New Teacher Tenure Bill Doesn’t Go Nearly Far Enough

Teacher tenureAs things stand, k-12 public school teachers in California are essentially guaranteed lifetime employment if they can get through their first two years on the job. This puts a lot of pressure on principals, as they must decide by March of a teacher’s second year – after just 16 actual teaching months – whether or not someone is good enough to spend their professional career influencing hundreds, and in many cases thousands, of young minds. About 98 percent of all teachers who seek tenure receive it in the Golden State.

There have been several attempts to tweak tenure or, more accurately, “permanent employment status.” In 2005, a ballot initiative would have extended the time it takes for a teacher to become a permanent employee from two to five years. But Prop. 74 went down to defeat, primarily because the California Teachers Association fought it tooth and nail, claiming it was an “attack on teacher due process.” (Wrong! As we have seen time and again, permanent status actually gives teachers “undue process.”)

Then, in 2012, along came Vergara v. California. The plaintiffs in this case argued that tenure (in concert with the seniority and dismissal statutes) causes greater harm to minority and economically disadvantaged populations because their schools “have a disproportionate share of grossly ineffective teachers.” So it was a case of a kid’s right to a good education v. an adult’s right to a job, and after going through the courts the unions ultimately won and California’s children were the big losers.

But before the State Supreme Court officially put the kibosh on Vergara, Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) introduced Assembly Bill 934 in February, 2016. As originally written, the bill would have placed poorly performing teachers in a program that offers professional support, though if they received a second low performance review after a year in the program, they could be fired via an expedited process regardless of their experience level. Also, permanence would not always be granted after two years, and seniority would no longer be the single overriding factor in handing out pink slips. Teachers with two or more bad reviews would lose their jobs before newer teachers who have not received poor evaluations.

At first, CTA opposed Bonilla’s bill on the basis that it “would make education an incredibly insecure profession.” Then, ratcheting up its propaganda, the union trotted out its standard diversionary tactics in proclaiming, “Corporate millionaires and special interests have mounted an all-out assault on educators by attempting to do away with laws protecting teachers from arbitrary firings, providing transparency in layoff decisions and supporting due process rights.”

Due to CTA arm-twisting, the bill was eviscerated so badly that most of its original supporters decided the cure had become worse than the disease, and it was eventually euthanized by the Senate Education Committee.

The latest attempt to rework teacher permanence comes from California State Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. With the sponsorship of Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence, two teacher-led activist organizations, the San Diego Democrat has introduced AB 1220, legislation that would extend the current time it takes to attain permanent status from two years to three. The bill would also allow some teachers who don’t meet the requirements in three years an extra year or two in which they could get additional mentoring and be the recipient of other professional development resources.

So depending on the teacher’s effectiveness, the tenure perk would be moved from two to three, four or five years. As things stand now, a principal may not want to take a chance on a teacher who is not doing well in his first two years. But the added time frame might see that teacher blossom…or it might not. Hence, it’s a crapshoot for kids.

The only response from the teachers unions thus far comes from California Federation of Teachers president Josh Pechthalt, who says that the bill “really misses the boat in terms of what is needed to improve or make sure that beginning teachers are prepared and ready to assume a classroom.”

However union leaders may try to disparage the bill, it is hardly radical, as 42 states set tenure at three or more years. In fact, three states don’t offer tenure at all, which brings up the question of why do teachers need permanent status? Doctors, lawyers, bricklayers, carpenters and U.S. presidents have no such entitlements. Why teachers? The stock teacher unionista response  these days is that permanent status is important “so that I can advocate for my students without fear of losing my job.” This statement has been making the rounds for a while now and is just plain silly. What kind of teacher or principal would not “advocate for their students?” In fact, to really advocate for your students, you should demand an end to permanence. Period.  Thousands of students stuck with lemons, not to mention their parents and taxpayers, would be much better off.

There is no legitimate reason why we need a law on the books which enables just 2 teachers a year out of about 300,000 to be fired for incompetence, most especially in a state where student NAEP scores languish at the bottom of the barrel. And this is the biggest problem with AB 1220. What do you do with a burned out teacher who, after 20 years in the classroom, is just going through the motions, spending the day ignoring his students as he dreams of retiring to a beach in Hawaii in ten years on his big fat defined benefit pension? The answer is that you can’t do a damn thing.

That said, AB 1220 is better than the law on the books and should be supported…in its current uneviscerated form. But we really need to go much further and promote a system where a teacher must earn his right to stay on the job throughout his career… just like any other professional.

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.

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

Quality Education Remains Thwarted by Teachers Unions

shocked-kid-apAn article in today’s American Prospect, of all places, offers an in-depth look at just how little progress has actually been made toward restoring quality education to California’s public school students. Because the article appears in a publication that is “dedicated to American liberalism,” and because “American liberalism” depends more than anything else on billions in annual political contributions from government unions, you almost have to read between the lines to realize who the bad guys are.

Nonetheless, “California’s Ed Reform Wars,” by Rachel Cohen, all 3,200 words of it, is a fine piece of work. Read it closely, if you can stomach the facts. The bad guys – a matter of opinion, of course – are the government unions. The victims? California’s students, and the future of this great state.

Covered first is the uncertain fate of the Vergara case, funded by wealthy activists – many of them liberals – in the Silicon Valley. The plaintiffs are public school students whose case was founded on the argument that union work rules, specifically the policies governing tenure, layoff and dismissal policies, cause disproportionate harm to students in low-income communities. During round one, two years ago in a Los Angeles courtroom, reformers were mesmerized by the brilliant closing arguments of the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, along with the ruling by the judge in the case, who emphatically agreed.

That was then. In April of this year, by a 3-0 vote, the California Court of Appeals unanimously struck down the original Vergara v. California decision. The case will now go to the California Supreme Court. Its chances aren’t great.

But shouldn’t elected officials, not the courts, make policy decisions? In a perfect world, that would certainly be true, but in California’s state Legislature, as Cohen herself writes, “Following the original Vergara decision, Republican lawmakers introduced a package of three bills to extend the time it would take a teacher to earn tenure, to repeal the “last-in, first-out” statute that makes layoff decisions based on seniority, and to establish an annual teacher evaluation system. These bills, however, got nowhere in the Democratic-controlled statehouse.”

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Because then a democratic assemblywoman who takes money from government unions, Susan Bonilla, tried to push legislation through that might reform at least some of the employment statutes that protect bad teachers. Cohen writes:

“Bonilla proposed, among other things, giving principals the option of waiting until a teacher’s third or fourth year to grant tenure, and placing poorly performing teachers in a program that would provide increased professional support. If the ineffective teacher received another low performance rating after a year in this program, Bonilla’s legislation would enable schools to fire the teacher through an expedited process.”

Might that be watered down enough? Might that not have a chance? For the children?

Forget it. Despite endorsements including one from the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, the teachers union issued an “action alert” to their members, calling the bill “an all-out assault” by “corporate millionaires and special interests.” The bill was going to go nowhere in California’s union-controlled legislature. So Bonilla tried again. As Cohen reports:

“In June, Bonilla introduced an amended version of her bill, one that would require new teachers to work for three years before becoming eligible for tenure. Her bill no longer included provisions to create a new teacher evaluation system, to require teachers with poor performance reviews to be laid off before those with less seniority, and to remove many of the dismissal rules that administrators found frustrating.”

Not much left there. Just a bill to marginally extend the probationary period before teachers acquire tenure. But still it was opposed by the unions, and it died in committee by a vote of 9 to 2. The two legislators who voted in favor were due to be termed out and therefore could vote their consciences.

When it comes to government unions, perhaps the teachers union most of all, the lack of support for bipartisan reform is not a mystery. Government unions in California collect and spend over $1 billion each year, which gives them the ability to financially dominate any election, anytime, anywhere, whenever they choose. But there’s more to it. These unions use their financial and organizational power to anoint not only politicians, but also bureaucrats, teachers, and anyone in the business community who may have any need to work with the government bureaucracy. They can anoint, or they can target. Best friend or worst enemy? Take your pick.

Liberals know this, but they tolerate the teachers union because along with all that money the union gives their candidates, the union political agenda matches their own – bigger government, more regulations. They don’t understand, course, that more regulations favor big business and destroy entrepreneurs who deliver the competitive innovations that have improved our lives. And they certainly don’t put enough importance on innovation in education.

Someday liberals may care enough “for the children” to stand up to the teachers union. Don’t hold your breath.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

The Business Democrat Gains Influence

HALF MOON BAY — It’s a lovely place to do business.

Ocean waves crash into rocky cliffs. Pelicans flap along the shoreline. And on the golf resort overlooking it all, a powerful bloc of legislators hit the links recently with donors who paid up to $40,000 for the opportunity to join them.

This was the annual fundraiser benefitting the legislators who call themselves “moderate Democrats.” Since last month, when the group unexpectedly killed a centerpiece of Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate change plan, the moderate Democrats have been getting much more scrutiny, particularly about those who pay for their elections and attend their fundraisers.

Since 2013, the group’s political action committee has taken in more than $4 million, with nearly one-third of that coming from Chevron, PG&E and other oil and gas companies. Other major donors include Wal-Mart, a hospital association and a realtors group. Only 1 percent of the committee’s money came from labor unions.

Who supports the moderate Democrats? Donations to the political action committee for moderate Democrats called Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, 2013-2015. Who supports the moderate Democrats? Donations to the political action committee for moderate Democrats called Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy, 2013-2015.  Source: California Secretary of State

By contrast, organized labor provided more than a quarter of the money the California Democratic Party raised in the same time period, and oil and gas companies made up about 6 percent. The liberal-leaning party, which also benefits from fundraisers at swanky golf resorts, has traditionally declined contributions from Wal-Mart because of its anti-union policies.

The business money to the moderate Democrat committee helped several candidates — like Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) — prevail last year over more liberal opponents. Cooper was critical of the governor’s failed climate change plan to cut fuel consumption in half by 2030, but he said money from business sources did not influence his decision.

“I tell everybody: I’m not going to be with you 100 percent of the time,” Cooper said. “One day we’ll be together on a bill, another day we’ll be at odds.”

Overall, the moderate Democrat committee has spent $2.3 million on campaign efforts since 2013 – more than half of it focused on five legislative races in the Central Valley, Orange County and Los Angeles. Voters elected three of the five candidates on which the committee spent the most in the last election — the other two seats went to Republicans.

The effort to elect moderate Democrats started more than a decade ago with Sacramento political consultant David Townsend. Back then, the Legislature had more Republicans and fewer centrist Democrats. The centrists complained to him that the party’s liberal wing wielded too much influence in the Capitol. So Townsend set up the political action committee that accepts unlimited donations from wealthy interests and spends the money urging voters to choose moderate Democrats.

The effort was helped in 2010 when voters approved an initiative that was designed to elect more moderates — a change Townsend spearheaded. Since then, the top two vote getters in the June primary move to the November general election even if they are from the same party.

Today, Townsend’s committee is one of several that pour corporate dollars into campaigns for Democrats. But it wasn’t always that way.

“When we started out, it was pretty lonely,” Townsend said, recalling that the moderate committee’s first fundraiser included just a half-dozen lawmakers and 25 donors. “Now when we have an event, we’ll have 25 or 30 legislators and over 100 people attending.”

Which brings us back to the seaside golf course an hour south of San Francisco, where Townsend’s committee raises money by inviting donors to mingle with lawmakers for two days each fall.

On Friday, an AT&T lobbyist golfed with two lobbyists from Sacramento’s highest-earning firm. Nearby, Assemblyman Jim Frazier (D-Oakley) chatted on a sunny patio. Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) ate lunch at a table overlooking the ocean as Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) walked by. Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson) checked email in the hotel’s business center before leaving the resort.

Organizers of the mod Dems’ annual event won’t talk about how much it raises for the PAC or who attends. A flyer distributed to Sacramento lobbyists advertises ticket packages ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 that include dinner, golf, spa treatments and lodging at the Ritz-Carlton.

Unlike the organization that raises money to elect centrist Democrats, the legislators who make up the party’s moderate caucus are a loosely affiliated bunch that ranges from 9 members to 24 depending on the issue. Bonilla and Eggman, for example, broke from the moderates by voting in favor of a bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions — though it still fell short of passing. Many of these Democrats represent poor inland areas like Fresno, Bakersfield and San Bernardino and say they make policy decisions based on what’s best for job creation.

So far the group has made its mark by casting key votes with Republicans, killing or watering down legislation backed by liberal Democrats. As the moderate Democrats’ clout grows, many will be watching whether they become a force that advances new policy in the Legislature – or if they’ll express power just by voting “no.”

Who are the moderate democrats? There is no official roster of members, but these politicians received support from Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy:Who are the moderate democrats? There is no official roster of members, but these politicians received support from Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy: Source: California Secretary of State

This piece was originally published by CalMatters.org

Dem v. Dem State Senate Battle Reflects New Political Split in CA

Photo credit:  Capitolweekly.net

Photo credit: Capitolweekly.net

California’s politics remain polarized, but not just via the traditional division of Republicans vs. Democrats. As reported here two months ago in the post “Issue of Government Unions Divide Candidates More Than Party Affiliation,” there were two California State Senate contests that remained unresolved after the November 2014 election. One of them, pitting Republican John Moorlach against Republican Don Wagner for the 37th Senate District, was settled on March 17th. Moorlach, who has fought to restore financial sustainability to public employee pension systems, was opposed by government unions. Wagner, also a conservative, but less outspoken than Moorlach on the issue of pension reform, was endorsed by government unions. Moorlach won.

The other race, originally pitting three Democrats against each other for the 7th Senate District, has narrowed to a contest between two candidates that will be settled on May 19th, Democrat Steve Glazer vs. Democrat Susan Bonilla.

It will be interesting to see how voters in a largely Democratic district respond in a race that is not between candidates from opposing parties. Glazer is a fiscal conservative who is progressive on virtually all of the issues important to Democrats. Bonilla offers up many similar positions, with one important exception: Glazer has stood up to government unions on critical issues, to the point where government unions do not consider him reliable. As a result, Bonilla is receiving cash and endorsements from the unions representing our public servants, all of it, of course, money that originated from taxpayers.

Here’s a list of some of Bonilla’s government union endorsements:

California Association of Highway Patrolmen
California Professional Firefighters
California State Sheriffs’ Association
California State Coalition of Probation Organizations
CALFIRE Local 2881
Peace Officers Research Association of California
Deputy Sheriffs Association of Alameda County
Antioch Police Officer’s Association
Concord Police Officer’s Association
Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association
Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney’s Association
Brentwood Police Officers Association
Livermore-Pleasanton Firefighters, Local 1974
Livermore Police Officer’s Association
Pittsburg Police Officers Association
Pleasanton Police Officers Association
Probation Peace Officers Association of Contra Costa County
San Ramon Valley Firefighters Association, Local 3546
United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230

Bonilla campaignOne has to ask why so many public safety officials are endorsing Bonilla rather than Glazer, and it is fair to wonder if their endorsement has anything to do with the positions of these candidates on issues and policies relating to public safety. Take a look at this flyer from the Bonilla campaign:

As can be seen, Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson and Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, both apparently Republicans, are touting the pro public safety record of Susan Bonilla. But would they have made these statements if Susan Bonilla was challenging their unions on fiscal issues relating to pensions and compensation?

From that perspective, candidate Steven Glazer is a threat to government unions. For ten years starting in 2004, Glazer was a councilmember, then mayor, in Orinda, one of the most fiscally responsible cities in the state. In a California Policy Center study released late last year entitled “California’s Most Financially Stressed Cities and Counties,” every city and county in California was ranked in order of its risk of insolvency. Orinda was ranked 369 out of 491, putting it in the top 25% in terms of financial health. More significantly, in a subsequent California Policy Center study entitled “California City Pension Burdens,” every city in the state was ranked according to how much pension contributions strain their budgets. Orinda wasn’t even on this list, because they are among only nine cities in California who don’t have a defined benefit plan for their employees. They use a defined contribution plan instead.

Hopefully the reader will forgive this prurient dive into personal financial data, but when public employees endorse political candidates, how much they make is relevant. Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson made $322,180 in 2013, an amount that included $111,897 in employer paid benefits. Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern made $556,268 in 2013; an astonishing $266,130 of that in the form of employer paid benefits. The vast majority of these benefit payments were to cover the required employer pension contributions. These men would have to be saints to have an objective perspective on an election that could result in a fiscal conservative holding office who is conversant in pension finance and formerly presided over a town that offers defined contribution plans to their employees instead of defined benefit pensions.

To drive the point home, take a look at the salaries and benefits for Alameda County workers, the pensions for Alameda County retirees, the salaries for Contra Costa County workers, and the pensions for Contra Costa County retirees. No conflict of interest there.

In the race for California’s 7th Senate District, Government unions have already spent over $2.0 million to support Susan Bonilla and oppose Steve Glazer. Download this spreadsheet to view the latest contributions through 4-20-2015, or click on the following four links to follow the money pouring in to make sure a fiscal conservative Senator does not head to Sacramento on May 19th:

Bonilla for Senate 2015, Putting the East Bay First
Bonilla for Senate 2015
Bonilla for Senate 2016
Working Families Opposing Glazer for Senate 2015

California’s Republican leadership, to the extent they tepidly claim to support pension reform while taking money from public sector unions and doing nothing, should understand as clearly as the Democratic leadership who avoid the issue entirely: It doesn’t matter what else you believe, or what you stand for, or what’s in your platform. Government unions support candidates who fight to preserve and increase the pay and benefits of unionized government employees, at the same time as they fight to minimize the accountability of unionized government employees. Across California, their demands, almost invariably fulfilled by politicians they control, have taken money away from other services, including infrastructure investment, and nearly destroyed California’s system of public education.

This is having a polarizing impact in both parties, and rendering the distinction between Democrat and Republican less important than whether or not they are willing to stand up to government unions.

*   *   *

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

CA GOP Eyes Special State Senate Election

Aside from preventing Democrats from again nabbing two-thirds supermajorities in the California Legislature, the Nov. 4 national GOP electoral wave did little to change the political dynamic here. With two years to go before the 2016 elections, Golden State Republicans have gained an opportunity — though not a lot of time — to focus on the keys to a stronger performance.

Between now and then, the California GOP may be able to use focus groups and internal polls to test certain themes, issues and talking points. Nevertheless, elections have a special value in helping parties refine their message and build momentum.

And until 2016, the most important election in the state for Republicans may well be the special election to replace Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, in the state Senate. Gov. Jerry Brown will set a date for the election soon after DeSaulnier officially resigns from his current office.

Musical chairs

On Election Day, Nov. 4, DeSaulnier prevailed in his effort to replace retiring Rep. George Miller in the 11th Congressional District. After his victory, DeSaulnier took pains to point out that “civic illiteracy and complacency” had nonetheless gotten him down — in other words, low turnout.

Although depressed voting numbers didn’t hurt DeSaulnier, he understood as well as any California Democrat that Republicans in the state often benefit from the phenomenon. Sure enough, in the race to replace him, Republicans may be competitive for that reason as well as others.

That’s why Mark Meuser — a Republican attorney from Walnut Creek and no stranger to DeSaulnier — has jumped into the race, announcing recently he hopes to prevail in the special election for the soon-to-be-vacant 7th state Senate District seat, which encompasses most of Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

As the Antioch Herald reported, Meuser’s campaign will likely focus around economic themes — not just jobs in the abstract, but the dynamism of small business and innovation. “The spirit of entrepreneurs in California is as strong today as it was during the gold rush,” Meuser announced on his campaign site. “It needs an advocate in Sacramento, and Meuser wants to be that advocate. Ensuring that our communities stay strong — and grow stronger — requires a long-term vision for future generations, and Meuser has that vision.”

Meuser is best known as the Republican who ran for that same seat in 2012, losing to DeSaulnier. Then, Meuser won 38.5 percent of the vote, with DeSaulnier getting 61.5 percent. This time around, expectations have changed — in part because more than one Democrat also is angling for the seat, and there will be no incumbent.

Healthy competition

As the Contra Costa Times reported, two well known and influential Bay Area Democrats are expected to throw their hats in the ring: re-elected Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, and term-limited Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo. With the state Capitol teeming with Democrats drawn from the well-to-do power corridor between Sacramento and San Francisco, there are more ambitious politicians than there are elective offices for them to fill.

Bonilla and Buchanan are both credible candidates sure to appeal to voting Democrats. It is less clear, however, whether either has the ability to turn out Democrats in large enough numbers to deal another loss to Meuser — particularly if they have to campaign against one another, and not just Meuser. According to California law, if no candidate gets 50 percent-plus-one of the vote, a runoff election then is held.

As the Antioch Herald also reported, both Democrats will be influenced in their decision-making by California’s particular rules restricting length of terms in office. Whether serving in the Assembly or state Senate, legislators are capped at a total of 12 years in both houses, according to Proposition 28, which voters approved in 2012. But it only applies to those elected to office after its passage.

Yet “because Bonilla was elected before June 5, 2012, she is restricted by the previous term limits, approved in 1990, which limited legislators to three terms in the State Assembly and two terms in the State Senate. Since the election will be past the half-way point in DeSaulnier’s term, if elected, she will serve less than two years, allowing her two more full terms for a total of close to 10 years. The same would apply to Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan.”

Looking forward

The 7th is not the only state Senate District soon to be up for grabs as a result of a special election. Similar circumstances have also created upcoming vacancies in the 21st District and the 37th District, where Republican state Sens. Steve Knight and Mimi Walters, respectively, were elected to the U.S. Congress. No date for an election has been set. But these are seats in heavily Republican districts, so the makeup of the Senate won’t change.

And on Dec. 9, an election will be held to replace Democratic state Sen. Rod Wright in Senate District 35. He resigned after being convicted in a corruption scandal. If necessary, a Feb. 10, 2015 runoff will be held. According to Ballotpedia, “Louis L. Dominguez (D), Isadore Hall, III (D), Hector Serrano (D) and James Spencer (R) will face off.” As Wright got 76.5 percent of the vote to 23.5 percent for Republican Charlotte A. Svolos in the 2012 election, one of the Democrats is almost assured of victory, meaning this race also won’t change the party makeup of the Senate.

Given the familiar faces and competing ambitions at work in the presumptive 7th District race, however, Republicans may likely be tempted to use Meuser’s and the other two campaigns to road-test strategies that could pay dividends in 2016. If races can be targeted where Democrats compete, turnout is low, and seasoned Republican candidates can deliver a well-tailored message, the California GOP could see a better return on its investments. However, with 2016 being a presidential election year, turnout likely will be high, which would benefit Democrats.

Ultimately, the success of such an approach could hinge on whether the Nov. 4 elections did not quite capture the full extent of voter frustration with Democrats; and on how President Obama’s recent amnesty plays out among all groups of voters.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com