Teachers Union Assault on Charter Schools

school education studentsWith the increasing popularity of charter schools in California, special-interest opposition to them has grown, primarily among those most threatened by their success: the state’s powerful teachers unions.

With more than 1,200 charter schools in California and with an estimated 580,000 students attending charter schools in the 2015-16 school year, the state boasts more charter schools and charter school students than any other in the country. According to the California Charter Schools Association, approximately 158,000 students are on wait lists hoping to attend such schools.

Clearly, they are popular and there is public demand for them. Perhaps it’s the flexibility and accountability of the schools. Maybe it’s to avoid the poor performance of the typical public school, which protects some underperforming teachers with tenure and other rules. Whatever it is that attracts so many parents to charter schools, something about them is upsetting to the state’s teachers unions.

On August 31, the California Teachers Association announced it was launching the “Kids Not Profits” campaign. The stated goal of their efforts is to garner “more accountability and transparency of California charter schools.” But that’s not all. The campaign further aims to expose “the coordinated agenda by a group of billionaires to divert money from California’s neighborhood public schools to privately-managed charter schools.” And that is where the misdirection, deception and political chicanery begin.

For those without expertise in the charter school movement, keep one thing in mind: Charter schools are public schools. They just approach teaching and kids’ learning differently than the neighborhood public schools that are overburdened by political limitations and bureaucracy, much of which has been perpetuated and sustained by union leaders.

The idea that billionaires are trying to enrich themselves by taking away money from local schools is not only false but an inflammatory scare tactic meant to denigrate the good work philanthropists are doing in charter schools to help repair the broken, status quo public school system that other special interests, like the unions, prefer.

The Kids Not Profits website tries to demonize these efforts by pointing out that charter school advocates spent over $11 million in the June 6 primary to influence state legislative races and school board elections, because they “want private corporations to be able to profit from public education.” Their claims are patently false and not grounded in fact.

Take, for example, one of the state’s — and nation’s — chief advocates for charter schools, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. In January, Hastings announced a $100 million fund to help improve access to quality education. He is giving money to schools — not trying to “profit” or take money from public education.

On the other hand, what CTA neglects to mention in its campaign is that it has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns over the past couple of decades, including $4.2 million from January through the end of June this year via its Issues PAC, plus more than $1 million through the Association for Better Citizenship to influence local races. Then there’s the nearly $1 million spent by the California Federation of Teachers to support candidates and ballot initiatives. And that doesn’t take into account the millions they will spend on other political fights in November.

It’s also important to understand how much “profit” the unions take out of California schools. In 2009 alone, the CTA’s “income was more than $186 million, all of it tax-exempt,” according to an analysis of public records by Troy Senik, writing for City Journal. The income the union collects year after year comes directly from taxpayer-funded teachers’ paychecks. Imagine if that money could stay with good teachers or was spent directly in the classroom for students.

There’s nothing wrong with donating to political campaigns. What matters is whether the outcomes they seek are reasonable. Unfortunately, the outcomes desired by the teachers unions just happen to be a status quo where their interests are catered to, regardless of their effects on students. And that’s why they are threatened by charter schools — because they lose revenue for their political agendas

In the past month, local unions like United Teachers Los Angeles, which is best remembered for threatening to strike in 2014 if its members didn’t receive a 17.6 percent raise, have also gone on the offensive against the education reform community.

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl announced in August that the union was launching an ad campaign carrying “messages that billionaires should not be driving the public school agenda.”

“This is a major intervention in shaping the public narrative,” Caputo-Pearl told members at the union’s 2016 conference, which featured repeated attacks on charter schools and those who fund some of them.

The dishonest narrative the unions want to present is that they are the ones standing up against sinister billionaires who just want to make money. The problem is, it is just not true.

Never mind that teachers unions in California get more than their fair share of the multibillion-dollar education budget in the state, and have considerable leverage in how education funds are allocated and what policies govern public schools. They have had control of public education for a long time, so it is they, the union leaders, who should be held responsible for the deterioration of California public schools — a public school system where more than half the students lack proficiency in math and English. It’s indefensible.

Attempting to shift the blame for shortcomings in our education system on reformers and charter school advocates is purely diversionary. It isn’t charter school proponents who are undermining education. Nor is the current state of affairs the fault of the average teacher who works hard every day to educate the children of our state.

Behind the façade of “kids not profits” — and whatever public narrative unions are trying to spin — the unions’ goals are fundamentally about one thing, and that is political power. This is what thwarts progress in our education system. Instead of embracing innovation and progress to help students, the union bosses have chosen to stifle any form of competition and reform. Their latest campaign is just another sad and frustrating attempt to deceive the public and maintain political power.

Brian Calle is the opinion editor for the Southern California News Group and Sal Rodriguez is a staff columnist.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register and the Southern California News Group.

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Should Jerry Brown Run for President?

It’s still more than a year away, but the presidential election of 2016 is already in high gear and looks to possibly have one of the most crowded fields of candidates in American history – at least for the Republican primary. Democratic candidates, though, are seemingly timid to enter the race, due at least in part to the presumption that it’s Hillary Clinton’s race to lose.

But some party insiders and opinion leaders are starting to float the idea that California Gov. Jerry Brown should run for president, and the idea may be catching on.

Democrats have a history of nominating …

Read the full column at OORegister.com 

Brian Calle is the opinion editor for the Orange County Register

Is Texas the new California?

Originally published in the Orange County Register on June 24, 2011

Chart courtesy Esmael Adibi, Chapman University

Written by Brian Calle

Is Texas the new California? A bustling economy, housing at affordable levels and some of the most aggressive examples of business-friendly public policies in the country make Texas desirable not only for entrepreneurs and retirees but also right-leaning voters desperately searching for some hope for a fiscally responsible public-policy renaissance and a new face for a Republican Party that needs one.

California, once a Republican stronghold (believe it or not), helped steer national political discourse and boasted its viability as an economic leader among states. But with a mass exodus of both business and job seekers, a confining regulatory infrastructure and a high cost of living, California appears to be riding off into the sunset, economically speaking.

Today, Texas is the big state leading the pack and, based on its public policy approaches, it should. The parallels though between today’s Lone Star State and the Golden State of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are apparent. So much so, in fact, Texas seemingly has become the new California – that is, the economic engine of the country, the innovation capital and perhaps, its political powerhouse, too.

Comparisons of the politics, economics and public policy of California and Texas have become en vogue, and rightly so. Both states are big, iconic and yes, eccentric. California is the largest state by population in the United States; Texas is second. By area, Texas is the second largest state and California is third. (Alaska is first.) Both states have significant (and growing) Latino populations. And both states share a border with Mexico.

In some ways, both states represent the broader future, and possible directions, of the nation – demographically, politically and economically. One a blue state. One a red state. One liberal in public policy, the other conservative in political approaches. One faltering, the other thriving. While the Gold Rush has seemingly ended for California, Texas is in high growth mode. In fact, since the start of the nation’s economic recovery, more than one-third of new jobs came from Texas, according to the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas.

Texas governor Rick Perry put it this way in a email to me: “Here in Texas, we’ve worked hard to create an economic environment that allows people to risk their capital and get a good return on their investment by focusing on keeping taxes low, maintaining a reasonable and predictable regulatory climate and fair legal system – which was further strengthened with the passage of loser pays legislation this session – and developing a skilled workforce. These principles, combined with competitive investments from the Texas Enterprise Fund and Texas Emerging Technology Fund have helped attract investment dollars and thousands of jobs to our state, and top researchers to our universities.”

As Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi recently noted, since California’s 2007 employment peak, the state has lost nearly 1.4 million payroll jobs. Meanwhile, Texas is boasting a job boom of more than 200,000 new jobs the past two years. From 2000-10, California has seen a net employment loss of 100,000 jobs whereas Texas saw a net gain of 1.4 million payroll jobs. Moreover, from 2005-09, California saw a net loss of 870,000 residents. People are leaving the state for three reasons, according to Adibi: jobs, housing prices and taxes, both state and local – all factors that play to the advantage of Texas.

California is a notoriously high-tax state, 49th in the United States in overall taxation (New York is 50th). California inflicts a flurry of taxes on residents including a state sales tax that is the second-highest in the nation and the third-highest state income tax, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation. By comparison, Texas ranks ninth overall; it has no state income tax; and ranks 14th of 50 states for sales tax. To be fair, California scores better than Texas on property taxes because of Proposition 13, which became law in 1978, when the state was at least somewhat fiscally sane.

Even though property taxes are less-high in the Golden State, housing is not nearly as affordable as in the Lone Star State. During Chapman University’s recent economic forecast update, Adibi said that housing in Texas costs a fraction of what it does in California. The median 2009 home price in Austin was $187,400, compared with Orange County’s 2009 median home price of $477,200. “In other words, the median home price in Austin is about 60 percent cheaper than what it is in Orange County,” Adibi said in an email.

Unemployment in Texas is at 8 percent, below the national of 9 percent – while California has the second-highest rate of joblessness, 11.7 percent in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Regulation also plays a major role in whether a state declines or surges. California’s onerous labor standards, especially for overtime pay, are a disincentive for businesses to come to the state, or to stay and grow. For instance, California requires overtime pay after eight hours in a day; the federal law allows more flexibility, starting the overtime clock after 40 hours in a work week. Texas’ overtime laws are in line with federal standards. Texas is also a right-to-work state, meaning workers cannot be required to join a union or pay dues or fees to a union; California is not.

The cherry on top for Texas, though, is the recent passage of loser-pays legislation, which tends to curb frivolous lawsuits and will likely attract new businesses, especially in the medical field.

Even politically, California has lost ground and influence to Texas, especially within the Republican Party. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s California Republicans helped set the tone for national policy and political discourse. Two Republican presidents were elected (two times each) in that time frame from the Golden State – Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The most recent Republican president, though, is from Texas and given recent events, perhaps the next one will be as well.

The Nixon and Reagan eras of the presidency parallel political realities today. The Watergate scandal’s impact on the Republican Party, including Nixon’s resignation, led to Jimmy Carter winning the presidency in 1976. Carter won Texas that year while Republican President Gerald Ford won California. (How times have changed.) Four years later, Reagan ousted Carter and became the 40th president, perhaps a testament to the ideological and public policy leadership from California politicos at the time.

Fast forward to more recent presidential politics: President George W. Bush’s time in the White House ended with a public seemingly fed up with the leadership of the former Texas chief executive and the broader Republican Party, perhaps not to the extent it was with Nixon, but still enough to help usher in the presidency of Barack Obama – a president, some would argue, who is in the same mold as Jimmy Carter.

Current Texas Gov. Perry appears to be weighing a presidential run. If he does decide to announce his candidacy, some, including me, believe he would become the instant front-runner. Not only because the rest of the presidential field is, well, bland, but because Texas, which Perry has governed 10 years, enacted sane economic policy and conservative approaches to government – and is thriving.

While California legislators of the past few decades should serve as examples of how not to govern, Texas is perhaps one of the best examples of how more free-market, fiscally conservative approaches to public policy work to propel economies. It is a message that needs exposure, especially now, and perhaps the best endorsement for a Perry presidential campaign.

Of course, Texas is not without its challenges nor is Perry without his questionable policy choices, but when comparing the failed policies of California, those akin to the type of big government philosophy President Obama has brought to Washington, to the taxpayer-friendly approaches deployed in Texas, the choice is clear: Texas, Texas, yeehaw!

Brian Calle is an Opinion Columnist and Editorial Writer for the Orange County Register, a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, an Unruh Fellow at the Jesse Unruh Institute atthe University of Southern California and editor of the California Political Review. He can be contacted at [email protected].