The CTA Empire Strikes Back

Emperor Palpatine: There is a great disturbance in the Force.
Darth Vader: I have felt it.
Emperor Palpatine: We have a new enemy, the young Rebel…
Darth Vader: How is that possible?
Emperor Palpatine: Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You know it to be true. He could destroy us. The Force is strong with him.
– Quote (edited for brevity) from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

There are indeed great disturbances in the force. There are indeed challenges to the imperial monopoly that, for nearly 40 years, has eroded the quality and escalated the costs for California’s system of public K-12 education. And the imperial stormtroopers who enforce their educational edicts on California’s state legislature, its thousands of public school boards, and by extension, millions of parents and children, are all part of an evil empire called the California Teachers Association, or CTA. In plain English, the teachers union.

A comprehensive summary of just how harmful the CTA has been to California’s young students can be found in a 2012 report “The Worst Union in America,” by Troy Senik, published in City Journal. Senik explains how it all began:

“The CTA began its transformation in September 1975, when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Rodda Act, which allowed California teachers to bargain collectively. Within 18 months, 600 of the 1,000 local CTA chapters moved to collective bargaining. As the union’s power grew, its ranks nearly doubled, from 170,000 in the late 1970s to approximately 325,000 today. By following the union’s directions and voting in blocs in low-turnout school-board elections, teachers were able to handpick their own supervisors—a system that private-sector unionized workers would envy. Further, the organization that had once forsworn the strike began taking to the picket lines. Today, the CTA boasts that it has launched more than 170 strikes in the years since Rodda’s passage.”

With 325,000 members paying, on average about $1,000 per year, the CTA runs an empire sustained on dues revenue of over $25 million per month. This permits them to fund political campaigns, educational campaigns, and legal battles, with almost no constraints based on cost. They have enough money to fight on all fronts, everywhere, all the time. And they do.

Back to Troy Senik, on how back in 2010 the CTA squelched a parent trigger campaign by activist parents in Compton.

“In 2010, when 61 percent of parents at McKinley Elementary School in the blighted L.A. neighborhood of Compton opted to pull the trigger, the CTA claimed that ‘parents were never given the full picture . . . [or] informed of the great progress already being made’—despite the fact that McKinley’s performance was ranked beneath nearly all other inner-city schools in the state. Several Hispanic parents in the district also said that members of the union had threatened to report them to immigration authorities if they signed the petition. Eventually, the Compton Unified school board—heavily lobbied by the CTA—dismissed the petition signatures, with no discussion, as ‘insufficient’ on a handful of technicalities, such as missing dates and typos.”

Pretty nasty stuff, from a union whose rhetoric emphasizes their concern “for the children” and the “working families.”


Which brings us to the latest disturbance in the force, this time in Anaheim, where Palm Lane Elementary School, failing academically, qualified as a parent trigger eligible school. But this time, despite being subjected to many of the same dirty tricks experienced by Compton’s activists, the Palm Lane activists managed to take the district to court, where, last week, they won. But, of course, the CTA Empire struck back. Take a look at this announcement on the CTA’s Facebook page (July 24, 7:59 p.m.):

“The Anaheim School District is appealing a judge’s flawed ruling in favor of a parent trigger effort based on outdated data and controversy over an administrative reassignment. The effort was organized in part by the law’s authors and has drawn support from political outsiders and extreme national figures including Newt Gringrich. Kudos to the strong members of the Anaheim Elementary Education Association who have worked fairly and openly to ensure that the local community has the facts regarding this flawed law and that parents who’ve been excluded from the process have a voice.”

Will the band of rebels in Anaheim have the resources to fight the union’s appeal? The union knows they can wear them down. Twenty five million dollars a month buys a lot of attorneys, along with state and local politicians.

But unlike in episode five of the famous Star Wars saga, the rebels aren’t just fighting on one planet. There’s trouble all over the galaxy.


For example, later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case “Friedrichs vs. the CTA,” which challenges the right of government unions to charge mandatory “agency fees.” As it is, teachers can endure a laborious “opt-out” procedure to avoid paying the “political” portion of their dues, which is about one-third of the total dues. But they still have to pay the agency fees which pay for allegedly non-political activities such as educational programs. litigation, and collective bargaining. The Friedrichs case, and it’s a strong one, argues that collective bargaining with local governments is inherently political. To give you a taste of what sort of attitudes are spawned by the CTA Empire’s monstrous deluge of misleading us-vs-them rhetoric, here’s a comment posted on a UnionWatch article authored by Friedrichs, “Teachers Stand Against Union Tyranny“:

“…she is a plant who is voicing the concerns of the extremists in America who want to do away with the middle class and working poor. She is nothing more than a bought and paid for goon of the Koch brothers and groups like theirs. If I worked with this rat I would make her so unwelcome in so many ways that she would seek out the right wingers she has sold her soul too and leave teaching. She is a gutless, repugnant, two faced, scumbag. She needs a punch in her ugly lying face. What a skank.”

Wow. Funny how the reformers are so often tainted as “haters.” But apparently this is not the hate the stormtroopers are looking for, so they’ll move along now.


The galaxy is a big place. Rebellious planets abound. Along with Palm Lane and the Friedrichs case, working its way up the California appellate system is Vergara vs. California. The plaintiffs prevailed in this case in Los Angeles superior court last year, but a final decision may not come until 2016. Vergara argues that lifetime tenure – awarded after less than two years in the classroom, dismissal procedures that make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers, and “last in first out” layoff policies that reward seniority over merit, have harmed California’s children. They further argue that these policies have a disproportionate negative impact on students from disadvantaged communities. Watch these closing arguments by the brilliant Marcus McRae, for everything you need to know about this important case.

Now take a look at how the CTA Empire struck back, in this excerpt from their press release announcing their plans to participate in an appeal to the Vergara ruling.

“From the beginning, this lawsuit has highlighted the wrong problems, proposed the wrong solutions, and followed the wrong process. This lawsuit was not about helping students, but yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on California public schools and students.”

California’s state legislature is filled with politicians who are, with rare exceptions, either wholly owned by the CTA, or tepidly support reform but stop short when it counts so they can avoid being individually targeted by one of the CTA’s imperial cruisers. As a result, the courts are one of the only places reform can begin. But court battles can cost even more than political campaigns.


Nonetheless, here’s yet another rebellious planet in the CTA’s galaxy, lead by tireless reformer Michelle Rhee, in the form of “Bain vs. the CTA,” a case that argues the union cannot strip members of voting rights and discounted insurance benefits simply because they have opted out of paying the political portion of their dues. As education reformer Larry Sand writes for UnionWatch in his recent post “Bain Explained“:

“The Friedrichs case, with a possible Supreme Court decision next year, is much further along than Bain. If the former case is successful, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the latter. Friedrichs claims that all union spending is political and therefore joining should be voluntary. If it flies, teachers will have an option to join the union or refrain from doing so. That could take the wind out of Bain’s sails as there will probably not be the two tiers or classes of membership that there are now. If all dues are political and you join the union, then all fees will be chargeable and teachers couldn’t then opt out of the political portion because all of it would be political. However, should Friedrichs fail, Bain will be all the more important.”

The legendary Star Wars movie saga has been producing installments longer than most Americans have been alive. In the moral debate over how to manage California’s schools, the only difference between the CTA and Palpatine’s empire is that complementing the overwhelming raw power wielded by the CTA, there is a propaganda machine of unmatched potency. Along with equipping rebel armies with attorneys, reformers will have to tap the force of truth and pay the freight to spread their message across the galaxy, telling it in terms that win the hearts of parents everywhere.

*   *   *

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

Palm Lane Reform Activists Win Court Ruling – District Immediately Appeals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Parents and Children Win The Right to Start a Public Charter School at Palm Lane Elementary

Yesterday (July 16, 2015), after a seven day trial, Superior Court Judge Andrew P. Banks issued his decision awarding the parents and children who wished to convert their failing public school Palm Lane Elementary into a public charter school under the Parent Empowerment Act (also known as the Parent Trigger Law). To read the Court’s ruling go to: CJC5thflr@occourts org_20150716_144242

In brief, the Judge found that the parents had complied with and substantially complied with all of the requirements of the law and that the Anaheim City School District and its Board of Trustees had neither complied with the letter nor the spirit of the law.  Judge Banks ordered that the Board reverse its February 19, 2015 finding that the parents had not gathered enough signatures (he ruled they had) and their erroneous finding that Palm Lane Elementary was not a “subject school” that was eligible to be converted to a public charter school.

What does this mean?  First assuming the School District does not appeal (or that the Appeals Court rebuffs any such appeal), in the fall of 2016 Palm Lane Elementary will re-open under Charter School management rather than under the failed management of the Anaheim City School District, its Board of Trustees and their union partners.  I should note at this juncture that Palm Lane Elementary has been on a “failing school” list for over ten years.  If the District had not denied the parents’ petitions on February 19th, Palm Lane would have opened as a public charter school this fall. But due to the District’s delays, including filing a lawsuit against the lead parents, the children of Palm Lane Elementary must live with another year of poor performance and mismanagement.  A year of their education they can never get back.

Space here does not allow me to go into details about the manner in which the District handled this affair (which is likely not over yet) but it is telling that Judge Banks stated in his ruling: “I find the rejection [of the petitions] to be procedurally unfair, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”  By rejection he was referring to the District’s February 19th decision.  By this finding and statement the Judge was not just finding that the District was wrong but that their actions were anything but the “cooperative working with the parents” the Judge ruled the law required.  In the Judge’s words: “Clearly, the Respondents [the District] did not meet their obligations of good faith cooperation with respect to this issue and as mandated by the Act. [the Parent Trigger Law].” [additions mine].

As one example the Judge noted that Dr. Linda Wagner, Anaheim City School District’s Superintendent, did not know even on the day she testified in Court who the lead Petitioners were (i.e. the Lead Parents who submitted the Petitions to convert Palm Lane to a public charter school).  He also noted that the author of the Parent Trigger Law, former State Senator Gloria Romero, issued a letter to the District offering to assist the District in coordinating with the lead Parents who Sen. Romero was working with, and the District never responded to that letter.  Since Dr. Wagner authorized the District’s attorney to file a lawsuit against those very parents (who they specifically named in the lawsuit) a couple of months prior to the trial, in my opinion either she was willfully ignorant or incredibly disingenuous.

It is said that elections have consequences.  Maybe this trial court ruling will have election consequences to the Board of Trustees of the Anaheim City School District.

Kudos to the legal team of Kirkland & Ellis who represented the parents and Gloria Romero’s organization in the lawsuits, to the California Policy Center, Inc., Arturo Garcia, the lead parents and their supporters and a lot of others I do not have space here to list who also supported the parents.  Mega Kudos to Senator Gloria Romero for her unwavering support of the parents both in being the Parent Trigger Law author but even after leaving the legislature, helping the very people she wrote the law for!

Note: I call the charter school a “public charter school” because a charter school is still a public school, just one that is not dominated by public employee unions.

About the Author:  Craig Alexander is the principal of the Law Offices of Craig P. Alexander and has practiced law for over twenty five years. He represents clients in litigation and non-litigation matters regarding construction defects, insurance coverage, personal injury, property damages, business litigation and general civil litigation matters and professional liability cases. Craig is a graduate of Santa Clara University’s School of Law and he was admitted to the California State Bar in December of 1987. This article originally appeared in OC Political, and is republished here with permission.

Report From Palm Lane – Court Battle Over Parent Trigger Begins

The Palm Lane Elementary School parents and their attorneys squared off against the Anaheim City School District and Anaheim City Board of Education on June 15th in Courtroom C11 in the battle to determine whether the parents will succeed in their efforts to restart the academically troubled school as an independent charter school. The parents are attempting to invoke the Parent Trigger Law, enacted in 2010, which allows parents to transform their own schools if 50% of parents sign a petition to seek a change at their chronically underperforming school.

After repeated unsuccessful attempts to get the district to respond to their petition, the parents sued the district, asking the Court to order ACSD to grant their petition or show good cause for its denial.

The initial court proceedings concerned the district’s rejection of the parent’s petition. Mandated by law to verify the authenticity of the parent signatures, based on the initial testimony, ACSD apparently hired an inexperienced young woman to do the job and failed to train or supervise her. In his questioning, lead counsel Mark Holscher, partner in Los Angeles-based Kirk and Ellis, built a strong argument that the woman assigned by the district to verify the signatures did not understand the importance of the job she had been assigned, or what was at stake for the youngsters.

68% of the parents signed the “restart” petition, far more than the 50% required by the Parent Empowerment Law. It appeared evident from the testimony that the district had disqualified a significant number of valid signatures, enough to justify a denial of the parents’ petition. Equally apparent was the school district’s bad faith. Their failure to train the woman assigned to verify the signatures guaranteed the negative outcome.

After two days of initial witness testimony, the proceedings have been put on hold for two weeks. They will resume June 30th. We will follow the case in our updates.

Kirkland and Ellis should be commended for the number of attorneys they have assigned to the pro- bono legal team. Their dedication to a better future for the Palm Lane students and their parents speaks volumes. It was heartening to watch them in action.

The teachers’ union is well aware of the importance of the Palm Lane lawsuit. A win for the parents represents a serious threat to the union’s hegemon in public education. The lawsuit is being vigorously defended as befits the high stakes at risk.

Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the director of education reform for the California Policy Center. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

Parent Trigger & Open Enrollment – Ways to Cope With Union Controlled Schools

In January 2010 the California’s legislature passed into law, perhaps uncharacteristically, an excellent new law. Entitled “Public schools: Race to the Top,” SB 54 created two mechanisms for parents to exert greater control over the education of their children.

There are two components:

(1) The Open Enrollment Act mandates that the California Department of Education to annually create a list of 1,000 schools ranked by their Academic Performance Index. Parents whose children are enrolled in these schools have the right to transfer them to a better performing school.

(2) The “Parent Trigger” Law, which allows parents to transform their own schools if 50% of parents sign a petition to seek a change at their chronically underperforming school.

Open enrollment has had an immediate benefit to California’s parents in poor schools, both because individually parents have been able to get their children out of poor schools, and also because the mere ability of parents to remove their students from poor schools provides a powerful incentive for school management to try harder to improve. From the California Dept. of Education, pursuant to SB 54, here is the list of the bottom 1,000 schools in California (Excel spreadsheet):  Open Enrollment Schools List 2015–16. To view this list in PDF format, here is the the same list as posted by former state senator (and co-author of SB 54) Gloria Romero’s California Center for Parent Empowerment (PDF file)Open Enrollment Schools List 2015–16.

The parent trigger law has a potentially much greater impact, because it literally empowers parents to take over management of an underperforming school if a majority of them sign a petition. It is important to clarify that the criteria for an “underperforming school” is not the same as the criteria used for the 1,000 K-12 schools with the lowest Academic Performance Index scores. Here is how these lists are compiled:

Open Enrollment List:

Every year the results of standardized academic achievement tests, administered to every K-12 public school student, are compiled by school and by school district. In the most recent academic year, the composite score for these tests for all K-12 students in California was 790. The open enrollment list was supposed to be the 1,000 schools with the lowest scores. For example, on the current list, the lowest score belongs to Oakland International High School with an API of 374. But in the compromises made in order to pass the bill, among other things, the published list of open enrollment schools cannot include more than 10% of the schools in any given school district. This gives the worst school districts in the state a pass, and actually leads to some schools getting onto the list that probably don’t deserve to be there. Nonetheless, at least those parents whose children attend these 1,000 schools have choices, and that is a very good thing.

Parent Trigger Eligible List:

The parent trigger list is compiled according to a more complicated formula. In summary, the criteria is as follows: Any school that has an API lower than 800, AND has failed to improve its API score in each of the last four years, is a parent trigger eligible school. The process of accurately compiling this list is tedious, requiring the analyst to research multiple CA Dept. of Education reports for multiple years while navigating several exclusions that complicate the selection process. But there aren’t carve-outs that prevent, for example, 90% of the schools in an underperforming district from any accountability, such as is the case with the open enrollment list. Here is a list of Parent Trigger Eligible schools in Orange County, compiled by the organization Excellent Educational Solutions (PDF file): Trigger Eligible Schools in Orange County. The entire list is also posted on the table below – note that Palm Lane Elementary is not on this eligibility list because they have already been “triggered.” Also, some schools on the Orange County list have 3 year API averages that exceed 800. This can be because their most recent API has fallen below 800 even though the three year average is still above 800, or due to other complexities in the actual formula.

The parent trigger eligible list is a powerful resource that ought to be prepared and posted online every year by the California State Board of Education. As can be seen, there are 125 schools just in Orange County where the management of these schools can be potentially taken over by parents if 50% or more of them sign a petition. Imagine how many thousands of schools in California must be on a statewide list?

To-date, parent trigger has only been tried three times in California. In Compton, the effort ultimately failed. In Adelanto, the effort was successful (ref. Wikipedia “Parent Trigger” – Compton, Adelanto). Now the battle has moved to Palm Lane Elementary School in Orange County, where on January 14, 2015, petitions representing over 50% of the parents of the enrolled students were turned in.

When one examines the political consensus that was forged in the California Legislature back in 2010 by Democratic senator Gloria Romero and her Republican co-sponsor Bob Huff, what is evident is the astonishing power of bipartisanship on the issue of quality education. When one considers the parents who recently turned in petitions to transform Palm Lane Elementary School, and the broad spectrum of community activists who support them, again what is evident is the astonishing power of bipartisanship on the issue of quality education. SB 54 triggers not only parent empowerment, but alliances that transcend conventional politics. It is something to be watched and nurtured.

 Trigger Eligible Schools in Orange County20150127-UW_OC-Trigger-Schools*   *   *

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

Parents Fight Union to Reform Failing Schools in Anaheim

November’s electoral outcomes at both the Anaheim City Council and Anaheim City School Board provide a potentially refreshing new start for transforming chronically underperforming city schools while simultaneously opening the door to a new era of respect for parents leading these efforts.

The potential arises because two long-serving ACSB members will no longer oversee responsibility for academic quality and outcomes of Anaheim’s elementary public school children. Both Board President Jose Moreno and Trustee James Vanderbilt ran for Anaheim City Council. Vanderbilt is expected to resign today when sworn in as a councilman.

While Moreno chose not to seek ACSB re-election, Vanderbilt departs midway through his term, creating a board vacancy.

Under its bylaws, ACSB has 60 days to either call a special election for a new trustee or fill the vacancy via a provisional appointment. If appointment is chosen, ACSB must advertise it is soliciting applications, vet applicants for eligibility via a two-member subcommittee, with the full board interviewing candidates deemed eligible at a public meeting. Given that only four members will be voting, it might be difficult to achieve a majority decision.

Some observers are concerned Moreno might lobby the board to appoint him to fill Vanderbilt’s seat. A spot on the school board could provide Moreno with a political foothold to launch a renewed bid for City Council in 2016.

Moreno did not return my call for comment.

Anaheim trustees should immediately – and publicly – reject any political merry-go-round reappointment plan, which would smack of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” political gamesmanship. Trustees’ actions must be devoid of any perception of cynical backroom deals and an honest, independent process to consider the vacancy should commence.


Their actions are particularly important as Anaheim Palm Lane Elementary parents are on the verge of successfully using California’s historic parent trigger law to transform a failing school. The mostly Latino parents have persevered despite facing opposition from Moreno, who actively demonstrated his opposition to the law and the parents’ organizing movement while in office. Rather than respecting his constituents’ rights to use the law, he demonstrated an overt lack of impartiality, straining his ability to fairly review the parent trigger petition when eventually submitted to the school board.

Indeed, questionable actions even prompted the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to send a letter to Moreno, reminding him of the need for the district to not obstruct the parents’ rights to lawfully seek school transformation.

Moreno’s opposition was viewed as stemming from his close ties to the teachers union, which opposed the law. Ironically, he had sued Anaheim in a redistricting lawsuit seeking greater Latino empowerment and even cited Anaheim’s failed schools.

His suit stated: “[Latinos] bear the effects of past discrimination in … education … which hinder their ability to participate effectively in the political process. … In Anaheim, there are significant disparities in the educational levels of Latino[s]. … Only 53 percent … have graduated from high school.” The lawsuit overlooks that he oversaw those schools for eight years.

Anaheim parent leader Jeanette Saldivar would oppose a Moreno reappointment. “We can’t go back,” Saldivar said. “Nineteen of the 24 district schools aren’t meeting state minimum performance requirements. Kids’ dreams have been destroyed; parents are attacked when we try to make changes. Our kids deserve better.”

Starting today, ACSB embarks on a new era. With parents poised to make history in leading Orange County’s first parent trigger school transformation effort, the trustees should begin by refusing to play political games. Now is the time for new – not recycled – representation and leadership.

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.

California's New, Big, Nonpartisan Political Tent

“In politics, a big tent or catch-all party is a political party seeking to attract people with diverse viewpoints and thus appeal to more of the electorate. The big tent approach is opposed to single-issue litmus tests and ideological rigidity, conversely advocating multiple ideologies and views within a party.”
–  Wikipedia, “Big Tent

Something is happening in California. An unstoppable movement for reform is building, attracting support from conscientious Californians regardless of their age, income, race, gender or political ideology. The metaphor of a “big tent” aptly describes the approach that reform leaders are finally embracing.

The fabric of this big tent is supported by two poles, one representing restoring quality education, the other representing restoring financial health to California’s public institutions. But the big tent metaphor breaks down somewhat if it describes a political party. Because most of California’s reform leaders no longer care who gets it done, or what political party takes credit. They just want to Californian children to get quality educations, and they just want to restore economic opportunity to ordinary citizens.

For years, the powers that oppose education reform and fiscal reform have painted reformers as either Republican fanatics, bent on dismantling government, or Democratic traitors, beholden to “Wall Street Hedge Funds.” But this argument is wearing thin. On the topic of education reform, here are three reasons why Californians, all of them, are waking up:

(1) The Vergara Decision:  This case pits nine Oakland public school students against the State of California, arguing that (a) granting tenure after less than two years, (b) retaining teachers during layoffs based on seniority instead of merit, and (c) the near impossibility of dismissing incompetent teachers, is harming California’s overall system of public education, and is disproportionately harming public education in low income communities. Earlier this year, in a Los Angeles Superior court decision, the judge wrote: “The evidence of the effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.” In return, the California Teacher’s association had this to say in an official press release:

“All along it’s been clear to us that this lawsuit is baseless, meritless, and masterminded by self-interested individuals with corporate education reform agendas that are veiled by a proclamation of student interest” (ref. CTA press release).

Watch the plaintiff’s closing arguments in the Vergara case. Note how the plaintiff’s legal team was actually able to use the testimony of the defendant’s expert witnesses to support their own case.

(2) Parent Trigger Laws:  In 2010, the California State Legislature signed into law the “Parent Empowerment Act.” This law enables parents in failing schools to (a) transfer their child to a higher performing school, (b) permits parents to change policies at an underperforming school if 50% of parents sign a petition, and (c) requires the California Dept. of Education to regularly publish a list of the 1,000 worst performing schools in the state. Former State Senator Gloria Romero, the liberal Democrat who is largely responsible for getting passage of the Parent Empowerment Act, writes this week in UnionWatch about how the Los Angeles Unified School District tried and failed to exempt themselves from the law. But government employee unions in California are incredibly powerful, collecting and spending over two billion dollars in taxpayer funded dues per two-year election cycle. They literally can be in all places at all times. Read the slime job someone sympathetic to the union machine entered on Romero’s Wikipedia profile:

“Romero leads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, an interest group funded by Wall Street hedge fund managers who support charter schools.”

(3) Charter Schools:  Here is an example of why claims that “Wall Street hedge fund managers” are somehow hoping to profit from private schools or charter schools (which are not private) are absurdly unfounded. The Alliance College-Ready Public Schools in Los Angeles is a network of 26 high schools, located throughout Los Angeles, which, like nearly all charter schools, consistently delivers superior educational outcomes at a fraction of the cost of union controlled public schools. But the Alliance network is a nonprofit. The capital investments necessary to launch these schools are funded by donations. There is no return on investment. And the benefactors of these schools have no political agenda – they are Democrats, Republicans, and independents. They are a perfect example of California’s new, powerful, big tent.

Financial reform issues are the other pole that supports the big tent. Despite accusations of “hedge fund managers” and “Wall Street” getting behind allegedly phony reform proposals for public education along with fiscal issues such as runaway pension costs, it is actually corrupt financial interests that join with government bureaucrats to perpetuate the abuse and prevent reform. The reason government services are being cut and infrastructure spending is neglected is because unionized government workers receive excessive pay and benefits, crowding out funding for everything else. Wall Street firms underwrite the bonds to cover the deficits and finance deferred maintenance. Wall Street firms (including hedge funds) invest the pension fund assets. People are connecting the dots.

The behavior of powerful government unions, opposing education and fiscal reforms that virtually everyone else supports, is finally exposing them – along with their partners, corrupt financial interests and crony corporations – as the root cause of the most severe challenges facing Californians. This issue is nonpartisan and transcends ideology. The big tent is filling up.

*   *   *

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


California’s Emerging Good Government Coalition, November 4, 2014

The Challenge Libertarians Face to Win American Hearts, October 14, 2014

Reinventing America’s Unions for the 21st Century, September 2, 2014

The Looming Bipartisan Backlash Against Unionized Government, August 26, 2014

Two Tales of a City – How Detroit Transcended Ideology to Reform Pensions, July 22, 2014

Government Employee Unions – The Root Cause of California’s Challenges, June 3, 2014

A “Left-Right Alliance” Against Public Sector Unions?, May 20, 2014

Conservative Politicians and Public Safety Unions, May 13, 2014

The Unholy Trinity of Public Sector Unions, Environmentalists, and Wall Street, May 6, 2014

Public Pension Solvency Requires Asset Bubbles, April 29, 2014

Construction Unions Should Fight for Infrastructure that Helps the Economy, April 1, 2014

Pension Funds and the “Asset” Economy, February 18, 2014

Forming a Bipartisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform, January 28, 2014

California’s parent-empowerment law gains ground

Last week, parents in the Southern California desert city of Adelanto celebrated the opening of the first school transformed under the state’s 2010 parent-empowerment law, also known as the parent trigger. After two San Bernardino County Superior Court judges upheld their petition to take control of foundering Desert Trails Elementary School, parents selected a nonprofit charter operator to reopen the school as Desert Trails Preparatory Academy. But even as parents celebrate their accomplishments in Adelanto and elsewhere, school-reform opponents are renewing their efforts to undermine the law.

Under the law, if a majority of parents with children at a failing public school sign a petition, they can “trigger” a change in the school’s governance, forcing the school district to adopt one of a handful of reforms: getting rid of some teachers, firing the principal, shutting the school down, or turning it into a charter school. The legislation, authored by former state senator Gloria Romero, empowers parents to circumvent sclerotic school boards and obstructionist teachers’ unions. Teachers’ unions recognized the danger at once, which helps explain why California Federation of Teachers president Marty Hittleman called Romero’s bill a “lynch mob provision.”

Desert Trails was a hard-won fight. In January 2012, parents submitted 466 signatures to the Adelanto Elementary School District, representing 70 percent of the 665 students enrolled. Within days, the California Teachers Association launched a counter-petition drive—just as it had done successfully against a parent-trigger petition drive a year earlier in Compton. But this time, parents sued the school district to accept their petition and reject the CTA’s eleventh-hour rescission campaign. (City Journal’s Ben Boychuk chronicles the Adelanto effort in The Beholden State: California’s Lost Promise and How to Recapture It.)

Since the Desert Trails parents won their victory, parents at three other Southern California schools have availed themselves of the law. Parents at Haddon Avenue Elementary School in the Los Angeles suburb of Pacoima gathered some of the signatures they needed to trigger staff and other changes at the school, but they suspended their petition drive when administrators and teachers agreed to an in-district reform plan. At 24th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles, parents overwhelmingly approved a collaborative partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Crown Prep Academy, a charter operator. Under a plan that takes effect next week, the district will be responsible for instruction in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, and Crown Prep will oversee fifth through eighth grade. In an unusual circumstance, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, happy to be included in the process, was a willing party to the conversion at 24th Street Elementary. But UTLA chief Warren Fletcher, no fan of the law, warned that the union was “watching what happens at 24th Street and other schools—watching to see if it destabilizes the schools.” What Fletcher doesn’t seem to understand is that poorly performing schools are destabilized already.

Meanwhile, parents at Weigand Avenue Elementary School in L.A. petitioned for a “transformation” model, allowing them to replace the school’s principal and make other structural changes at the campus. Weigand’s parents voted to keep all the teachers but get rid of Irma Cobian, the principal who had let the school deteriorate during her four years on the job. You wouldn’t know that from reading the Los Angeles Times, though. In a one-sided story, reporter Teresa Watanabe claimed that “teachers and students alike loved the principal.” Watanabe cited a student’s claim that “Cobian is a special principal who gives her hugs and understands her struggles,” such as losing her father to cancer last year. Only in passing did Watanabe acknowledge that some parents were dissatisfied with Cobian and with the school’s administration, or that a group of parents and teachers in 2011 submitted “no confidence”letters about Cobian to district officials. And crucially, Watanabe failed to note that, prior to Cobian’s arrival in 2009, the school’s score on the Academic Performance Index—the state’s annual measure of test-score performance of schools and districts—was 717, or 23 points above the city’s average. By the close of the 2011–12 school year, Weigand’s API had plummeted to 689, or 57 points below the city’s average. Only a handful of elementary schools in Los Angeles fared worse during that period.

The Times’s soft-pedaling galvanized parent-trigger opponents. Diane Ravitch, a onetime reformer who is now a teachers’-union stalwart, used Watanabe’s story to attack Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles–based advocacy group that has helped organize parents across the Southland. “Ben Austin is loathsome,” Ravitch wrote on her blog. “He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator [Cobian]. She was devoted to the children; he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization—Walton, Gates, and Broad. His biggest funder is the reactionary Walton Family Foundation, which spends $160 million every year to advance privatization. Ben Austin is Walton’s useful idiot. He prattles on about his liberal credentials, but actions speak louder than words.” She ended her post with a curse: “Ben, every day when you wake up, you should think of Irma Cobian. When you look in the mirror, think Irma Cobian. Your last thought every night should be Irma Cobian. Ben, you ruined the life of a good person for filthy lucre. Never forget her. She should be on your conscience—if you have one—forever.” Ravitch’s inflammatory attack invited heated rebuttals from prominent education writers and bloggers, including Rick HessJoanne JacobsRiShawn Biddle,Whitney Tilson, and Alexander Russo. Eventually, Ravitch issued a tepid apology.

Ravitch wasn’t the only anti-reformer opposing parents’ efforts. Claiming that 14 schools were targeted for future petitions—Parent Revolution puts that number at 50—UTLA held a press conference and demonstration against the parent-trigger law at Weigand in May. Then in June, at a Los Angeles school board meeting at which the parent trigger was on the agenda, board member Steve Zimmer offered a resolution calling for a change in the state law that would bring “more transparency to the signature-gathering process.” Seconding Zimmer’s resolution, UTLA boss Fletcher denounced the parent trigger as a “bad law” and a “cruel hoax” that “guarantees bad outcomes.” He finished on a solemn note, warning that “a system based on hatred hurts children.” This was interesting talk from the leader of an organization whose mandate is to protect teachers at any cost, with practically no regard for children’s best interests.

In response, Parent Revolution’s deputy director, Gabe Rose, issued a statement supporting the part of Zimmer’s proposal that would give parents more information “on the state of their children’s schools.” He praised the resolution’s emphasis on accurate data and making options available to parents. But he fiercely condemned “the continued harassment and intimidation of parents—too often by district staff using district resources—who are trying to organize to improve their children’s low performing schools.” Parents, their children, and their communities cannot wait for school districts to phase in incremental reforms. The parent-trigger law is the best thing to happen to them in years. Parent empowerment clearly threatens the education status quo, and the status quo is pushing back. But as events in Adelanto and Los Angeles show, parents aren’t willing to back down so easily.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. This article originally appeared in City Journal and is republished here with permission.