Teachers’ Unions Spent Over $27 Million on State Races

In a recent op-ed, California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt calls out special interests for pouring money into California elections in support of charter schools. He writes:

The charter association spent better than $24 million in relatively few races this year. Oakland, where previously $20,000 was a lot of money for a school board race, was awash in a half-million dollars in contributions, mostly from the charter association and another billionaire-funded committee.

Missing from Pechthalt’s piece is the fact that the CFT and other teacher’s unions are also big-spending special interests. Indeed, they spend considerably more on political donations than charter advocates.

Based on our review on campaign contribution and independent expenditure data reported by the Secretary of State, we find that teacher’s unions spent over $27 million on state-wide races during the current election cycle. The largest contributions are shown in the chart at the end of this article. Actual teacher union political spending is much higher because the Secretary of State’s data do not include contributions to school board candidates and other local campaigns. For example, according to data available from the Oakland City Clerk, the Oakland Education Association PAC made over $80,000 in donations and independent expenditures in the most recent election.

With respect to the state-level spending, most of it was devoted to supporting Propositions 55 and 58. Proposition 55 extends higher marginal tax rates on top income earners for another twelve years, funneling most of the added revenue to education. The union’s argument that this is good for students, but the correlation between spending and student achievement is dubious. According to 2014 Census data, Washington DC public schools received funding of $29,866 per pupil – by far the highest in the nation. Yet DC students performed worse than those in 46 of the 50 states, according to the most recent Education Week achievement scorecard. By contrast, Utah, which which spends only $7,714 per student ranked 14th on the scorecard. California spent $11,223 per student and ranked 30th. So while we know that more public education spending is good for teachers and other employees, the benefits for students are less clear,

Proposition 58 undermined a previous voter-approved restriction on bilingual education. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the initiative would not have a significant fiscal impact, because it does not directly change local funding formulas. However, restarting bilingual education will require new curricula, re-training current teaching staff and hiring new eduators who are fluent in multiple languages.  All of this will have to be funded somehow, and bilingual education could thus be used as a justification for future funding increases.

Aside from propositions, union spending also focused on certain key legislative races. Most notably, teacher’s unions spent over $800,000 to influence the outcome of the 14th District Assembly race between Democrats Mae Torlakson and Tim Grayson in Concord (Contra Costa County). Torlakson is the wife of the State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who has been characterized as being anti-charter and pro union. In this race, the unions were unsuccessful:  Grayson came out on top.

While it is true that Grayson and other school choice oriented candidates received support from pro-charter groups and affluent individuals, the conversation should not stop there. The California Federation of Teachers, the California Teacher’s Association and other unions are also wealthy special interests, and, unlike many of those vilified billionaires, the unions campaign contributions are funded by our taxes.

Click here to see the top 100 candidates and issues that teachers unions spent heavily on this election cycle. Data Compiled by UnionWatch.org

Charters Under Attack – California’s Teachers Unions Go On The Offensive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teachers Union Assault on Charter Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.A Teachers Head Ready to Incite a ‘State Crisis’ If Union Demands Not Met

UTLA Alex Caputo PearlAlex Caputo-Pearl is the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a union that has a long and storied history of discarding presidents elected as firebrands but who reign as defenders of the status quo. Caputo-Pearl seems determined to end that cycle and bring teacher union militancy to the entire state of California.

In a July 29 speech to at the UTLA Leadership Conference, Caputo-Pearl outlined the union’s plans as it readies for the expiration of its contract next year and a gubernatorial election in 2018.

“The next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” Caputo-Pearl told an audience of 800 activists. “There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

While it’s not clear what form a “state crisis” would take, Caputo-Pearl described a series of actions the union will undertake in coming months, beginning with a paid media campaign in September denouncing “billionaires … driving the public school agenda” and a “massive” political mobilization to ensure the November passage of Proposition 55, which would extend a 2012 measure that raised taxes on high-earning residents to fund schools.

UTLA will then set its sights on the next Los Angeles Unified School District board elections.

“We must face off against the billionaires again in the School Board elections of 2017, and WE MUST WIN,” Caputo-Pearl said, explaining that the next board would vote on a new contract. The union needed to help elect a board that would resist a “vigorous campaign to cut our benefits” by district leaders, he suggested.

But Caputo-Pearl isn’t content to shape LAUSD’s agenda. He hopes to organize the entire state.

“All of the unions representing LAUSD workers and the teachers unions in San Diego, San Bernardino, Oakland, and San Francisco share our June 2017 contract expiration date,” he said. “We have an historic opportunity to lead a coordinated bargaining effort across the state.

“Coordinated action could dramatically increase pressure on the legislature and fundamentally shape the debate in the 2018 Governor’s race.”

Caputo-Pearl stopped short of calling for a multi-city teacher strike, but pointing to a common contract expiration date that enabled “coordinated action” put it on the table.

The UTLA president had another white whale to harpoon: Proposition 13, the state’s iconic 1978 initiative that capped property tax rates. Caputo-Pearl said he wanted to revive the union-backed “Make It Fair” campaign that sought to hike taxes on commercial property.

UTLA is in position to pursue an aggressive agenda because of itssuccessful internal campaign to raise dues by 33 percent earlier this year and new joint affiliation with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Now the union will launch an internal campaign to solicit more money from members in the form of PAC contributions, Caputo-Pearl said. Currently only about 20 percent of UTLA members donate to its PAC.

There will of course be organized opposition to Caputo-Pearl’s vision for the future, and some of it may come from his own parent unions. While UTLA is by far the largest local of both the state NEA and AFT branches — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, respectively — these unions have their own officers and elected bodies that represent members throughout the state. Even if they agree with most of Caputo-Pearl’s agenda, they may be wary of his ambition. Their leaders might remember that former UTLA president Wayne Johnson rode a 1989 teacher strike all the way to the presidency of CTA.

Caputo’s broad themes were underscored by a guest speaker: Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and idol of advocates for more muscular union activism. She argued that teachers need to organize across district, state, and even union boundaries, telling conference attendees, “we cannot do this work alone, and we cannot do this work in isolation from one another.”

If UTLA’s agenda becomes the agenda of all California teacher unions and is ultimately successful, the union militancy train will leave the West Coast and travel through many other states. Union leaders comfortably situated in the status quo will have to jump aboard or get run over.

This piece was originally published by the74million.org

Teachers Union Hits Taxpayers with ‘Money Club’ Again

government-voteThe California Teachers Association has just dropped $10 million into its campaign to extend the “temporary” income tax hike voters approved when they passed Proposition 30 in 2012. Proposition 55, which will appear on this November’s ballot, would extend the highest income tax rates in all 50 states for another dozen years.

Four years ago, the muscular union, called by many in Sacramento the “Fourth Branch of Government,” spent over $11 million to convince voters to increase sales and income taxes. The campaign, paid for by government employee unions and led by Gov. Jerry Brown, repeatedly promised voters the higher taxes would last only a few years and then go away.

These ultra-high tax rates are scheduled to end in 2018 and union leaders are panicking. If the tax increase ends, there may be less money to fund increases in member pay and benefits.

Spending big money on politics is not unusual for the deep pocketed CTA which receives its funding from mandatory dues. Those dues, withheld from members’ paychecks whether they like it or not, can total more than $1000 a year for a single teacher. Recall that CTA laid out $58 million in opposing several worthy reform measures in a 2005 special election including one reform that would have capped state spending. Union leaders like a guaranteed cash flow so it should come as no surprise if they put out an additional $10 million, or more, to support the Proposition 55 income tax extension. For backers of Proposition 55, spending millions in return for billions of tax dollars is considered a bargain.

The campaign will, no doubt, target low information voters with messages about how, “it’s for the children.” It is standard operational procedure for tax promoters to use children as human shields when advancing a tax increase tied to education. Not to be mentioned is that the union’s interest is solely in increasing pay and benefits, including generous pensions, for members who are already paid more than $20,000 above the national average. And don’t forget that a national education union leader once famously said “when school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.”

Some will argue that ultra-high taxes should be maintained because public employees deserve to be well paid. They are. According the Department of Labor, California is the state with the best paid state and local government employees.

Our state is running a multi-billion-dollar surplus, yet Proposition 55 backers want to continue the ultra-high taxes that are already pushing businesses, and the jobs they provide, to relocate out of state. And it’s not just businesses. The list of high wealth individuals including professional athletes and entertainers who have bailed out of California is a mile long.

But the deleterious impact of high taxes is wholly lost on the union bosses. Their attention is, no doubt, on the latest news from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The second-largest U.S. public pension fund earned a paltry 1.4 percent return on investments in the fiscal year just ended, missing its target of 7.5 percent for the second straight year.  This raises questions about the fund’s management and whether or not it will be able to meet its obligation to 896,000 current and retired teachers.

Of course, taxpayers remain the guarantor of all public employee pensions so, in all fairness, the Proposition 55 income tax extension could come to be called the “pension tax.” And the teachers union is prepared to use its massive “money club” on voters to make sure Proposition 55 passes and the taxpayers’ dollars are there.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Union Greed

UnionChicago, long known as the Second City, may still be second in some things, but it seems to be #1 in teacher union greed. As it’s time for a new contract with the Chicago public school system (CPS), the inevitable blather has begun to befoul the air. Here are a few things Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) will not use as talking points:

  • Teachers in CPS are the second highest paid in the country, making barely less than New York City’s teachers.
  • On the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 30 percent of 4th graders and 25 percent of 8th graders tested as “proficient” in mathematics, and only 27 and 24 percent, respectively, were found to be proficient in reading.
  • Teachers only contribute 2 percent of their salary to their own retirement; CPS kicks in the the other 7 percent, the so-called pension pick-up.
  • Chicagoans are the most taxed people in Illinois and their already crisis-level pension shortfall is in freefall.

The economic situation is so bad in Chicago that Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has been making noises about CPS declaring bankruptcy. If successful, the state would take over the district, void the contact with CTU and possibly reduce pension payments. Needless to say the union and its enablers in the Illinois statehouse are not happy at the prospect and claim it is not legal under existing statutes.

In the meantime, to placate CTU, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a contract so generous that Rauner called it “unaffordable.” It was one-sided enough, however, that CTU boss Karen Lewis liked it. It offered:

  • A guarantee of no economic layoffs through the end of the contract in 2019; the only way to reduce the workforce would be through retirements and attrition.
  • Cost-of-living pay increases.
  • “Step and lane” pay increases based on experience and seniority.
  • No more new charter schools beyond the 130 presently operating; the only new ones allowed would be replacements for any that closed.

Amazingly, the union’s bargaining team rejected the deal, infuriating CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. In response, he fired off a terse letter to Karen Lewis emphasizing three unilateral moves CPS would now make:

  • The district will discontinue the pension pick-up, saving CPS $130 billion annually.
  • A reduction-in-force plan will go into effect that will necessitate layoffs and save another $50 million.
  • Repurposed federal funds will result in a “reduction in general funding to the schools while having no significant overall impact on school budgets.”

Well, as Larry Elder would say, “Then the fit hit the shan.” The union called the letter an “attack” and an “act of war.” The unionistas were especially exercised about the withdrawal of the pension pick-up, but their stance is indefensible. In the Windy City, teachers are obligated by law to contribute 9 percent to their retirement. But in fact, for 35 years CPS (i.e. the taxpayers) has been picking up 7 of the 9 percent. So teachers have been getting away with legal theft, paying only 2 percent of their own retirement contribution, which has helped to position Illinois as the state with the worst credit rating in the U.S.

Moreover, please keep in mind that Chicago has the second highest paid teachers in the country, with a median salary of $71,017, not counting comprehensive healthcare benefits for the teacher, their spouse or domestic partner and children. Also, the average teacher salary is 51 percent higher than Chicago’s median household income, which is estimated at $46,877. And teachers work just 178 instructional days (plus a few non-instructional ones), whereas other full-time workers toil for 240-250 days a year.

But some teachers were outraged at Claypool’s letter and about a thousand of them tore through the Loop aiming their venomous arrows at Bank of America. Sixteen were arrested for sitting in and chanting inside the bank. As Karen Lewis said, “(We’re) here, because we have to make a choice in the city: banks or schools.” (Don’t we need both?) The teachers also disrupted rush hour traffic, inconveniencing thousands of commuters. Ms. Lewis didn’t explain what the demonstrators had against people driving home at rush hour, many of whom pay a lot more than their “fair share” to the teachers’ pension fund.

At the end of the day, probably the best thing would be for CPS to declare bankruptcy, as Rauner proposed. It’s a novel approach, but one that, at first glance, would seem to have little chance of implementation. However, the Republican governor claims that Democrats outside of Chicago are in favor of it because hitting the reset button would void union contracts, thus saving taxpayers all over the state mountains of unnecessary debt. Declaring bankruptcy could also set a precedent. (Take note Los Angeles: LAUSD is due to go belly-up in 2019.)

Final note to union leaders, protesting teachers and fellow travelers: You are obviously looking out for yourselves. Fine. But please stop using “corporate greed” as a rallying cry. When you scream that “corporations must pay their fair share,” please be assured that they already do and then some. Federal tax rates on corporate income vary from 15 percent to 39 percent. Teachers unions – and in fact all unions – don’t pay a penny in income tax. They not only don’t pay their fair share; they pay no share at all. Now that’s what I call greed, with maybe a little gluttony added for taste.

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.

A Half-Charter School District for L.A.?

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Eli Broad made his fortune in construction and real estate. But he’s building a legacy as a philanthropist and an education reformer. In September, the Broad, a $140 million museum of contemporary art, opened in downtown Los Angeles at the corner of a revitalizing Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That same month, the Los Angeles Times published a leaked memo detailing Broad’s proposal to revitalize L.A.’s sclerotic public school system. Working under the auspices of his family foundation, Broad would gather some of the biggest names in private philanthropy — Gates, Walton, Ahmanson, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett, as well as David Geffen, Kirk Kerkorian and Elon Musk — to open 260 new charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District over an eight-year period, with an enrollment goal of at least 130,000 students. The memo discusses how to raise $490 million to pay for the effort, which includes recruiting teachers, acquiring real estate, providing outreach to parents and navigating political battles. If the octogenarian Broad succeeds, half of L.A. Unified’s schools would be charters by the mid-2020s.

Naturally, L.A.’s education establishment detests the idea. The LAUSD board’s president, Steve Zimmer, denounced Broad’s plan as “a strategy to bring down LAUSD.” In November, board member Scott Schmerelson pushed a resolution announcing the board’s opposition to the Broad Foundation’s plan by name. Later, Schmerelson changed the language to say the board opposed any “external initiatives that seek to reduce public education to an educational marketplace and our children to market shares while not investing in District-wide programs and strategies that benefit every student.” As an L.A. Times editorial pointed out, by that standard, “the board would have to oppose many of its own programs — magnet schools, programs to teach students fluency in English and alternative schools for students with chronic behavioral problems.” (In response, Broad’s new educational nonprofit expanded its proposal to support traditional public schools, including pilots, magnets, and other high-performing schools that serve low-income children.)

Former LAUSD superintendent Ramon C. Cortines was more charitable. At a forum with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez earlier this month, Cortines didn’t ascribe ill motives to Broad, but rather suggested the billionaire was ill advised. “I think somebody brought him an elixir without having it be tested to see if it will really do what it is promised to do,” he said. But United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl was predictably unsparing in his vitriol. “Billionaires should not be running public education,” he said. The union boss also claimed that charter schools are unregulated and “deregulation doesn’t work.” Not to be outdone, retired kindergarten teacher Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education.”

Broad’s plan is ambitious, to be sure. In addition to fighting the school board and union, Broad and his foundation allies would need considerable community support to succeed. Charters already make up a sizable portion of schools in the district: nearly a quarter of LAUSD students — about 150,866 students — are enrolled in 282 charter schools from San Pedro to the San Fernando Valley. Another 40,000 students languish on waiting lists. The demand is there; it’s the supply that’s lacking, though procuring facilities for 260 new schools would take some doing.

California’s 1992 charter school law gives local districts the power to approve or deny charter applications, though applications cannot be denied without good reason, such as questionable management or shady finances. However, the district doesn’t have the last word. Charter applicants have the option to appeal first to the county board of education, and then to the state board of education, if necessary.

A closer look at many of the antagonists’ complaints reveals less anger about billionaires’ meddling in education than envy that Broad’s largess doesn’t extend to traditional public schools. But the schools already receive plenty of money. Official per-pupil spending in Los Angeles is $13,490, which is greater than the national average and doesn’t include expenses such as the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds and so forth. When those expenditures get added in, per-pupil spending comes to about $30,000 per year. If the new California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication, the money is not being well-spent. Only a third of the city’s students performed at grade level in English, while about a quarter performed at grade level or better in math. The district’s charter school students far outpaced their peers in traditional schools.

Don’t believe the anti-reform hype about lax regulation and looming public school destruction, either. Charter schools are public schools, funded by tax dollars and subject to regulation — just not to the same extent as traditional public schools, which are strangled by bulky union contracts that put seniority ahead of competence. Broad’s plan anticipates that 5,000 union members could be put out of work and replaced with staff hired through Teach For America, TNTP (formerly the New Teacher Project), and other groups that work with young instructors. The proposal makes no mention of recruiting teachers from within L.A. Unified.

Clearly, hundreds of new charter schools would find it difficult to fill their ranks with newbies. And therein lies an important but unstated aspect of the Broad plan. Those rehired from the current crop of experienced teachers would be the good and even great ones working now because they are qualified, not because they are protected by the state’s seniority statute. Needless to say, Caputo-Pearl has a different take. “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union,” he said, “which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.” That’s absurd, of course. Where is it written that that only unionized teachers speak up about “curriculum and school conditions”?

Some of the naysayers claim that a half-charter district would leave too many children behind, but other cities’ experience suggests otherwise. Washington, D.C., and Detroit have moved in recent years to a 50 percent charter model. New Orleans may offer the best evidence of how charter schools can serve a low-income and underprivileged population. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City in 2005, a much more vibrant charter system emerged in the aftermath. Today, 92 percent of the city’s students are enrolled in a charter school. Ten years ago, 62 percent of schools in Orleans Parish were failing. Today, just 7 percent of schools are failing. During the same period, the portion of city schools with students performing at or above grade level rose from 35 percent to 62 percent. As it happens, Paul Pastorek, the former superintendent of public education in Louisiana who helped oversee the turnaround, has been appointed to lead Broad’s effort in L.A.

Philanthropy has the power to transform institutions for the better. More charters in Los Angeles would certainly disrupt the dismal status quo—likely to the advantage of good teachers, their students, and taxpayers. Opponents see Broad’s proposal as a way of “bringing down LAUSD,” but building up alternatives to a dysfunctional system may be exactly what L.A.’s children need.

L.A. Teachers Union Livid Over Plan to Charterize 260 Schools

According to a memo unearthed by Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates want to create 260 new charter schools in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students. The document includes various strategies that include how to raise money, recruit teachers, provide outreach to parents and navigate the political battle that will undoubtedly ensue. In addition to Broad, other education philanthropists named in the plan are David Geffen and Elon Musk, as well as the Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett foundations.

Judging by the United Teachers of Los Angeles response, you’d think that Hitler had reinvaded Poland. In full battle-mode, the union staged a press conference and protest rally in front of the new Broad Art Museum in downtown L.A. last Sunday. Led by UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, we were regaled with the usual barrage of bilge. Perhaps most indicative of the union leader’s ideas, which come right out of a Politburo manual on the importance of the centralization of power, “Deregulation has not worked in our economy, has not worked in healthcare and has not worked in housing, and it is not going to work in public education.” Other telling comments from the union boss included:

  • “The billionaire attacks must stop.”
  • Charters are “unregulated” and will create “inappropriate competition.”
  • “Billionaires should not be running public education”
  • Citing alleged horror stories, “Broad and John Arnold funded New Orleans after Katrina”

Not to be outdone by Caputo-Pearl’s ludicrous comments, retired kindergarten teacher and protester Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education. Mr. Broad wants to own 50 percent of our schools. … That’s untenable.” (You’re right, of course, Cheryl – it’s a business venture! An 81 year-old man worth $7.6 billion has an evil plan to increase his wealth by buying our schools.)

The billionaire-phobia has apparently spread from unionistas to their Los Angeles school board cronies. New board member Scott Schmerelson is really ticked. “The concept amazes and angers me. Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.” Board president Steve Zimmer, chock full of righteous indignation, claims that the Broad plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district “represents a strategy to bring down LAUSD … .”

While much of the naysaying can be laughed off, some of their talking points do need to be debunked. Perhaps worst of all was Caputo-Pearl’s “unregulated” crack. Nothing could be further from the truth. As public schools, charters are indeed regulated, though not as heavily as the sclerotic traditional public schools. While LAUSD is in part strangled by its bulky union contract, only a small percentage of charter teachers are unionized. The non-unionization factor – along with his far left politics – forms the basis of his “inappropriate competition” claim.

Something that Caputo-Pearl doesn’t address is the fact that wherever charters emerge, parents flock to them. As the California Charter School Association points out, there are 40,000 kids who are on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Broad’s proposal would certainly delight those families.

And truly absurd was Caputo-Pearl’s insinuation that New Orleans schools hit the skids after Katrina. While the hurricane did devastating damage to the Crescent City, a much more vibrant all-charter school system sprang from the catastrophic floods. Courtesy of the Heartland Institute:

Before Katrina (2005) After Katrina (2015)
State district ranking 67 out of 68 41 out of 69
Percent attending failing schools 62 7
Percent performing at or above grade level 35 62
Students receiving free or reduced lunch 77 84
Percent graduating 4 years 54.4 73
Percent attended college < 20 59

However, a closer look at many of the complaints reveals not so much anger about billionaire involvement in public education, but envy that Broad doesn’t want his largess to go to the traditional public schools. But really, why would he do that? He may as well flush his money down the toilet.

LAUSD does not need more money. The “official” per-pupil spending in L.A. is $13,993, far more than the national average. This dollar amount is really not accurate, however, because it omits a few “minor” expenses like the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds, etc. When all these expenditures are added in, the spending figure comes to about $30,000 per student per year.

And just what kind of return-on-investment do we get? Very little, if the just released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication. The test results showed that only one-third of L.A. students performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math. (Not surprisingly, L.A. charter students far out-paced kids who went to traditional public school schools.)

Perhaps New Orleans is the model the philanthropists should look at. Mr. Broad wants to raise almost a half-billion for his new project, resulting in half of Los Angeles schools becoming charters. Maybe he and his partners can be coaxed to throw in another half-billion and make the city an all-charter district like New Orleans.

As for L.A. School Board chief Zimmer’s comment that more charter schools are going to “bring down LAUSD” – nope, LAUSD has managed to do that all by itself. Luckily, charter schools are there to pick up the pieces and hopefully, more children will be rescued from subpar schools in the future, thanks to Mr. Broad and his philanthropic partners. Standing ovations all around.

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.

Teachers Unions Have a Penchant for Home Invasions

According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of K-12 children educated at home increased from 1.09 million in 2003 to 1.77 million in 2012, which is 3.4 percent of the school population. (The National Home Education Research Institute has the total number of homeschooled at 2.2 million.)

The myth that homeschooling is the domain of the very rich, the very religious and the very weird is less true today than ever. Mike Donnelly, attorney and director of international affairs at the Home School Legal Defense Association, says the “National Household Education Survey” of parents in 2012 shows considerably more diversity in its attraction.

Ninety-one percent of parents cited concerns about the environment of public schools, 77% cited moral instruction, and 74% expressed concerns about the academic instruction. … 64% listed wanting to give their children religious instruction as a reason, followed by 44% saying they wanted their child to have a nontraditional form of education.”

When it came to parents listing the single most important reason for home schooling, the survey showed 25% of parents said they were concerned about the environment of other schools; 22% said “other reasons” (including family time, finances, travel and distance), and 19% said they were dissatisfied with the academic instruction at other schools.

City Journal associate editor and homeschooling parent Matthew Hennessey writes that city-dwellers are teaching their kids at home in greater numbers because they are frustrated with public schools. Citing NCES numbers, he reports that 28 percent of homeschoolers live in cities. “That’s almost as many as live in suburbs (34 percent) or rural areas (31 percent). Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are home to swelling communities of homeschoolers. And in the nation’s largest city — New York — the number of homeschooled students has risen 47 percent, to more than 3,700 children, over the last five years.

With some creative ideas, modern technology and a solid support system, parents are finding it easier than ever to shun traditional schools – both public and private. Homeschool co-ops, where a group of parents get together and combine their talents to take the burden off individual moms and dads, have proliferated. For subjects that a parent is not proficient in, the internet offers a world of assistance. The online Khan Academy alone has produced over 6,500 video lessons that teach a wide spectrum of subjects, mainly focusing on mathematics and science. As of April 1, 2015, the Khan Academy channel on YouTube had attracted 2,825,468 subscribers and his videos have been viewed more than 527 million times. And the aforementioned Home School Legal Defense Association maintains a comprehensive website where parents can go to learn about the homeschool law in their state, find supplemental resources, exchange curricula, etc.

And now, news from the Grinch….

At its yearly national convention, the National Education Association passed Resolution B-83 (exactly the same as 2011’s B-82, 2008’s B-75, etc.) which in part reads:

The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. (Emphasis added.)

I can hear the conversation:

Teachers union activist: How dare you invade our turf! Just who do you parents think you are? I don’t care if they are your kids. You can’t teach them because you don’t have a state credential and worse, you aren’t in a union!

Parents: But homeschooled kids do better on achievement tests, have higher graduation rates than public school students and are actively recruited by top colleges. And yes, ahem, they are my kids.

Teachers union activist: No matter. Your kids shouldn’t be allowed to learn from you. (In fact, unless you have a chef’s license, you shouldn’t be involved in their food prep either, but we’ll get to that another day.) And if you insist on teaching your own kids, you should get a state credential and then expect a rather aggressive knock on the door from someone on our organizing committee who will convince you to join our union.

An exaggeration you say? Well no, not really. In 2008, a California state appellate court ruled that parents who lack teaching credentials could not educate their children at home. Needless to say, this decision sent waves of angst through California’s homeschooling families, but it delighted the teachers unions whose leaders weighed in on the ruling. The California Teachers Association, which filed a brief claiming that allowing parents to homeschool their children without having a teaching credential will result in “educational anarchy,” was satisfied. Lloyd Porter, CTA board member at the time, averred, “We’re happy. We always think students should be taught by credentialed teachers, no matter what the setting.” United Teachers of Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy declared from his pulpit, “What’s best for a child is to be taught by a credentialed teacher.”

Independent of the California ruling, teacher union leaders across the country have left no doubt how they feel about the role of parent as teacher. Annette Cootes, a Texas teacher union organizer, declared that “homeschooling is a form of child abuse.” Perhaps the most telling and honest quote is from former Louisiana teacher union president Joyce Haynes who in 2013 said it all. Speaking about Louisiana’s voucher program – though it could apply to homeschoolers – she said it would result in “… taking our children from us.”

A union president is complaining about their children being taken from them?! Yes, she thinks that parents are nothing more than breeders and that your kids really belong to her and her union. If that kind of kidnapper mentality doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

Fortunately for families, six months later in August 2008, California’s Second District Court of Appeal reversed its original decision and ruled that non-credentialed parents have a right to educate their own kids.

But while homeschooling thrives, Big Union continues its mission to outlaw and marginalize parents who simply want to do what they have traditionally done throughout history – take responsibility for educating their own children.

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.

High Court to Hear California Teachers’ Challenge to Union Dues

From KQED:

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider limiting the power of government employee unions to collect fees from non-members in a case that labor officials say could threaten membership and further weaken union clout.

The court announced Tuesday that justices will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an appeal from a group of California teachers who say the fee requirement violates their First Amendment rights to have to pay any fees if they disagree with a union’s positions and don’t want to join it.

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