Time To Break Up The Los Angeles School System

Now that the recent school board elections are over in the Los Angeles Unified School District, there will be the usual calls for a new beginning and getting down to the serious business of charting a bright future for the 600,000 or so deserving students that the board is privileged to serve.

Such a view ignores the fact that LAUSD’s governance structure is fundamentally broken and needs to be replaced by smaller units of school governance that are much more capable of delivering educational change that better serves students and their parents. In addition to being nimble and flexible, smaller school districts are physically closer to the parents they serve, and can initiate change strategies in a much more timely fashion. For example, Long Beach Unified, Garden Grove Unified and ABC Unified are all known as urban districts that can move quickly to implement needed changes that parents care about.

Ten years ago, while a faculty member at the University of Southern California, I served as the federal court monitor for the Modified Consent Decree, the blueprint for improving services to students with disabilities in the behemoth district.

During moments of frustration with the district’s intransigence, I would sometimes say to the courageous disability advocate lawyers representing the plaintiffs that I had a tough time figuring out how students and their parents benefited from maintaining the district at its current size, and that breaking it up into smaller units would better serve students’ interests.

They would quickly counter: “Now, Carl, if you broke it up, you’d get a lot of Comptons or Inglewoods, which might be even worse than what you’re getting now.” And I’d came back with: “You might also get some Long Beaches, which would be a vast improvement over what these kids and parents are getting now.”

The argument for breakup becomes even stronger today when you consider the important equity promise of Gov. Jerry Brown’s remarkable LCFF/LCAP school funding reform initiative, which places even greater authority at the local level to get things right for kids. When Los Angeles Unified screws up, more than half a million California youngsters are denied a critical opportunity to get a decent education during their one shot at using education to alter their life chances.

The missteps of the district are legion – everything from expensive attorneys arguing for the district that a middle school student was mature enough to consent to have sex with a teacher to the billion-dollar iPAD and MiSiS technology debacles and school board elections where records have been broken for adult special-interest-group spending.

No single event better captures the failure of this system than the recent revelation that 75 percent of the current class of 2017 is not on target to meet the school board’s 2005 adopted policy requirement that all students must meet UC/CSU A-G college entrance requirements in order to receive a high school diploma. For urban school boards, there’s more to policymaking than adopting well-intentioned higher standards. An important part of the job is to make sure that staff develops timely implementation plans without waiting 10 years to check progress. No matter how much we adults may wish it so, not all youngsters need to go to college.

Urban school boards like Los Angeles need to first deliver on the basics before they start adopting high school graduation requirements that are higher than those in the Palos Verdes and Palo Alto school systems. Last October, you had students at Jefferson High School still walking the halls and in auditoriums without scheduled classes even though school had started back on Aug. 12. Even worse, you had a superintendent giving a deposition in court (Cruz v. California) that he was powerless to get these students scheduled in the right classes, and that he needed assistance from the State of California to get this basic responsibility done.

I often wonder how the Long Beach school community would react to school starting in August and high school kids still without classes in October. I know from experience that there would be a universal and collective sense of community outrage and betrayal that no school board or superintendent could survive.

The Los Angeles school system has fundamentally lost its way, and the notion that a couple of new faces on the board and a skillful interim superintendent, Ray Cortines, can improve it is a huge disservice to the youngsters and their parents who deserve much better.

A blue ribbon task force with representation from the more than 20 cities served by the current district might be the best way to go. In the past, the strongest argument against breakup was that you would end up with new racially segregated districts. Today’s demographics make that a weak argument. On the other hand, Gov. Brown’s belief that the rescue of urban kids will take place closer to schools, classrooms and families bolsters the case for this type of change.

Breaking it up won’t be easy, and I’m sure that Sacramento doesn’t have this on its “to do” list, but we who advocate for education change often frame the debate as those who are committed to the adult status quo against those who are really for the kids. This will be the ultimate test of where we stand.

Originally published by EdSource.org

Carl Cohn is Director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University and until earlier this year was a member of the State Board of Education. He was formerly superintendent in Long Beach Unified and San Diego Unified.  He is co-chair of the  National Research Council’s Committee for the Five-Year Evaluation of the Washington D.C. Public Schools.  He is a member of the EdSource Board of Directors.

Los Angeles Will Spend Over $70 Million Implementing ‘Ethnic Studies’ In Schools

Los Angeles plans to implement a district-wide ethnic studies curriculum, but it has run into a massive $70 million road block.

Last fall, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) took the almost-unprecedented step of requiring every student in the district to pass a course in “ethnic studies” in order to graduate high school. When the school board approved the measure, however, it did so without any clear price tag. An initial estimate suggested the price of implementing the decree would be only $3.4 million.

It turns out that estimate was off by a factor of 20. A recently completed analysis by the district’s Ethnic Studies Committee concluded that the price to implement the new program will be a staggering $72.7 million over four years, with most of the price coming from the need to buy thousands of new textbooks and train instructors in the new curriculum. That’s about $105 for each student in the district.

That’s a hefty chunk of change for a district whose annual budget is about $6.8 billion. LAUSD is already struggling with its finances; its deficit for the 2015-16 school year is expected to be over $150 million.

The huge price tag vindicates those who criticized the district for rushing into adopting the ethnic studies requirement without much study beforehand. Board member Tamar Galatzan, the only person to vote against the proposal, warned in an editorial last November the district was acting without any real research on how the requirement would impact hiring decisions and the financial bottom line.

Activists insisted that ethnic studies was an urgent need for LAUSD and pushed for a quick adoption of the requirement. Board member Steve Zimmer argued that ethnic studies were a pressing need to keep kids in school and on the path towards success.

“In some places, there is resistance , but what we do here today will bring down the walls of resistance,” Zimmer said at the time. “We are losing kids because we are not connecting to their story.”

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Competition-Phobic Teachers Unions Still Trying to Decimate Charter Schools

school education studentsAs I wrote a couple of years ago, the teachers unions vacillate when it comes to charter schools. On odd days they try to organize them and on even ones they go all out to eviscerate them. But the organizing efforts haven’t gone too well. The Center for Education Reform reports that, nationwide, the percentage of unionized charter schools has dropped from 12 in 2009 to a paltry 7 in 2012. In California, there is a 15 percent unionization rate, but that number, from the 2009-2010 school year, is long overdue for an update.

So if you can’t join ‘em, you try to undermine ‘em. To that end, during National School Choice Week in January, the National Education Association claimed that charter schools are unaccountable and warned the public to be wary of them. Then last week, NEA posted “Federal funding of charter schools needs more oversight, accountability” on its website.

This is pure union obstructionism and especially laughable coming from an organization whose mantra is, “Let’s spend bushels more on public education … but don’t hold any unionized teachers accountable.” In fact, there is plenty of oversight and accountability for charters. As the California Charter School Association points out, unlike traditional public schools, charters “are academically accountable on two counts. They are held accountable by their authorizer (usually the local school district) and, most importantly, by the families they serve. When a team of school developers submit their charter petition, they must define their academic goals In order to be authorized, their goals must be rigorous. In order to stay open, they must meet or exceed those goals.” Additionally charters must abide by various state and federal laws, civil rights statutes, safety rules, standard financial practices, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, charter schools – schools of choice – have to please their customers: children and their parents. On that count, charters are doing quite well. Just about every study ever done on them shows that they outperform traditional schools, and Black and Hispanic kids benefit the most. Nationally, there are 6,440 schools serving 2,513,634 students, but the bad news is that there are over a million more kids on wait lists. And the situation is especially bad in areas that need charters the most: our big cities, which serve primarily poor and minority families. A new report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools points out that New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Miami and Washington, D.C. fail to meet parental demand.

And then there is California.

The Golden State is the national leader in charters with 1,184, serving 547,800 students. But not surprisingly it also leads the country in kids who want to get in but can’t, and there are 158,000 of them. Of course the teachers unions are saying and doing what they can to deny parents – again mostly minorities and poor – the right to escape their unionized public schools. United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl recently stated that “a lot of charters don’t allow access for special-education students or English learners.” This of course is bilge; charter schools must serve all students. Lest his sentiments were not clear, he added, “The ascendant forces in California’s charter movement, I don’t see a lot of value in them.”

California Teachers Association president Dean Vogel recently opined. “There is a role for charter schools in California’s education system, and that role should be performed to the same high standards of integrity, transparency and openness required of traditional public schools.”

My goodness, no! I want charters to perform at way higher standards than traditional public schools … and thankfully most do.

Sadly CTA, now in eviscerate mode, is sponsoring four bills making the rounds in the California legislature. The union’s professed aim is regulation, but it appears to be a lot more likestrangulation. The bills, which you can read about here, are nothing more than ways to limit charter growth, harass them and take away any needed independence they now have. For example, Tony Mendoza’s SB 329 would allow a charter petition to be denied for “anticipated financial impact.” This is simply a way to deny a charter for any reason and use money as an excuse. (This bill is similar Mendoza’s AB 1172 which was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2012.) AB 787 would require that all charters be run as non-profits. The bill’s author, Roger Hernández, said it would also “establish charter schools as governmental entities and their employees as public employees, giving them an increased ability to unionize.” Pure nonsense. Charters are fully capable of organizing now and only 10 in the state (less than one percent) are currently for-profit schools.

What the unions will never admit is that charter schools are effective because they are independent and not bound by the union contact, and when they are unionized, they are no different from traditional public schools. Jay Greene, in The Wall Street Journal, cited a study conducted by Harvard economist Tom Kane which found that, comparing apples to apples,

… students accepted by lottery at independently operated charter schools significantly outperformed students who lost the lottery and returned to district schools. But students accepted by lottery at charters run by the school district with unionized teachers experienced no benefit. (Emphasis added.)

The war between teacher union leaders who insist on a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter education system run by them, and parents who want to get their kids out of failing schools and into charters rages on. In the meantime, there are thousands of kids in California whose futures are in jeopardy as the teachers unions direct their cronies in the legislature to do their bidding and decimate charter schools.

This piece was 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.

Half of Juniors Opt Out of Common Core Tests in Affluent High School

More than half of the 11th graders at an affluent high school in Los Angeles County are opting out of new tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards – an ever-growing issue nationwide, but rare so far in California.

Parents in the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District are citing concerns about privacy over children’s data and the relevance of the Smarter Balanced Assessments that millions of California students are taking this spring as reasons for opting out.

At Palos Verdes High School, 260 of the school’s roughly 460 juniors are skipping the tests that began last week and are continuing this week, Superintendent Don Austin said. Elsewhere in the 11,600-student district, an additional 222 students are sitting out of the tests in a different high school, as well as intermediate and elementary schools.

“We think it’s fantastic,” said parent Barry Yudess, who leads RestorePVEducation, a parent watchdog group that opposes the Common Core tests.

The state has yet to track this year’s numbers of students who are opting out of the exams, which is allowed under California law. School districts will submit the opt-out reports after testing is completed by June and statewide numbers likely will be available in the fall.

But this is the highest number of opt-outs that California Department of Education officials had heard of so far, said Pam Slater, a department spokeswoman. Smarter Balanced testing began in March, with roughly half of the state’s 3.2 million students taking it so far.

Compared to several other states, California has not been a breeding ground for opposition to the  Common Core standards, the new academic standards adopted by California and 42 other states.

For example, in six large school districts where EdSource is tracking implementation of the Common Core, school superintendents indicated that there has been relatively little opposition and no greater number of parent requests to opt out of standardized testing than in previous years.

In several states, students have opted out in far larger numbers or even walked out of Common Core-aligned tests. In New York, some schools have reported between 60 and 70 percent of students skipping the tests.

On the Palos Verdes peninsula, the district sits along the ocean, with average home prices of $1.5 million, and enrolls just 3 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch.

The RestorePVEducation group got the word out by sponsoring forums with Common Core opponents, putting up a YouTube channel, setting up a Facebook page and sending out emails. But the most effective method likely was handing out fliers and opt-out forms outside of schools, Yudess said.

Yudess and Joan Davidson, a grandmother and another group leader, said they have concerns about the privacy of the data being collected electronically through the tests.

“There really is no good reason to take the test,” said Kimberly Ramsay, the parent of a 7th grader and a senior.

The school district’s website boasts that 98 percent of its graduates enroll in college, so that some parents and students are questioning the relevance of taking a test they don’t see as related to achieving that goal.

“It’s ridiculous,” Yudess said. “They don’t want their time wasted. They are looking at going to top colleges. They are thinking, ‘Why waste my time, taking this meaningless test?’”

School superintendent Austin said he believes most parents decided to opt out their 11th graders after Common Core opponents put fliers on cars, stating that the students could spend more time studying for Advanced Placement tests that students can take for college credit.

During testing weeks, teachers are dividing students by those taking the test and those who are not, and supervising the students who opted out, Austin said.

Austin said he has tried to get answers from the state about the consequences of failing to have enough students take the tests in certain schools. Under the federal No Child Law Behind law, 95 percent of students in certain grades are expected to take annual standardized tests. If they don’t, they are labeled as failing to make “Adequate Yearly Progress,” or AYP. Austin said he was unsure how many of his campuses would end up falling below the 95 percent mark until the Smarter Balanced testing is complete.

But there would be no financial consequences. Only schools that receive money for low-income students, called Title 1 funds, might be affected. Palos Verdes is not one of those schools.

Also, high school students might be unable to use their Smarter Balanced scores when applying to California State University campuses and other colleges to prove that they don’t need remedial courses. But there are other ways for students to demonstrate that that they do not need to take remedial classes.

Last week at the Education Writers Association meetings in Chicago, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was asked what would happen to states if  large numbers of students did not take the tests. He said that he expected that states would make sure that they did. “If states don’t do that, then we have an obligation to step in,” he said, without detailing any specific actions.

Austin said he has been unable to get good answers about what the consequences will be for his district as a result of  children opting out of the standardized tests. “This is a very, very sophisticated community. They are asking the right questions. Our inability to answer those questions is only adding fuel to the fire,” Austin said. “I do think without some accurate information quickly, it’s only going to get worse and we’re going to end up being a model for the state.”

Originally published by EdSource. 

Louis Freedberg contributed to this story.

Common Core tests well under way

Common Core student testWith less than two months of instruction time left before summer vacation for most California schools, roughly half of the 3.2 million students expected to take the first online tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards have begun to do so, the California Department of Education reported Monday.

“From what we understand, things are going well,” said department spokeswoman Pam Slater. “We haven’t had a lot of reports of computer malfunctions and we’re happy with results so far.”

The computer-based tests, known as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, are replacing the multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper California Standards Tests that students had been taking since 1998.

School districts began administering the tests on March 10, with testing windows varying widely among different districts, depending on their instructional calendars. Most districts will complete testing by mid-June, although a small number of California schools that offer year-long instruction will be giving the tests up until Aug. 31.

The assessments, in math and English Language Arts, are being given to students in grades 3 through 8 and 11. The test developer, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, has estimated the tests will take students between seven and eight-and-a-half hours to complete, but it is up to the schools to decide precisely how to schedule the assessments. Slater has said that in most cases students are taking the tests over several days, in blocks of time as short as 30 minutes to an hour.

Of the more than 1.6 million students who have embarked on the tests to date, 573,299 have so far completed the tests in English language arts and literacy, and 366,794 have finished the tests in math.

“We think this is a really big week for the testing, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on the system,” said Cindy Kazanis, the state’s director for educational data management.

At the peak so far, 287,778 students were online at the same time, with no interruption in the state system monitoring results, Kazanis said. She expected that number to increase this week, but said she was confident that districts will avoid major problems.

“We’re not getting any panicked calls that this isn’t working,” she said.

Originally published by EdSource.

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.

Anaheim Teachers Union Faces A Gathering Storm

If you drive by Palm Lane Elementary School in Anaheim, California, nothing seems amiss. With modern buildings, partially surrounded by a park, the school seems like a tranquil refuge. Like so many settings in sunny Southern California, palm trees and sycamores compete for space on the spacious lawns, beckoning skyward, swaying in the warmth of a slight breeze. By appearances, Palm Lane seems a perfect place to send your children to get an education.

Appearances can be deceiving. Palm Lane does not deliver educational excellence to its students, and it is the latest epicenter of an escalating war for control of California’s failing public schools.

Despite investing to create and maintain an impressive campus, academic achievement at Palm Lane has been sadly deficient. According to a report earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal, “In 2013 a mere 38 percent of students scored proficient or better on state standardized English tests and 53 percent in math. About 85 percent of its students are Latino and 60 percent aren’t native English speakers.”

Parents at Palm Lane School were not aware of the school’s designation as a failing school, but they noticed improvement when a new principal, Roberto Baeza, arrived in 2013. During 2014, however, the Anaheim City School Board (ACSB) demoted Mr. Baeza and he now works at another school. Parent protests led to the involvement of Senator Huff’s office, along with former State Senate majority leader Gloria Romero.

Back in 2010, Senator Huff, a Republican, joined with Democratic Senator Gloria Romero to pass “Parent Trigger,” a law that permits parents to take over the management of a failing school if a majority of them sign a petition. To get onto the list of eligible schools, among other things, a public school has to fail to meet academic performance improvement goals for four consecutive years. Palm Lane has failed to meet improvement targets for over a decade.

While concerned parents began to organize to gather signatures to invoke the provisions of Parent Trigger, the Anaheim Elementary Teachers Association – that’s “teachers union” in plain English – tried to discourage the effort. As noted in the Wall Street Journal article, “In an October newsletter, the union warned teachers that ‘If you see signature gatherers or unusual people on your campus, contact the office, and depending on the situation, approach them and inquire why they are there or what they need.’ While teachers by law can’t tell parents not to sign the petition, the union said ‘it is okay to make statements such as: If I were a parent at this school, I wouldn’t sign the petition.’”

Eventually, signatures representing about 65 percent of students were gathered despite efforts by teachers to discourage it. Under Parent Trigger, petitioning parents may choose from among a group of options, one of which allows them to turn the failing school their children attend into a charter school. That is the option selected by the Palm Lane parents. That’s the worst possible option for the teachers union.

How the union is handling this challenge to the status-quo is revealing and typical. They have positions of authority over these children and the ability to influence parents both through their children and through meetings and communications directly with parents. Since the petitions were turned in, the union has been organizing meetings with parents, where, needless to say, the charter school option is not presented in a positive light. In one of these meetings, one of Senator Huff’s district representatives, who was invited to the meeting by concerned parents, had to contend with physical and verbal intimidation from union operatives.

There is understandable reluctance on the part of the Anaheim Elementary Teachers Association to see a change in management. But the way they are handling the situation is creating a movement. There are hundreds, if not thousands of schools in California that have failed according to the criteria specified in the Parent Trigger law.

Charter schools work. They work because they have the management flexibility to, for example, terminate incompetent teachers and retain excellent teachers even during layoffs. Each charter school has the independence to try creative approaches to effective teaching. They are laboratories where the science of education is advanced far more quickly than in highly regimented traditional schools where student achievement must be accomplished without violating union work rules. Even more important, when charter schools fail, and some of them do, they can be swiftly shut down or reorganized. Charter schools offer hope to literally millions of K-12 students in California.

If Parent Trigger succeeds in turning Palm Lane into a charter school, it won’t end there. The teachers union knows this. But all their money and influence cannot stand up to a grassroots, bipartisan movement of parents who love their children, and activists of diverse backgrounds and ideologies who care about the future. They know that, too.

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

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

GOP Lawmaker: Fund Schools With High-Speed Rail Bonds

A Republican lawmaker wants to turn money for California’s high-speed rail project into funding for schools.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, introduced Assembly Bill 6, which would cancel outstanding bond funds approved by Proposition 1A, a 2008 voter-approved initiative to fund the state’s high-speed rail project with $9 billion in bonds. In its place, voters would be asked to spend the remaining funds on constructing and modernizing dilapidated school facilities throughout the state.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love trains and would be happy to be able to take one from Los Angeles to San Francisco for ‘dinner and a show’ and back,” Wilk wrote in a recent piece at the Los Angeles Daily News, “but not at the expense of the people of California.”

Before allocating up to  $8 billion for school construction, AB6 first would first pay off the outstanding debts incurred for the state’s high-speed rail project. The bill requires two-thirds approval of the state Legislature and a majority approval of voters.

“Our students deserve to have well-maintained facilities and it is irresponsible to continue prioritizing the crazy train over our schools,” Wilk said, echoing a favorite phrase coined by GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, who on Nov. 4 lost to Gov. Jerry Brown. “The high-speed rail boondoggle has been a proven failure and it’s time we spend taxpayer dollars in a responsible way.”

State Allocation Board: California needs as much as $12 billion for schools

Wilk points to a Jan. 2014 report by the State Allocation Board that contends California needs to devote as much as $12 billion toward new school construction and another $5 billion to modernization of existing facilities. The obscure board, which includes representatives from the governor’s office and the Legislature, couldn’t definitively peg the total cost of school modernization.  Other State Allocation Board estimates put the figure between $5.9 billion and $6.6 billion.

“There is demand for new construction and modernization funding,” the State Allocation Board School Facility Program Review Subcommittee concluded earlier this year. “The Subcommittee did not come to a consensus on a total dollar amount needed for future school facilities or the exact structure of a future bond.”

The committee struggled to identify the state’s total school modernization costs, in part, because “California does not track the number of schools and classrooms available for use. …

“Currently, data on the number of school sites and classrooms and/or the age of the facilities in the State is unknown.”

Wilk: Put schools before bullet train

highspeedrail-300x169How likely is Wilk’s idea to gain traction in Sacramento? Brown remained a steadfast supporter of the project during his reelection campaign. However, support is wavering among other Democratic leaders and state lawmakers. Wilk’s proposal to transfer rail funds to schools could provide liberal Democrats a reason to join a burgeoning right-left alliance against the state’s rail project.

CalWatchdog.com contributor Chris Reed, who has reported extensively on the problems with California’s high-speed rail project, noted that one of the  biggest critics has been Kevin Drum, a reporter for the liberal Mother Jones magazine.

Drum has questioned the ridership assumptions produced by New York-based Parsons Brinkerhoff, which claimed “the high-speed rail system could carry 116 million passengers a year, based on running trains with 1,000 seats both north and south every five minutes, 19 hours a day and 365 days a year.” Drum also pointed out the potential conflict of interest: Parsons Brinkerhoff  helped fund the initiative and has a stake in the outcome.

Flaws in California’s use of school facilities

Wilk’s idea is likely to gain support among conservatives and taxpayer groups, who view the state’s high-speed rail project as an irresponsible boondoggle that enriches private companies at public expense. Since 1998, state voters have approved $35 billion in school construction and modernization bonds. The most recent state bond package, $5 billion approved in 2006, has nearly been exhausted, with just $187.3 million remaining for school construction and $142.4 million left for seismic repair.

California’s school facility repair program, much like the state’s high-speed rail project, has faced similar questions about flawed oversight and accountability. School bond funds have been spent to modernize portable school buildings, despite their shorter life spans.

“Some concerns about the current program included whether a portable can be truly modernized, as well as the concern that was also expressed in the new construction section that 30 year funds were being spent on buildings that would not have a 30 year life span,” the State Allocation Board found in its Jan. 2014 report.

Any attempt to shift the high-speed rail bonds to schools would different state political functions to the head of the class. Brown has made the rail project his baby, but also is working on reforming school finances.

The teachers’ unions are strong Brown allies. But in addition to the need for school construction and repairs, the California State Teachers Retirement System needs $4.5 billion a year from the general fund to remain solvent.

With such financial problems ahead on the train tracks, high-speed rail may be a ready candidate for the junk yard.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com