Teachers’ Union Propaganda Is Creeping Into CA’s Public School Curricula

To say California’s teachers’ unions wield outsize influence over state education policy is hardly novel. From setting tenure rules to rewriting dismissal statutes and blocking pension reforms, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers roam the halls of the legislature like varsity all-stars. But less well known are the unions’ efforts to remake curriculum — and thereby influence the next generation of citizens and voters.

According to labor expert Kevin Dayton, organized labor has been trying to get its collective hooks into classroom content since 1981, when the City University of New York developed the “American Social History Project.” The idea was to present the history of marginalized and oppressed groups — including labor unions — to a “broad popular audience.” In California, the project took a great leap forward in 2001, when Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg cooked up the Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education, which, as Dayton explains, was established “to address issues of labor education in California’s public school system.” At the commission’s behest, Governor Gray Davis signed a bill that encouraged school districts to set aside the first week in April as “Labor History Week” and “commemorate it with appropriate educational exercises to make pupils aware of the important role that the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.”

By 2012, labor’s “week” had morphed into “Labor History Month,” and California’s teachers’ unions began advancing their politicized agenda. The CFT’s elementary curriculum includes a story about a “mean farmer” and his ticked-off hens that organize against him. The CTA meantime offers up a passel of lessons with a heavy emphasis on issues such as “tax fairness.” The University of California’s Miguel Contreras Labor Program joined in, adding an anthology of stories promoting the IWW, a radical union noted for its ties to socialism and anarchism, as well as a biography of America’s singing Stalinist, Pete Seeger.

The unions were on the move again in 2014, as the California Department of Education began its periodic review of the state’s history framework. In November, the CFT sent a proposal to the Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory body to the state board of education on matters concerning curriculum, instructional materials, and content standards. The union’s suggestions included downplaying the Second Great Awakening—the eighteenth-century religious revival that had a profound effect on the temperance, abolition, and women’s rights movements—in favor of greater emphasis on anti-Muslim discrimination after the 9/11 attacks. The union also wants the United States described as an “empire” that regularly “dominate[s] other civilizations,” despite the nation’s record of rebuilding countries we have defeated in war, such as Germany and Japan after World War II.

Naturally, the CFT makes a case for a “Labor Studies” elective. California is considering a lesson that would let students “participate in a collective bargaining simulation to examine the struggles of workers to be paid for the value of their labor and to work under safe conditions. They can examine legislation that gave workers the right to organize into unions, to improve working conditions, and to prohibit discrimination.” The Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education co-chairs, Fred Glass and Kent Wong, weighed in with a letter of their own urging the Instructional Quality Commission to establish the labor studies elective.

Will the unions advocate a full and fair treatment of labor’s history, including routine episodes of union violence and intimidation? Can students expect thorough exploration of labor economics, including how collective bargaining lowers the pay of many workers due to wage compression? Probably not. It’s even less likely that students will hear anything about the teachers’ unions twenty-first century political ventures—such as how the CTA spent more than $26 million in 2000 to defeat a school-voucher initiative that would have let families escape failing schools, or how, in 2012, it successfully lobbied to defeat SB 1530, which would have simplified the process of firing pedophile teachers.

The teachers’ unions are clearly lobbying for changes to a curriculum they believe presents a sanitized version of U.S. history, but they would simply replace disfavored “myths” with their own versions. As an American history teacher for much of the last decade of my career, I was faithful to the state framework and taught extensively about slavery and other injustices in our collective past. Most other history instructors I knew did the same. We didn’t browbeat the kids, however, into believing that American history was riddled with treachery and malevolence. If parents and citizens don’t take action, a bundle of America-bashing lessons, distorted history, and indoctrination into the glories of collective bargaining may become a part of the Golden State’s curriculum.

Originally published by City Journal.

New lawsuit challenges hegemony of CA teachers unions

For the third time in three years, a lawsuit has been filed in California that challenges the way the teachers unions do business. In May 2012, eight California public school children filed Vergara et al v. the State of California et al in an attempt to “strike down outdated state laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers.” Realizing that some of their most cherished work rules were in jeopardy, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers chose to join the case as defendants in May 2013.

But three days before they signed on to Vergara, the unions were targeted again. On April 29, 2013, the Center for Individual Rights filed suit on behalf of ten California teachers against CTA and the National Education Association. The Friedrichs case challenges the constitutionality of California’s agency shop law, which forces public school educators to pay dues to a teachers union whether they want to or not.

Now in April 2015, the teachers unions are facing yet another rebellion by some of its members. Bain et al v. CTA et al, a lawsuit brought by StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based activist outfit founded by Michelle Rhee, was filed on behalf of four public school teachers in federal court in California. It challenges a union rule concerning members who refuse to pay the political portion of their dues. Contrary to what many believe, teachers are not forced to join a union as a condition of employment in California, but they are forced to pay dues. Most pay the full share, typically over $1,000 a year, but some opt out of paying the political or “non-chargeable” part, which brings their yearly outlay down to about $600. However, to become “agency fee payers,” those teachers must resign from the union and relinquish most perks they had by being full dues-paying members. And this is at the heart of Bain. As EdSource’s John Fensterwald writes:

Although paying this portion is optional, the teachers charge that the unions punish those who choose not to pay it by kicking them out of the union and denying them additional economic benefits, such as better disability and life insurance policies. The unions provide those benefits only to members. This coercion, the teachers argue, violates their constitutional right to free speech. About one in 10 teachers in California have opted out of paying the portion of dues supporting politicking and lobbying.

In addition to losing various types of insurance, the affected teachers also give up the right to vote for their union rep or their contract, the chance to sit on certain school committees, legal representation in cases of employment disputes, death and dismemberment compensation, disaster relief, representation at dismissal hearings and many other benefits.

The question becomes, “Why should a teacher lose a whole array of perks just because they refuse to pay the third or so (it varies by district) of their union dues that go to political causes?”

That very sensible question summons up a great number of erroneous statements, hysteria, lies and general panic among the mainstream media and unionistas alike. Let’s examine a few of them starting with a partial-truth from the estimable John Fensterwald. He wrote, “Both the CTA and CFT are obligated to negotiate contracts dealing with pay, benefits and working conditions on behalf of union and non-union teachers.” That’s true; all teachers do indeed become “bargaining unit members.” However, that is only because the unions insist on exclusive representation. The unions would have a case here if teachers were free to negotiate their own contracts, but they aren’t allowed to. (For more on this issue, see my back-and-forth with CFT VP Gary Ravani in the comments section of Fensterwald’s piece.)

A Los Angeles Times editorial claims that the case at its core is “an attack on the power of any public employee union to engage in politics.” How they came up with that assessment defies logic. If Bain is successful, unions will still be free to “engage in politics.” It is true that more teachers may opt out of the political part, thus leaving the union with fewer coerced dollars to spend. But to say it is an “attack” is a great exaggeration.

Alice O’Brien, general counsel for NEA, said in a statement, “The Bain lawsuit attacks (there’s that word again) the right of a membership organization to restrict the benefits of membership to those who actually pay dues.” What?! The teachers in question are all dues payers and will still be dues payers if their case is successful.

Never one to be subtle, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten claims that the lawsuit is “part of a siege against unions by StudentsFirst.” (Before starting StudentsFirst, Rhee – now departed – was Washington, D.C. school chancellor, where she and Weingarten tangled constantly.) In a statement Weingarten said, “This is the same group that has worked for five years to stifle the voices of teachers, and strip them of collective bargaining and other rights and tools to do their jobs.” Then as if to clarify this baseless statement, she added, “The suit cites political activity on issues it considers unrelated to education – like gun control, for example.”

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.

Other scenarios are possible, with the courts, of course, having the final say on how it all gets sorted out.

In any event, the teachers unions’ heavy-handed political arm-twisting would seem to be in jeopardy and their days of unbridled power numbered. And that can only be good news for teachers, students, parents and taxpayers.

Originally published by UnionWatch.org

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.

CA GOP Introduces Bills to Overhaul Teacher Hiring, Firing, Evaluation

Last year, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled that California’s archaic seniority, tenure, and dismissal statutes were unconstitutional, adding that the evidence submitted by the plaintiffs “shocks the conscience.” The state and two teachers unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, are appealing Treu’s decision in Vergara v. California. Should the judgment survive the appeals process, legislators would need to pass new laws to fill the void. But Republican lawmakers aren’t waiting for a decision, which won’t come down for months—or possibly years.

On March 4, the 28-member Assembly Republican Caucus introduced a half-dozen bills to overhaul the way California’s teachers are hired, assessed, and dismissed. Assembly Bill 1047 by minority leader and Modesto Republican Kristin Olsen, for example, would update the Stull Act, California’s four-decade-old teacher evaluation law that school districts have largely ignored. Olsen’s bill would require that teachers have annual evaluations, replacing an antiquated pass-fail system with four new categories: highly effective, effective, minimally effective, and ineffective. AB 1248 by Oceanside Republican Rocky Chavez would extend a teacher’s probationary period from two years to three before awarding permanent status, and would make tenure contingent upon positive evaluations. Other bills would repeal the “last in, first out” system that puts seniority before teacher effectiveness and require school districts to submit detailed reports on teacher training and local school expenditures.

The Republican bills are in line with a set of “policy pillars” by Students Matter, the group behind the Vergara lawsuit. Most of the suggestions are vast improvements over the laws currently on the books. The tenure pillar, for example, says, “Permanent status should be able to be rescinded if a teacher receives multiple evaluations showing an ineffective rating.” That’s a sound idea—though if permanence can be rescinded, why call it permanence at all? As for the state’s onerous dismissal statutes, the legislature took a positive first step last year with AB 215, which expedites the process of firing a teacher found guilty of “egregious and immoral conduct.” Students Matter recommends “explicitly including ineffectiveness as grounds for dismissal and mirroring for teachers the same dismissal process established for classified employees.” The teachers unions steadfastly oppose the idea, but it’s past time for public education to join the rest of the civilized working world, weeding out not only criminals but also employees who don’t get the job done. As Hoover Institution scholar Eric Hanushek points out, if schools cut the bottom-performing 5 percent to 7 percent of teachers—a common practice in the private sector—our education system could rival that of highly ranked Finland. If California adopted Hanushek’s idea, about 18,000 teachers in California would be let go. But they’re not going anywhere any time soon, which means about 450,000 kids are getting an inferior education year after year.

When it comes to seniority, Students Matter suggests, “student learning [should] be the preponderant criterion in layoff decisions.” The current “last in, first out” system of picking winners and losers is an awful way to run a school system. Length of time on the job should never be the sole determinant for keeping that job. Nobody in his right mind would choose a surgeon who has been maiming his patients for 20 years over a gifted surgeon with ten years’ experience. In the real world, Dr. Quack’s clientele would dry up, his medical license would be revoked, and he would be looking for a new line of work. Why should teachers be treated any differently?

The answer, of course, is that the teachers unions say so. The unions stopped using “permanence” not long ago and now employ the more reasonable-sounding “due process” in defense of their most inept members. California’s existing dismissal statutes are weighted so heavily in favor of the unions that just two “permanent” teachers per year on average lose their jobs due to incompetence. That’s two teachers out of roughly 300,000 public school teachers statewide. In my nearly 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least two teachers at my school alone who deserved to be shown the door. Even to attempt to fire a teacher is an expensive proposition. Between 2000 and 2010, the Los Angeles Unified School District spent $3.5 million trying to pink-slip seven teachers (out of more than 30,000) for poor classroom performance. Of those, only four were let go.

The challenge for Republican legislators is they are currently a virtually powerless minority in a body dominated by Democrats and their union patrons. The CTA wasted no time denouncing the proposed legislation. “These bills are ill-conceived and premature,” said union spokesman Frank Wells. Republicans believe, however, that time is of the essence and that they can attract at least a few Democratic votes for their reforms. As Olsen explained to an interviewer, “We have seen throughout history that cases can take years to resolve in courts. Systemic problems have been failing kids for years. We need to take action now and hope Democrats will become partners.” But as former state senator Gloria Romero told me, “Ultimately, the resolution of the Vergara case will rest with the same body that enacted these unconstitutional statutes. It is not only unlikely, but extremely improbable that legislators dependent on CTA money to fuel their reelection campaigns will enact comprehensive reforms.”

So what will it take? Perhaps hordes of angry parents descending on the capital, brandishing lanterns and pitchforks. Short of that, how about a flood of letters and e-mails to lawmakers, imploring them to do right by the children of California? Only when enough good people get involved and fight the destructive agenda of the teachers unions will public education make a great leap forward in the Golden State.

U.S. Supreme Court Close to Curbing CA Union Power

Last year marked a legal turning point for California’s teachers’ unions and public employee unions across the nation. First, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in June that some of the teachers’ work rules—including tenure, seniority, and dismissal laws—violated the state and federal constitutions. That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v. Quinn, holding that home healthcare workers could not be forced to pay agency shop fees to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Treu’s ruling in Vergara v. California inflicted a flesh wound on the teachers’ unions, but Harris sent them reeling. The only way that the Supreme Court’s five-to-four decision could have been worse for the unions is if the justices had decided to broaden it to cover all public employees, not just a subset of them. Instead, Justice Samuel Alito drew a distinction between the home workers and “full-fledged” public employees, who currently must pay dues as delineated in the court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. Nevertheless, Alito’s opinion left the door open for a more expansive court ruling later. He noted that Abood (which holds that the state may force public-sector workers to pay union dues while carving out an exception for the funds that unions spend on political activity) is questionable on several grounds, and went so far as to suggest that collective bargaining issues are inherently political in the public sector. Alito explained, “In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government. But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government.” Taking Alito’s reasoning to its logical next step, paying fees to a public-employee union would become voluntary in the 26 states, including California, where it’s now compulsory.

As it happens, a case working its way through the federal appeals process right now from California could be the catalyst for that decision. Friedrichs et al v. CTA pits 10 teachers and a union alternative called the Christian Educators Association International against the powerful California Teachers Association. The lawsuit, filed in 2013 by attorneys working with the Center for Individual Rights, takes aim at California’s “agency shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities, though (per Abood) paying for the unions’ political agenda is not mandatory. The plaintiffs’ lawyers challenging the statute echo Alito’s point out that collective bargaining is inherently political, and therefore all union dues should be voluntary. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November issued an order that clears the way for the plaintiffs to petition the Supreme Court. If the justices grant certiorari, a decision could come in 2016.

If the Supreme Court overturns Abood, it would change the political landscape drastically. When Wisconsin’s Act 10 made teacher union membership voluntary, the unions in that state lost about one-third of their membership and a substantial amount of clout. If the same percentage of teachers quit the California Teachers Association, the union would lose approximately $62 million a year in dues. Considering the teachers’ union spent more than $290 million on candidates, ballot measures, and lobbying between 2000 and 2013 — by far the most of any political player in the Golden State — such a loss would be crushing. And it’s no secret that CTA spending moves almost exclusively in a leftward direction. Between 2003 and 2012, the union gave $15.7 million to Democratic candidates and just $92,700 to Republicans — a ratio of roughly 99 to one. CTA has also spent millions promoting controversial causes such as same-sex marriage and single-payer healthcare, while opposing voter ID laws and limitations of the government’s power of eminent domain.

And the “fourth co-equal branch of government” wouldn’t be the only teachers’ union to learn what it’s like to live on voluntary contributions. The National Education Association, which hauled in nearly $363 million in forced dues in 2013–2014 and spent about $132 million of it on issue advocacy, would have to curtail its political largess considerably. Like the CTA, the NEA spends almost exclusively on progressive groups and causes. Over the years, the union has lavished gifts on People for the American Way, Media Matters, ACORN, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH, and the Center for American Progress. Not surprisingly, the union’s political spending by party is lopsided, too. Between 1989 and 2014, the union directed just 4 percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans, usually backing the least conservative candidate in a primary election fight.

Like most union leaders, recently termed-out NEA president Dennis Van Roekel insists that all teachers should be required to pay the union. “Fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members,” he said in June. Sounds reasonable. But what Van Roekel doesn’t mention is that the unions demand exclusive bargaining rights for all teachers. Teachers in monopoly bargaining states have no choice but to toe the union line. There is nothing “fair” about forcing a worker to pay dues to a union they wouldn’t otherwise join. If Friedrichs is successful and Abood is overturned, it would be a great victory for true freedom of association.

This article was originally published at City-Journal.org

Will young CA justices use Vergara case to audition for SCOTUS?

The Volokh Conspiracy, the wonderful legal blog founded by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, had a provocative post about what might happen now that Gov. Jerry Brown has named three acclaimed youngish scholars to the California Supreme Court. George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr writes:

Leondra Kruger has been confirmed to a seat on the Supreme Court of California, a position to which she was nominated by Governor Jerry Brown last month. Governor Brown previously appointed Goodwin Liu (confirmed in 2011) and Tino Cuellar (confirmed in August).

These appointments make the California Supreme Court a court of national interest, in part because a Democratic President would likely consider Brown’s picks if there is a future U.S. Supreme Court vacancy on his or her watch. Brown’s picks share diversity, elite credentials, and youth. Given that prior judicial experience is a big asset for those hoping to land on a Supreme Court shortlist — it’s not required, but it’s helpful — Brown’s nominations likely expand the set of candidates to be considered if or when there is a future SCOTUS vacancy under a Democratic president in the next few Presidential election cycles.

As the picture above suggests, Kruger has already handled big cases before SCOTUS, representing the Obama administration. If Kruger, Liu and Cuellar are intrigued by this possible promotion, that seems to make it more likely that individually or together they will stake out bold new stands on major issues. There’s a pent-up desire among millions of liberals for more Warren Court-style sweeping rulings addressing perceived issues of social justice. A Democratic president, even a center-left politician, would see appointing activist judges to the high court as an easy way to please big Dem constituencies.

Brown vs. Board of Education for 21st century?

This could bode very well for the reformers behind the Vergara vs. California case.

The trial court judge, Rolf Treu, likened state laws that funnel the worst teachers to the schools with the most troubled students to segregated schools that existed in the South before the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, one of the most monumental in U.S. Supreme Court history. The state is now appealing Treu’s finding that teacher protection laws are unconstitutional because of their negative effect on minority students, and the case is close to certain to end up before the California Supreme Court.

If I were a CTA or CFT lawyer, this dynamic would worry me a lot — especially after reading the Vergara editorial in the most influential journal of liberal opinion, the New York Times:

The ruling opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle. It also underscores a shameful problem that has cast a long shadow over the lives of children, not just in California but in the rest of the country as well.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

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 percent 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.

The Unapologetic Teachers Unions

The cover of the November 3rd edition of Time Magazine set off a firestorm among union leaders and many their acolytes. The offending picture is of a judge’s gavel about to smash an apple, while the accompanying text reads, “It’s nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher; some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that.”Time magazine cover teachers

The story behind the photo, “The War on Teacher Tenure,” is mostly about the Vergara decision – in which a judge found that the tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes in the California education code are unconstitutional. The article focuses on Vergara’s benefactor – David Welch, a tech titan who has found a second career as an education reformer. It’s an even-handed piece, and one certainly worthy of discussion.

But instead of addressing the merits of the article, teacher union leaders and supporters went ballistic over the mildly provocative cover. American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten said she “felt sick” when she saw it. She promptly organized a protest and circulated a petition demanding an apology from Time Magazine. The AFT claimed the cover “casts teachers as ‘rotten apples’ needing to be smashed by Silicon Valley millionaires with no experience in education.”

To its credit, Time refused to cave in to the protesters, inviting aggrieved parties to respond online instead. The teachers union claque complied, many expressing outrage at the magazine and at education “outsiders” as well. The president of the behemoth National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, attacked the “wolves of Wall Street.” Some members of the Badass Teachers Association – a group that claims to represent 53,000 teachers – solemnly intoned, “The gavel as a symbol of corporate education, smashing the apple – the universal symbol of education – reinforces a text applauding yet another requested deathblow to teacher tenure.”

But the regnant themes of outrage and apology demands are a bit much. In fact, maybe it’s the teachers unions that need to do some mea culpas. For example:

  • Maybe AFT’s Weingarten should apologize to Marshall Tuck, who ran unsuccessfully for California School Superintendent. Her union financed a slanderous TV ad showing a businessman stealing a child’s lunch, and because some rich businessmen donated to his campaign, ridiculously asserted that Tuck would allow corporate fat cats to take over our schools. (Because there has been an influx of money from businessmen who are concerned about failing schools, the unions have concluded that school privatization is nigh. It’s a silly argument, but one that the unions try to use to rally teachers.)
  • Maybe the California Teachers Association should apologize for spending teachers’ dues money on union bosses’ personal political choices. CTA ended up spending over $10 million to defeat Tuck. But as teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci pointed out, with the millions CTA invested in the race, only 31 percent of union households supported Tom Torlakson, while 23 percent backed Tuck and 46 percent were undecided. But the union didn’t seem to care. As Antonucci said, “The answer is that CTA practices representative democracy in reverse. Decisions are made by the small handful of officers and shop stewards who participate in union activities. Then they justify, promote and sell these decisions to the membership-at-large – using the members’ own money to do so.”
  • Maybe Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, should apologize to critics of the Common Core State Standards, which include many teachers. Doing his best thug impersonation at a recent AFT convention, he threatened, “If someone takes something from me (control of the standards), I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers’!”
  • Maybe CTA should also apologize to the children of California for appealing the Vergara decision that rendered the seniority, tenure and dismissal statutes in the state’s education code unconstitutional. In California, due to the union-inflicted tenure and dismissal statutes, on average just of two “permanent” teachers a year lose their job due to incompetence. That’s two bad apples out of about 300,000. In my almost 30 years in the classroom, there were always at least two teachers (out of 50 or so) at my school alone who shouldn’t have been in the classroom. This is not an anomaly; if you were to go into any school and ask who the incompetents are, you would hear about the same few teachers from faculty, students, their parents, the principal, the assistant principal, guidance counselors, janitors, bus drivers, school secretaries and lunch ladies.

But don’t count on teachers unions to apologize for anything. And don’t expect them to ever willingly surrender any of the onerous work rules that they have foisted on our public schools. Instead, they try to divert attention by whining about a mildly controversial magazine cover, while the rest of us – including parents, serious teachers, community members, Democrats, Republicans and yes, corporate types and tech gurus – must revert to the courts to force reforms on our failing system. American children can’t wait a minute longer for the unions to mend their ways, let alone apologize for them.

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.

Jerry Brown Sold Out

Jerry Brown, the one-time progressive icon who palled around with paladins of the progressive movement like Noam Chomsky, has sold out.

Corporate sell-out might be the worst possible insult to any radical activist, but especially to a former bleeding-heart liberal who famously urged his father to spare the life of a man on death row. Yet, it’s an entirely accurate way to describe Brown’s political transformation from liberal icon to big-money politician. And, although he’s going to easily cruise to re-election in just a week or so, Brown’s victory, funded by the big corporations liberals love to hate, should serve as a devastating blow to the “ethos” (meaning “character” in Greek) of the progressive movement.

Just two decades ago, when Brown was campaigning for the White House, he swore off big money, or what he described as “the money-media system of control.”

“Having been so much a part of that system, I had not fully grasped the radical dominance of politics by the top one percent and the complicit role of the media,” Brown wrote in the early-1990s. “All this became clear once I swore off donations above $100 and refused to attend the sacred rite of end-less political fund raising with the wealthy.”

This year, Brown’s eschewed public events have relied exclusively on “the sacred rite of end-less political fund raising with the wealthy.” According to state campaign finance disclosure reports, Brown hauled in more than $17 million directly into his reelection campaign account. More than 500 contributions to Brown’s campaign are for $10,000 or more. Just 120 checks are valued at $100 or less. The average contribution to Brown’s campaign, $15,404, is owed largely to the max-out checks from a “who’s who” of the 1 percent.

There’s more than $300,000 from energy companies, including $54,400 from Chevron, $27,200 from Occidental Petroleum, $25,000 from Phillips 66 and $10,000 Exxon Mobil. Add $373,000 from gambling interests and another $300,000 from financial firms and insurance companies, both of which liberals criticize for profiting from the poor. Brown has cashed $27,200 checks from both Coke and Pepsi, or as progressives describe them, the “Big Soda” industry that causes diabetes.

At one time, Brown decried the “Disneyfication of existence.” Disney’s family-friendly entertainment was, in Brown’s view, all a ruse to “create a perfect, corporate reality” where the masses could be “infantilized and soothed.” But the last year alone, Brown has taken home $53,900 in political contributions from the Mickey Mouse evil-empire.

“Money buys media,” Brown used to say, “media buys credibility.” To buy even more media, Brown has turned to millions of dollars in unrestricted campaign contributions to his ballot measure campaign committee. Among the checks to Brown’s initiative committee: $100,000 from tobacco company Philip Morris, $25,000 from oil company Phillips 66, and $100,000 from corporate titan Wal-Mart.

Don’t worry, big labor hasn’t been excluded from the party. The California Teachers Association has supplied $3.7 million to the initiative account under Brown’s control — with $100,000 from the Teamsters and $125,000 from the International Union of Operating Engineers just for good measure.

Brown has spent that money on ads supporting Propositions 1 & 2, which conveniently feature Governor Jerry Brown. Although the ads don’t use the magic words “vote for Brown,” they help construct Brown’s myth of the “California comeback.” In Brown’s words, “When you have a large society you have to… have a certain mythology, you have to prop up the privilege.”

With his mythology as savior of the state intact, Brown has propped up the privilege by handing out special tax breaks to defense contractors, “green” car companies, and Hollywood studios, all while raising taxes on the poor and working class. During Brown’s tenure, California has led the nation in poverty – with 8.9 million people living in poverty. Nearly a quarter of the state lives in the poverty under the leadership of a man who once worked alongside Mother Teresa to help aid the poor.

It all must be quite devastating for true liberals like Noam Chomsky. Brown abandoned progressivism and went corporate. If Jerry can sell out, is there any hope for the progressive movement?

This piece was originally published on The Blaze.

James V. Lacy is the author of “Taxifornia: Liberals’ Laboratory to Bankrupt America.”

Hurray for Hollywood Tax Credits?

Is California’s political establishment trying to crush the Golden State’s economy and punish Hollywood movie moguls? That’s one interpretation of Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to sign a $330 million movie tax credit into law, but only if you take seriously the argument that tax increases—as opposed to tax credits—have driven the so-called California Renaissance. Recall how Brown, legislative leaders, and prominent columnists lauded voters’ approval of Proposition 30, which significantly raised sales and income taxes two years ago. The best businesses, they said, don’t mind California’s high tax burden so long as the weather stays nice. But if that’s so, then why the giveaway to Tinsel Town?

The Film and Television Job Creation and Retention Act more than triples the current $100 million-a-year movie tax credit for five years beginning in fiscal year 2015–16. The new law allows studios to use the credits for television pilots and eliminates a lottery system for selecting beneficiaries. It also removes the existing credit’s cap of $75 million on production budgets, according to a state senate analysis.

The California Teachers Association opposed the bill for self-interested reasons: the union doesn’t want any money potentially taken away from public schools, which currently eat up more than 40 percent of the state’s general fund. Despite the CTA’s opposition, the legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Republicans usually argue that tax credits are much less important than a more favorable overall tax climate, but they agreed to these special credits, just as they supported tax credits for a proposed Tesla electric-car battery plant, which wound up going to Nevada. More unusual was the support from the otherwise tax-credit-averse Democrats. “This legislation will keep the cameras rolling in California and strengthen our position as the entertainment capital of the world,” claimed Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat and new leader of the state senate. Governor Brown, who had criticized the credit in the past, said at the bill signing that SB 1839 “helps thousands of Californians—from stage hands and set designers to electricians and delivery drivers.” At least Democrats are tacitly recognizing the value of lower taxes—even if only for a handpicked industry that happens to support them.

But politicians’ assertions notwithstanding, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office in April released a report questioning the effectiveness of the existing tax credit. The LAO argued that studies promoting the credit’s economic benefit “vastly overstate” its advantages: “A return of $0.65 in state tax (excluding unemployment insurance) revenue for each $1 in tax credits may or may not be a good return compared with other state programs. However, it is incomplete—and, arguably, not accurate—to claim that the tax credit program pays for itself.”

Tax-credit supporters point to the loss of 16,000 California film-industry jobs over an eight-year period and blame other states, such as New York, for offering large subsidies that are supposedly stealing away movie productions. Just because other states lavish subsidies on movie companies doesn’t make it a great economic idea. “The state government in New York has dished out well over $2.5 billion in film industry tax incentives since their program began in 2004,” noted Christopher Thornberg, founder of Beacon Economics in Los Angeles. “And for that payout, New York has ‘stolen’ a total of roughly 10,000 jobs from California . . . Do that math! New York has paid $250,000 for each new job.”

The LAO pointed out another flaw in the case for Hollywood giveaways: “Other industries—such as manufacturing or software development—also could become the target of aggressive state subsidies. If this were to occur, would California also provide subsidies to retain these businesses? Doing so could be prohibitively expensive. Instead of approaching economic policy on an industry-by-industry basis, the Legislature may take actions that encourage all businesses to stay or relocate to California, such as broad-based tax reductions or regulatory changes.”

Unfortunately, a political party addicted to taxing and regulating happens to control California’s legislature. It’s funny how Democrats can rationalize tax hikes on the one hand and tax credits on the other. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Cay Johnston mocked claims that higher taxes destroy jobs: “Some research into tax rates indicates that high tax rates have the opposite effect: People may work harder, trying to make more money to achieve a desired after-tax income and may slough off if tax rates are lowered.” In other words, high tax rates aren’t detrimental to the California economy—they may even be the cause of its recent growth.

Johnston’s pro-tax argument is popular in Sacramento. Recently, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, argued in support of a bill that would base corporate tax rates on CEO compensation—with higher rates imposed on companies that pay executives more. Yet Jackson joined her colleagues (only two voted no in both houses) in supporting the Hollywood tax credits.

Tellingly, policymakers have been unwilling to consider less costly ways to encourage film production in the state. None of the discussions surrounding SB 1839, for instance, pointed to the pernicious effect of Hollywood’s union-dominated work rules. Think of the TMZ, or Thirty-Mile Zone, the radius the various movie and TV unions use to determine per diem rates and driving distances for crew members. Nor did any of the bill’s sponsors have a word to say about the creative accounting Hollywood studios employ to show profits and losses.

So even as they peddle the fiction that California is booming because of high tax rates, legislators feel compelled to subsidize one of the state’s signature industries. Maybe they should have raised taxes on Hollywood instead. After all, it would be good for the economy: the higher taxes would make the studios work harder.