicago and a host of other places around the country, the teachers unions’ mission to limit charter growth or kill them outright goes on unabated. But, please keep in mind, they are, of course, doing it for the children. (Hey – I’ll stop saying it when they do.)

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.

Tales from the Unions’ Dark (Money) Side

The unions preen and posture as political underdogs, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Thanks to the teachers unions and the American left, the term “dark money” – political spending by groups whose own donors are allowed to remain hidden – is most closely associated with two successful industrialists from Kansas – the Koch brothers. But what many don’t know is that the teachers unions are involved in dark money – and worse – big time.

First, last fall there was a mysterious $480,000 ad buy which helped propel Martin Walsh to a Boston mayoral victory over John Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. Turns out that the donated money, having taken a circuitous and sneaky path, was a gift from the American Federation of Teachers.

Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT gambit, and are trying to pass laws requiring more transparency. But according to a Boston Globe report, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s National Education Association affiliate, is balking at the legislation and trying to eviscerate it, citing “technical issues.” The MTA can balk till the 12th of Never, but a couple of weeks ago AFT’s dark (and illegal) money groups got dinged to the tune of $30,000 for “failure to organize as a PAC, failure to disclose finance activity accurately, contributions made in a manner intended to disguise the true source of the contributions, receipt of contributions not raised in accordance with campaign law, and use of wire transfers.” Given that their illegal gift was a roaring success, the $30,000 fine was a slap on the wrist.

Then there is AFT president Randi Weingarten, who as a member of  George Soros’ left-wing Democracy Alliance (whose president is NEA executive director John Stocks), was criticized for her participation in the dark money group. In response she tweeted, “…spending it to ensure reg folks had access to democracy…and a fairer economy.” (How she can say things like this with a straight face is beyond me.)

For the unions, the Kochs’ bête-noire status is only outdone by Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the door to the creation of “super PACs” and an accompanying uptick in dark money expenditures. The ruling especially benefited corporations – and unions – which had spending restrictions removed. But never missing an opportunity to twist the narrative by telling a blatant half-truth, Weingarten warned, “Citizens United and our failure to enact campaign finance reforms have led to an improper influence of corporate power. If the Supreme Court now strikes down aggregate contribution limits, it will further privilege wealthy donors in the political process and further undermine working people’s confidence that government is serving the public interest.” Loosely translated: “We can’t stand any competition.”

What the union leaders don’t tell us is that they have used Citizens United to their great advantage. The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks the political spending of groups and individuals who wrote checks of more than $10,000 to super PACs and other political committees, found that “big labor outspent big business by a margin of more than 2-to-1 during 2013.”

‘When it comes to writing big checks to favored candidates and causes, unions last year seemed to be taking greater advantage of the landmark Citizens United decision than corporations,’ said Jacob Fenton, an editorial engineer for the Sunlight Foundation.

That might come as something of a surprise, because the union — like many of its brethren — has publicly spoken against Citizens United and even called for Congress to overrule the Supreme Court on the issue.

AFT continued to bellyache, and in a 2012 statement called for the case to be overturned:

The Citizens United ruling has opened the floodgates to massive spending by corporations and even more so by wealthy donors. They are pouring money into our electoral system and threaten to drown out the voices of hard-working Americans.

Yet another flagrant half-truth. Looking at political spending in aggregate reveals a very different story. According to Open Secrets, from 1989-2014 12 of the top 17 “heavy hitters” are unions (NEA is #3 and AFT is #12) – all of which donate almost exclusively to Weingarten’s team – Democrats. ActBlue, which is by far the biggest spender sees over 99 percent of its largess go to Democrats. The other four major players (Goldman Sachs, AT&T, JP Morgan and the National Association of Realtors) disburse money to both parties. (Spending since the advent of Citizens United is in line with the 25-year numbers.)

In keeping with the unions grousing, victim-speak, disinformation and cheating, it should come as no surprise that CTA and SEIU led the charge against SB 52 in California. As reported in the San Jose Mercury News, the Democrat-sponsored bill would have let voters know who is paying for ballot measure ads – on the ads themselves. “Companies and unions could no longer hide behind front groups to keep their identities secret from voters. No more tiny on-screen text. TV ads would show the top three funders in big, readable letters on a black background.” But the unions got their way, managing to get the bill tossed in the “inactive file” this past Friday.

So while the unions join Harry Reid in excoriating the Koch brothers, they ultimately “out-Koch” them. They screech over Citizens United while at the same time taking maximum advantage of it. Then when a bill comes along to promote political donation transparency, they lobby to kill it. The unions are not about fairness; they are about power plain and simple – and using it in any way they can to force their agenda down our throats.

“…spending it to ensure reg folks had access to democracy…and a fairer economy.” I mean, really, Randi??!! All the faux appeals to “reg folks” can’t hide the exceedingly hypocritical dark side of unions – especially the teacher variety, which hose the “reg folks” on a daily basis. Fortunately the “reg folks” are figuring that out and the unions’ popularity with them is at an all-time low.

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.

Union “Hubrocrisy”

Teachers unions reside at the corner of Hubris St. and Hypocrisy Ave. 

A few days ago, Politico’s Stephanie Simon wrote about a new teachers union get-out-the-vote strategy. Attempting to regain some of their political turf as the midterm elections approach, they’re fighting back by utilizing their most obvious asset: teachers.

Backed by tens of millions in cash and new data mining tools that let them personalize pitches to voters, the unions are sending armies of educators to run a huge get-out-the-vote effort aimed at reversing the red tide that swept Republicans into power across the country in 2010.

as they gear up for the most intense and focused mobilization efforts they have ever attempted, they believe it’s their members who will give them an edge. Americans may be frustrated with public schools and wary of unions, but polls still show respect and admiration for teachers.

Nothing out of the ordinary here. But then Simon exposes the unions’ hypocrisy, with a load of hubris tossed in for good measure.

Union leaders like to frame the political battleground as a David vs. Goliath affair. They speak with pride about their working-class members, armed only with clipboards and comfy sneakers, going up against corporate titans of immense wealth and power.

The unions portraying themselves as “David” is either a flight of fancy, a bald-faced lie or maybe they have developed a deeply ironic sense of humor.

For example, in June, the National Education Association – alluding to the aforementioned corporate titans – lectured us about the ‘corrosive influence’ of Super PACs.

Super PACs have been roundly criticized for their lack of disclosure and their ability to accept unlimited donations from corporations, thereby making it more difficult for ordinary Americans to have a say in the electoral process. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling made it legal for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence federal elections. The court’s decision opened the door to the creation of Super PACs.

Attempting to motor down the moral high road has never been a good idea for the teachers unions. As Mike Antonucci reports,

… During the second quarter of 2014, the Democratic Governors Association received $13.8 million, most of it from labor unions and $2,260,000 from NEA and AFT alone.

Someone will ask, so let’s be clear that this is dues money being used, since it is not a direct contribution to a candidate for office. Traditionally these funds are spent on media buys to promote a particular stance on an issue, which tend to appear in battleground states and coincide with the position of a recommended candidate.

The NEA contribution came from the NEA Advocacy Fund, which is a Super PAC. (Emphasis added.)

So, Super PACs are bad except when they are union Super PACs.

Then there was the little dust-up in New York City, where the American Federation of Teachers has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Less than a month before Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a contract deal with the United Federation of Teachers, its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, gave $350,000 to a nonprofit group that is run by de Blasio advisers and lobbies on behalf of the mayor’s priorities, newly released records show.

… News of the timing of the teachers’ union gift raised questions among good-government organizations about the ability of outside interests to advance their agendas before the city by supporting a lobbying arm of the mayor.

AFT did its best to shove the whole thing under the rug, claiming that “the donation was part of the union’s longstanding support of government-funded pre-kindergarten.” And of course, de Blasio’s people denied any impropriety, intimating that it was just one big coincidence. But Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, wasn’t buying it. “It’s an awfully large donation to make in the final stages of labor negotiations. And these groups doing business with the city – while they make these donations – is [a situation] just riddled with conflicts.” He went on to tell the New York Post: “To have a newly elected mayor start a nonprofit organization to support his big initiative – and then go calling for dollars from those who are involved in the city’s business – is unseemly.”

AFT would like us to believe that there was no scent of a quid pro quo that the union wound up with an unprecedented nine year contact which included an 18 percent raise for teachers. “Unseemly” doesn’t begin to cover it.

AFT’s “hubrocrisy” also reared its ugly head in Massachusetts. The union claims to deplore the concept of “dark money” in politics and rail against all who engage in it. Well, everyone but themselves apparently. In Boston, a mysterious $480,000 ad buy in the fall helped propel Martin J. Walsh to mayoral victory over John R. Connolly, a longtime adversary of the teachers unions. Turns out that the donated money, having taken a circuitous path, was a gift from the AFT.

Massachusetts legislators didn’t think much of the AFT gambit, and are trying to pass laws requiring more transparency. But according to a Boston Globe report, The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s NEA affiliate, is balking at the legislation and trying to eviscerate it, citing “technical issues.”

The two national teachers unions spend between $100 and $200 million on politics every year and they are so good at hiding their über generous “gifts” that no one can be sure just what the real number is. One thing is certain – however tall their mountain of money, it’s still dwarfed by their endless supply of “hubrocrisy.”

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.