Posts

Minnesota’s Toxic Twins

Randi Weingarten and Hillary Clinton embrace, as parents sue to modify rigid, anti-child union work rules.

The yearly American Federation of Teachers wingding was a doozie this year. The 100th anniversary of the union and the presence of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made for an especially noxious four days in Minnesota – a forced union state – last week. (The AFT affair coincided with the Republican Party convention, but no one would have attended that other event, even if they were on different dates.)

AFT president Randi Weingarten’s talk was laden with typical rah-rah union blather, topped with world-class fawning over Clinton. “Hillary understands the most urgent issues confronting our country. Her bold economic plan puts unions front and center….”

Boy, does it ever. If elected, Clinton will put at least teachers unions front and center. In her talk at the love-in, she gushed, “I want to thank you for being one of the essential partners for everything we need to do to move the country in the right direction.” And she then added “When I’m president, you will have a partner in the White House, and you will always have a seat at the table.” (The you in her statement refers to union honchos, not teachers.)

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton also addressed the throng, tossing out well-worn edu-blob rhetoric like, “…many people did not know how poorly the nation funds public education.” But the “we need to spend more” mantra has been blown up countless times, most recently by Minnesota reformer/writer Chris Stewart who pointed out that North High, one of the poorest performing schools in Minneapolis, receives budget allocations that amount to $17,460 per student, while Southwest High, a school ranked among the best in the nation, gets just $7,782 per student.

The party faithful were in heaven as Clinton and Weingarten oozed their utopian happy talk – so much so, in fact, that hundreds of unionistas took to the streets on the second day of the festivities, tying up traffic and annoying thousands of workers trying to get home during rush hour. But the protestors just had to vent about the “violence visited on the community by Big Banks” and promote the Black Lives Matter agenda. (Can’t let a little good rush hour traffic go to waste!)

Missing from the convention agenda, however, was that the prior week a judge heard initial arguments in a lawsuit aimed at dismantling Minnesota’s union-orchestrated tenure and seniority “protections” for public school teachers. The case was filed by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Education Reform Minnesota. The plaintiffs in Forslund v. Minnesota are four mothers from Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis. Their suit seeks to have state tenure and dismissal laws ruled unconstitutional, charging they violate the state’s guarantee to a “thorough and efficient” education. It takes three years to attain tenure or “permanent status” – essentially a job for life – in the state. Additionally, the litigants claim that the last-in, first-out statute leads to a less qualified teaching profession. According to Chris Stewart, 98 percent of principals reported losing a quality teacher to LIFO.

The case is similar to the Vergara litigation in California which led to the Wright lawsuit in New York. The latter suit, like Minnesota’s, was also brought by Partnership for Educational Justice along with the New York City Parents Union.

The teachers union is also front and center in another battle in Minnesota. The Gopher State faces severe shortages of teachers in special education, math, science and engineering. As such, you might think that Minnesota – as other states have – would ease the rigid, unnecessary and frequently idiotic credentialing requirements one must suffer through to become a public school teacher. (Bill Gates could not teach a class in computer software in a Minnesota public school because he hasn’t taken the required ed school classes.)

But Minnesota’s Board of Teaching isn’t budging. You see, the board was appointed by the governor, a strong supporter (and beneficiary) of the state’s teachers union, Education Minnesota, which has lobbied against any kind of alternative licensing. The board is comprised of union organizers and representatives of the traditional education colleges whose exclusive franchise would be threatened by a change in the requirements. Also, the ed schools’ faculties are represented by the union.

All the while the union bosses are grousing about the motives of the reformers. Weingarten still swipes at Campbell Brown, claiming that she “continues to do the bidding of her monied donors.” But of course this is just a typical union diversionary tactic. In Minnesota – and elsewhere – the unions have almost total say over who enters the profession and who leaves it. As long as this is the case, many children all over the country will continue to receive a substandard education, and if Hillary Clinton winds up in the White House, she will do everything she can to ensure that the very disturbing status quo remains firmly in place.

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.

Being Open About Financial Support is the Smartest Policy

I recently admonished former U.S. Department of Education undersecretary Diane Ravitch for making what I considered sexist remarks seeking to discredit former CNN journalist Campbell Brown’s credibility on education issues. Brown founded New York’s Parent Transparency Project and is championing the newly formed Partnership for Educational Justice, dedicated to supporting the latest challenge to overturn teacher employment and dismissal laws, including tenure.

Following the successful outcome of the Vergara v. California lawsuit, in which nine California students – backed by Silicon Valley tech millionaire Dave Welch – challenged five teacher employment and dismissal laws as unconstitutional, the Partnership quickly filed a copycat lawsuit, Wright v. New York.

But something rather awkward happened in Brown’s first media appearance, on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” When questioned by host Stephen Colbert, she refused to identify who was funding the effort. There is no law mandating disclosure. But in politics, perception becomes reality, and the electorate sides with sunshine in understanding money trails. “What’s to hide?” they wonder.

It’s not easy, or cheap, to challenge the education status quo. It takes money to challenge the most powerful special interest blocking education reform – teachers unions – who command auspicious war chests. In California, this amounts to some $300 million annually, a good portion of which is spent to prevent erosion of teacher employment protections.

It’s estimated that Vergara cost the plaintiffs’ side upward of $3 million – underwritten by wealthy individuals – referred to as “limousine liberals” by critics. While politically connected donors may be motivated by varying interests, the end result is the same: Kids (who don’t pay union dues) succeed when laws are changed that put their interests first.

So why not just acknowledge that it takes money to fight money? Yet, Brown – married to a conservative GOP donor – blundered when Colbert pressed her to identify her money train. During the taping, several moms peacefully protested outside, waving handmade placards decrying Brown’s efforts. These moms were likely aligned with teachers unions, but they had every right to challenge her.

Brown declined to identify her donors, saying, “I’m not gonna reveal who the donors are because the [protesters are] trying to silence our parents who want to have a voice in this debate.” It didn’t take long for her opponents to emphasize she was the one speaking on national television. Brown elaborated, “[Opponents are] going to go after people who are funding this, and I think this is a good cause … and if someone wants to contribute to this cause without having to put their name on it so they can become a target of the … [protesters] then I respect that.”

Be honest and transparent with the public, Campbell. Those big donors aren’t exactly helpless, and protecting the injection of “secret, dark money” in any campaign only backfires. We just saw a court challenge in California over big money from unidentified sources influencing a 2012 ballot initiative I actually supported on its merits. Sadly, the “dark” money hurt the cause because the opposition successfully maneuvered public opinion to focus on the money trail, not the issue. Silence won’t help the cause. Open up the books.

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