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Striking at the wrong target

Teachers should stop listening to union leaders and look at the data before striking. When one looks at the actual dollars-and-cents reality, the emotional photo of the kindly old 1st grade teacher picketing for more money “for the classroom” falls flat. Very, very flat. There are several relevant facts that teachers and all Americans – especially the taxpaying variety – need to know.

Union, Inc.

Where school dollars go to die

A new study points fingers at charter schools for malfeasance, but traditional public schools are still by far #1 in wasteful spending.

Are Charters Doomed in California?

Unions party like it’s 1886

The Wrong March

UTLA’s Eli Broad Rage

Charters Under Attack

For years, teachers’ unions have tried to kill charter schools—but only on odd-numbered days. On even-numbered days, they tried to organize them. Things lately have become very odd, at least in California; the unions are in full-assault mode.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl has long groused about how charter schools don’t play by the rules. Teachers’ union talking points effortlessly roll off his tongue—billionaires this, accountability that. But on May 4, despite pleas by charter school parents, UTLA, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools—a union front group—planned a major protest outside schools where charters share a campus with traditional public schools. “We will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district,” AROS said in a statement. Of course, charters are public schools, not “corporate.” And charters are the ones that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to share facilities. But UTLA and AROS don’t bother with those minor details. The rally mostly fizzled, so school kids were thankfully spared the sight and sound of angry protesters marching and chanting.

UTLA wasn’t finished. In what it thought would be a coup de grâce, the union released the results of a “study” it commissioned, which, among other things, asserted that the Los Angeles Unified School District “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.” The school district countered by pointing out that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. Undaunted, Caputo-Pearl was at it again in August. “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” he told the annual UTLA leadership conference in July. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

Despite public charter schools outperforming traditional public schools in both English & Math on standardized testing for 2016 - Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, had stated the importance of spending the next year-and-a half on building a capacity to strike against charter schools.

Despite public charter schools outperforming traditional public schools in both English & Math on standardized testing for 2016 – Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, had stated the importance of spending the next year-and-a half on building a capacity to strike against charter schools.

In late August, just weeks after Caputo-Pearl’s tantrum, UTLA hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, the union began spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches, and the media. The timing was particularly bad, as the just-released 2016 state standardized-test results showed that charters outperformed traditional public schools in both English and math. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter-school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent versus 26 percent. Despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” mantra, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared with 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely in areas of ethnicity, English-language learners, and disabled students.

The California Teachers Association jumped into the act on August 31 by unleashing “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign calling for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.” In a press release announcing the launch of the campaign, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “billionaires’ coordinated agenda”:

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools—weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While Numbers One and Two are outright lies, there is some truth to Number Three. CTA has become fat and happy. It is by far California’s biggest political spender. It drives the union elite crazy that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. The union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento, as well as in some local school board races.

Second only to its obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping about accountability. “It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools,” CTA president Eric Heins says. This is laughable. Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws. They must meet rigorous academic goals, engage in ethical business practices, and be proactive in their efforts to stay open. If a school doesn’t successfully educate its students according to its charter, parents will pull their kids out and send them elsewhere. After a specified period—usually five years—the school’s charter is revoked. A failing traditional public school, by contrast, rarely closes. Union-mandated “permanence” laws ensure that tenured teachers, no matter how incompetent they may be, almost never lose their jobs.

The CTA and other unions can’t deal with the fact that non-unionized charters typically do a better job of educating poor and minority students than do traditional public schools. So they lie and create distractions in order to preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” grousing about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda,” and bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who can’t abide competition. But that’s just what children, their parents, and taxpayers deserve—less union meddling and more competition and choice.

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.

LAUSD Spends More Even as Enrollment Drops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers Unions Double Down on Charter Vilification

UTLA and CTA’s anti-charter school obsession has reached epidemic proportions. 

Just weeks after United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl threw his if-we-don’t get-our-way-we’re-going-to-create-a-state-crisis tantrum, the teachers union has hit the streets with a media campaign. Empowered by a massive dues increase, UTLA is spreading its venom via billboards, bus benches and the media. As articulated by UTLA vice-president Cecily Myart-Cruz, the message is, “We are a public school alliance who (sic) wants to reclaim our schools.”

The question becomes, “Reclaim them from whom?” The obvious answer is, “Those who are trying to promote charter schools,” as elucidated in Caputo-Pearl’s jeremiad in which he portrayed these public schools of choice as devils in our midst, citing a UTLA-commissioned bogus study in a feeble attempt to make his case.

The union’s timing is particularly bad, as the 2016 state standardized test results have just been released showing that charters have outperformed the traditional public schools yet again. Los Angeles, where one in six students is enrolled in a charter, saw 46 percent of its independent charter school students meeting or exceeding the standard on the English Language Arts test, versus 37 percent for students in traditional public schools. On the math test, the difference was smaller: 30 percent of independent charter students met or exceeded the standard, versus 26 percent for traditional public school students.

And despite the unions’ perpetual “cherry-picking” whine, of all students tested, 82 percent of charter students qualify as low-income compared to 80 percent for traditional schools. Charters also match up closely with traditional schools in areas of ethnicity, English language learners and disabled students.

While UTLA’s effort to decimate charters is troubling, it’s small potatoes compared to the California Teachers Association, which on August 31st unleashed “Kids Not Profits,” an “awareness” campaign. It calls for more “accountability and transparency of California charter schools and exposing the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately-managed charter schools. These same billionaires are spending record amounts of money to influence local legislative and school board elections across the state.”

In other words, charter schools, which get less funding than traditional public schools, are being helped along by philanthropists like Eli Broad, Bill Bloomfield, various Walton family members, et al. The only things missing from their brief bios on the union’s web page are little pointy ears and tails.

In a press release announcing the launch of CTA’s latest maneuver to maintain its monopoly over education in California, the union quotes from its new radio ad, which claims to lay out the “’billionaires’ coordinated agenda.”

  1. Divert money out of California’s neighborhood public schools to fund privately-run charter schools, without accountability or transparency to parents and taxpayers.
  2. Cherry-pick the students who get to attend charter schools – weeding out and turning down students with special needs.
  3. Spend millions trying to influence local legislative and school board elections across California.

While #1 and #2 are outright lies, there is some truth to #3. CTA has become fat and happy as the biggest political spender (by far) in California for years now, and it is bugging the snot out of them that philanthropists are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into edu-politics in an attempt to balance the playing field. In doing so, the union is finally facing some stiff competition in Sacramento and local school board races.

Second only to their obsession with billionaires is the union’s incessant harping on accountability. CTA president Eric Heins maintains that “… It’s time to hold charter schools and their private operators accountable to some of the same standards as traditional public schools.”

Accountability?! The union is talking about accountability?!

Charter schools operate in accordance with all state and federal laws, and must engage in ethical business practices. Also, if a school doesn’t educate its students, it loses customers and the school’s charter is revoked. But if a public school is failing, very often more taxpayer dollars are wastefully flung in its direction, and because of union mandated tenure laws, no teachers lose their jobs.

What is apparent here is that CTA and other unions cannot deal with the fact that in most places (typically non-unionized) charters do better job of educating – especially poor and minority students – than the traditional public schools do. So they have to lie and create distractions to make their case and preserve their dominion. But all the yammering about charters “siphoning money from public schools,” kvetching about billionaires “pushing their profit-driven agenda” and their bogus cries for “accountability” simply expose the unions as monopolists who cannot abide any competition whatsoever.

And that’s just what children, their parents and taxpayers deserve – less union meddling in the education process and more competition and educational choice – please!

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.

Union Kingpin Threatens California

In a blatant power-play, UTLA president targets health benefits and charter schools, calling for a “state crisis” if he doesn’t get his way.

United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl gave a speech for the ages a couple of weeks ago, securing a wing in the pantheon-of-vile, a place which includes such memorable outbursts as National Education Association general counsel Bob Chanin’s “right-wing bastards” farewell-to-troops speech in 2009 and Chicago Teacher Union boss Karen Lewis’ talk to the Illinois Labor History Society in 2012, where she joked about the possibility of union members killing the wealthy.

Speaking at the annual UTLA leadership conference, Caputo-Pearl said “With our contract expiring in June 2017, the likely attack on our health benefits in the fall of 2017, the race for Governor heating up in 2018, and the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.  There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.” (Emphasis added.)

He proceeded to introduce “10 ingredients to building the power we need, and the strike readiness we need, between mid-2016 and early 2018.” While a lot of his talk was innocuous rah-rah union bloviating, the threats were unmistakable, and many of them based on award-winning lies, half-truths and exaggerations.

For example, Caputo-Pearl claims that “California hovers around 45th among the 50 states in per-pupil funding.”  But, quoting a National Education Association report, Mike Antonucci writes, “…current expenditures per student – in other words, what the state actually spends…California ranks 22nd.”

Caputo-Pearl also claims, “By law, unions can only spend a tiny percentage of dues money on political campaigns. This means that we must raise money for political campaigns through separate voluntary contributions to PACE (UTLA’s political action wing).”

Here, he is conflating donations to candidates and political spending. Money directly given to candidates comes from PACE and is indeed donated voluntarily by teachers. However, all other political outlay – independent expenditures, ads, etc., – comes from teachers’ dues. Surely he knows this.

Caputo-Pearl’s obsession with, and comments about charter schools are especially egregious. He proudly stated, “In May, we made history through research,” and proceeded to go into some detail about the bogus study that UTLA commissioned, which alleges that the Los Angeles Unified School District loses $591 million per year to charter growth. What Caputo-Pearl ignored, however, is that the school district maintains that it actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division.”

Especially angry about the charter school comments was Jason Mandell, communications director of the California Charter Schools Association. He rightfully said that instead of scapegoating charters for being a financial drain, that if the district wants to ward off a financial crisis, “it needs to address its $13 billion in unfunded post-retirement liabilities.”

In fact, if Caputo-Pearl is looking for a crisis, there are several already in play that the union can take credit for. In addition to the aforementioned unsustainable healthcare and pension liabilities, there is the little matter of how well school kids in Los Angeles are being educated. Interesting that this little angle never entered into Caputo-Pearl’s screed. While LAUSD claims that the graduation rate is now 75 percent, if you remove the smoke-and-mirrors, it ain’t even close to that. When it was announced in February that the graduation rate was at 54 percent, the district augmented a “credit recovery plan,” which allowed students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. – and voila! Combined with the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), the fake classes enabled the graduation rate to leap to 75 percent. While there is no single cause for LA students’ poor performance, some of the blame can be attributed to collective bargaining which, as Terry Moe and other researchers have shown, has a detrimental effect on student learning.

In any event, the proof will be in the pudding for those students who go on to college. The best estimates say that nationwide, 60 percent of first-year students who go to college need remediation. If it is only 60 percent in LA, I will be shocked.

So in addition to avoiding the district’s awful grad rate and looming fiscal apocalypse, Caputo-Pearl lied or was just dead-wrong about spending, the union political donation mechanism and charter school finances. If the union boss is successful in his mission, taxpayers will be soaked even more than they are now and many of our most vulnerable children will be forced back into failing public schools. (By the way, I have covered only a small portion of Caputo-Pearl’s inflammatory talk. To read the whole thing, go here.)

No, we don’t need another crisis, Mr. Caputo-Pearl. We have a few perfectly good ones now that your union has been instrumental in generating. Let’s not make an ugly situation even worse.

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.

Los Angeles Teachers Union Sinks to Unmitigated Depths

The union war on charter schools has become even uglier, courtesy of UTLA.

On May 4th, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, in concert with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) – a radical union front group – planned a major protest to be held outside schools where charter schools share a campus with traditional public schools. In a statement, AROS proclaimed “…we will stand with Los Angeles parents, educators, students, administrators, and community members for fully funded public schools and call on corporate charter schools to pay their fair share to the district.” Of course, the truth is that charters are not “corporate.” And, in fact, it’s charters that aren’t fully funded, which is why they frequently have to scrounge for facilities, but AROS apparently doesn’t bother with those minor details. So it looked like a lot of school kids would be confronted with an early morning filled with angry protesters marching, chanting, being obnoxious, you know, the usual union stuff.

But parents were ticked, and with the help of the California Charter School Association, responded by posting a letter – enlarged, prominently placed, in English and Spanish, signed by 527 parents – in the lobby of the building where UTLA offices are housed. The brief but powerful missive included the following:

We are asking you to stop. This Wednesday, May 4, you plan to stage demonstrations at charter schools sharing campuses with district schools. If these actions are anything like the ones we’ve endured in the past, they will be threatening, disruptive and full of lies. We will be shouted at, maligned and disrespected, our children will ask us what they’ve done wrong, and their teachers will, as always, be expected to rise above it all.

Yes, threatening, disruptive and full of lies. But, again, it was a union rally, after all. However, when all was said and done (at least judging by media reports), there was not much activity the morning of the fourth.

But UTLA wasn’t done yet. In an attempt to press beyond the usual vapid vilification of charters, on May 10th, the union released the results of a study they commissioned. Or to be precise, a “study,” which among other things, asserted that LA schools “lost more than $591 million dollars to unmitigated charter school growth this year alone.”

Of course, the National Education Association gleefully jumped on the report, charging that, “LA charters siphon away almost half a billion from public school students.” (Memo to NEA: charters are public schools.)

But responses to the report from those in the know were anything but fawning. To begin with, the school district that was allegedly losing millions responded with a “Huh?!” and proceeded to explain that the district actually makes money due to the existence of charter schools. According to LA School Report, “In January when the Charter Schools Division presented its budget, it showed that the district receives half a million dollars more than they need to pay for the division. That report, presented to the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee by Charters Division Director Jose Cole-Guttierez, showed that the 1 percent oversight fee collected from charter schools brings in $8.89 million while the annual expenses of the division’s 47 employees including their benefits total $8.37 million.”

The Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, representing principals and off-site middle managers, released “Separating the Wheat from the Chaff,” a document which cast doubt on the UTLA findings. But there was no equivocation from the California Charter School Association. In a 10 page response, CCSA excoriated the UTLA report point-by-point, denouncing its many inaccuracies and irresponsible conclusions, and went on to counter it’s distortions with actual facts and data.

Very interestingly, after being chastened by those parties intimately aware of the reality of district-charter finances, UTLA has been mum. No rejoinders. No “Oh yeahs?” No banner on its homepage. Nothing. The only link to the study is buried on its “News Releases” webpage. My call and email to Anna Bakalis, the union’s media person on May 19th, have not been returned. I am hardly shocked.

To UTLA – If you are really interested in solving LAUSD’s budgetary problems, here are a few ideas:

To save billions, insist that the district gets its healthcare and pension costs under control. But you have no interest in doing that because you are of the opinion that taxpayers should be forking over even more of their hard-earned money to continue paying for these extravagant plans.

How about working to get new laws passed that would more easily rid our schools of predatory teachers? LAUSD has spent $300 million since 2012 on legal fees and sexual abuse payouts to families that have sued the district. To be sure, LAUSD admins deserve much of the blame for the problem, but you and other teachers unions greatly contribute to it because you have made it so very hard to get rid of any teacher, no matter how evil.

And while you are at it, work with the district to stop hiring administrators. As the school population continues to rapidly decline due to the proliferation of charters and general outward migration, the district’s administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years, according to a superintendent’s report.

But no, you rather just try to destroy charter schools, which parents are flocking to, because they want to escape from the very school system you essentially control. You just wasted $82,000 in teachers’ dues money on a bogus study which proves you are really not interested in bettering public education. It really has nothing to do with kids, but rather, it’s all about you and your unmitigated, self-serving agenda. But then again, what else is new?

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.