United Teachers Los Angeles wants respect … and money

LAUSD school busAt the behest of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, thousands of educators took to the streets in downtown L.A. on May 24th to demand respect for what they do. But the respect the teachers union is seeking is essentially about money. Claiming that public education is “criminally underfunded,” the union’s leadership is insisting on a pay raise, smaller classes, and several other demands that will further burden taxpayers.

First, California is in the middle of the pack nationally, spending $11,495 per-pupil in 2016. Regarding salaries, rookie teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District currently make $50,368, while the average pay is $75,504, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

But looking only at salaries is deceptive. Using U.S. Department of Labor data, researcher James Agresti explains that benefits — health insurance, paid leave, and pensions — typically comprise 33 percent of compensation for public school teachers. Including these perks, the average compensation for a teacher in L.A. jumps to about $113,000 per annum. Not too shabby — but wait, there’s more. The old union ploy of comparing the pay of teachers to private industry employees is bogus. As Agresti points out, the latter work on average 37 percent more hours per year than public school teachers, and this includes the time that teachers spend on lesson preparation, grading tests, etc. …

To continue reading, go to https://www.ocregister.com/2018/06/08/united-teachers-los-angeles-wants-respect-and-money/

Unions defend recent strikes — but voters should make up their own minds

Teachers unionIn a USA Today op-ed last month, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten defended the teachers’ strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and Colorado, by sketching a familiar hero-villain scenario. “Teachers are standing up for their students and themselves against largely red states with weak labor laws and where governors and legislators have opted for tax cuts for the wealthy instead of investments for children,” she wrote. Pointing to the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court case, which she portrayed as a right-wing ploy to “get public sector unions out of politics,” Weingarten proclaimed, “Teachers’ voices — and their votes — are powerful, and educators have parents and communities supporting them.”

Some voters may be persuaded by the argument that teachers are picketing for more money “for children,” but they would be better off looking at some basic facts. While teachers in some cases are underpaid and certain school districts underfunded, teachers on the whole, according to researcher James Agresti, get paid much better than commonly acknowledged. For the 2016–2017 school year, the average salary of full-time public school teachers was $58,950. That figure excludes benefits such as health insurance, paid leave, and pensions, which, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, make up an average of 33 percent of total compensation for public school teachers. When benefits get added in, teachers’ average annual compensation jumps to $87,854. And even that amount doesn’t include unfunded pension liabilities and certain post-employment benefits like health insurance, not measured by the Labor Department. Private-industry employees work an average of 37 percent more hours per year than public school teachers, including the time that teachers spend for lesson preparation, grading, and other activities. “Unlike less rigorous studies, this data from the DOL is based on detailed records of work hours instead of subjective estimates about how long people think they work,” Agresti adds.

Teachers aren’t just well compensated; they’re also more numerous than ever before, especially in proportion to their students. Researcher and economics professor Benjamin Scafidi found that, between 1950 and 2015, the number of teachers increased about 2.5 times faster than the number of students, and hiring of other education employees—administrators, teacher aides, counselors, social workers—rose more than seven times faster than the increase in students. Despite the staffing surge, students’ academic achievement has stagnated or fallen during that time. Scafidi suggests that, had non-teaching personnel growth been in line with student population growth, and the teaching force risen “only” 1.5 times as fast as student growth, U.S. schools would have had an additional $37.2 billion to spend annually. With that windfall, he suggests, we could have raised every public school teacher’s salary by more than $11,700 per year, given poor families more than $2,600 in cash per child to attend private schools of their parents’ choice, and more than doubled taxpayer funding for early-childhood education.

It’s no secret that lavish teacher pensions are eating up money that should be spent on students. Robert Costrell, a finance expert at the University of Arkansas, found that 10.6 percent of all education spending goes toward teacher-retirement benefits—more than double the proportion spent on pensions in 2004. “As a percentage of their total compensation package, teacher retirement benefits eat up twice as much as other workers,” Bellwether Education Partners policy analyst Chad Alderman explains. Teachers—including bad teachers—have a powerful incentive to stay on in their jobs, since they automatically earn more just by showing up each fall, regardless of how effective they are. Pension benefits start accruing later in a teacher’s career, so younger teachers are helping to prop up pensions for lifers, with little to show for it; if a teacher leaves the field early, he gets no pension at all.

States typically administer teacher pensions, but health-care benefits frequently vary according to the local school district. While some districts cut teachers’ health benefits off when Medicare kicks in, others, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, are much more generous. LAUSD provides the same expansive health coverage for retirees (and their spouses) as it does for current employees; neither group pays a premium for its insurance. The district recently announced that the unfunded liability for retiree health benefits has risen to $15.2 billion, up from a reported $13.5 billion in 2016, which translates to a cost of $525 per student.

Come November, the teachers’ unions and their unhappy members will be taking their case to the voters. Taxpayers need to look at the facts underneath the teachers-as-victims rhetoric and vote for fiscal sanity.

CA Should Raise Teacher Pay By Reducing Unfunded Retirement Liabilities

Ashs-teacher-and-studentsFast-rising spending on pensions and other retirement costs is crushing teacher staffing and pay in California. As an example, retirement spending at San Francisco Unified School District grew 3x faster than district revenues over the last five years, absorbing $35 million that could have gone to current teachers. Worse, that happened despite record stock market gains and school revenues. Absent reform, teacher staffing and pay will decline further.

Something must be done. Public school students and teachers deserve fully-staffed classrooms and sufficient salaries. While the children of well-to-do parents can attend private schools or privately-subsidized public schools, most of California’s six million K-12 students cannot.

Someone must step up. Potential candidates fall into five categories: (i) the people who created the problem, (ii) taxpayers, (iii) students, (iv) current teachers, and (v) pension beneficiaries.

  • Self-serving pension fund board members and elected officials blocked honest pre-funding of retirement promises, causing today’s unfunded liabilities. While it would be wonderful justice if they could be forced to pay for the problem they created, at nearly $100 billion and growing the problem is too big for their resources.
  • Taxpayers didn’t cause the problem but they’ve been paying for it. Income taxes were raised 30 percent in 2012 and school revenues are up 60 percent since then but pension spending in districts like SFUSD grew more than 100 percent over that same period and are heading higher.
  • Students and current teachers didn’t cause the problem but they’ve been paying for it in the forms of understaffed classrooms and inadequate salaries, especially in school districts without well-to-do parents to subsidize school budgetsIt’s no wonder poor and minority students in California perform worse than their counterparts in Texas, which spends less per student but has a better student-teacher ratio.
  • Pension beneficiaries didn’t cause the problem but unlike students, teachers and taxpayers they have NOT been paying for it. In fact, they garnered additional financial benefits from the actions that created the problem, as explained here. They need to step up.

Reducing unfunded obligations would free up billions for current teachers.

Shrinking unfunded retirement obligations by reducing un-earned future benefits would allow school districts to divert fewer dollars to retirement costs. For example, Rhode Island suspended annual increases until pension funds are better funded and moved some to-be-earned benefits to hybrid plans. Acting similarly in California could free up billions with which to boost current teacher staffing and pay. Such sacrifices by beneficiaries would be no greater than those of students, teachers and taxpayers and beneficiary retirement benefits would still be greater than those of the vast majority of their fellow citizens.

No one can be happy about making any innocent person sacrifice to meet unfunded liabilities created by corrupt pension fund board members and elected officials. But students need fully staffed classrooms and teachers need adequate salaries. Everyone needs to chip in to reach those goals.

One cannot both be progressive and be opposed to pension reform.

Unfunded retirement obligations are crushing the hopes and dreams of California’s public school students and teachers. Policymakers need to act.

NB: A different set of unfunded liabilities is crushing higher education. The University of California is losing $600 million this year compared to what it would’ve received had it simply maintained the same share of the state budget as it garnered a decade ago. Retirement beneficiaries didn’t cause that problem either but only they have avoided the consequences as taxpayers are paying more and citizens are receiving less. The state needs to reduce its unfunded liabilities. Beneficiaries must chip in there too.

ecturer and research scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

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

Democrats Want to Exempt California Teachers from State Income Tax

Ashs-teacher-and-studentsIn a surreal political moment, California State Senators Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) and Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) have introduced the “Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2017” which offers a novel incentive for teachers to remain in the profession. Senate Bill 807 would exempt California educators from paying the state income tax after five years on the job, in addition to allowing a tax deduction for the cost of attaining their teaching credential. If passed, the bill is estimated to cost the already burdened California taxpayers an additional $600 million a year. All this is transpiring because of an alleged teacher shortage.

So, let’s see – if we indeed have a shortage, why exactly are districts laying off teachers? In Santa Ana, 287 teachers were just pink-slipped, essentially because the school district couldn’t afford to keep them. Seems that the Santa Ana Educators Association had pushed for and received an across-the-board 10 percent pay raise in 2015. The money had to come from somewhere, and it’s going to come from what would have been used to pay 287 of the newest hired, now soon to be laid off teachers. San Diego, facing a major deficit – much of it due to spiraling pension costs – is about to lay off about 900 recently hired teachers.

In fact, these types of fiscal issues are burdening more and more school districts across the state. So I suppose one could argue that we have a teacher shortage because we are laying them off. But however you identify the problem, the way to solve it is to rejigger teacher union orchestrated state laws and teacher work rules that are mandated in a typical union contract, thereby attracting and maintaining the most talented teachers, rather than giving older, more senior ones – competent or not – more money.

On the state level, defined benefit pensions for teachers, a union must, are causing school districts to go deep into the red and now the Golden (State) Goose is beginning to dry up. A great way to keep young teachers in the field – and ultimately save school districts and the state billions of dollars – would be to offer them a higher salary rather than way-down-the-road retirement benefits that many will never see.

Also, a state issue, the union’s hideous seniority or  “last in, first out” law, one of the statutes that Vergara judge Rolf Treu said “shocks the conscience,” is clearly a deterrent to promising young teachers. Why should a bright, enthusiastic, skilled 20-something enter a field where her worth isn’t appreciated? She knows that no matter how good she is, come tough fiscal times, her job may very well disappear. So she would rather go into a field where her abilities are truly appreciated, and the quality of her work matters more than the number of years she has been employed.

Locally, the unions keep talented teachers from entering and staying in the profession by insisting on a quality-blind way of paying them. In just about every district in the state, public school teachers are part of an industrial style “step and column” salary regimen, which treats them as interchangeable widgets. They get salary increases for the number of years they work, and for taking (usually meaningless) professional development classes. Great teachers are worth more – a lot more – and should receive higher pay than their less capable colleagues. But they don’t. Also, if a district is short on science teachers, it’s only logical to pay them more than other teachers whose fields are over-populated. But, of course, stifling union contracts don’t allow for this kind of flexibility.

Another local way to promote and pay great teachers is to get beyond the smaller-classes-are-always-better myth. To be sure small class-size does help some kids, but for most it matters not a whit. In fact, some kids – like me – did better in bigger classes. But, thanks to union lobbying for more dues-paying members, class sizes are kept small. In fact, as Mike Antonucci writes, “Since 1921 (nationally) we have almost quintupled the number of teachers, more than quintupled the average teacher salary in inflation-adjusted dollars, and also cut the student-teacher ratio in half.” In California, the student-teacher ratio is currently under 20:1. Yet on the 2015 NAEP test, California’s 4th graders ranked 49th in the country in reading and 48th in math. So school districts should be able to give great teachers a stipend and add a few kids to their classes. That would net more quality teachers and higher achieving students at a lower cost to the taxpayers, but the unions won’t allow it.

To achieve badly needed education reforms in California, state legislators and local school board members must stand up to the powerful teachers unions. Until then, all we are doing – SB 807 being the latest example – is putting a heavy coat of lipstick on a bloated tax-sucking pig.

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

Senate bill would eliminate income tax for California teachers

As reported by the Santa Clarita Valley Signal:

In light of the increasing teacher shortage in California, Senators Henry Stern and Cathleen Galgiani announced the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act.

If passed, Senate Bill 807 would eliminate all state income tax for teachers who stay in the classroom for more than five years, as well as provide tax credits to cover training costs and teaching credentials for new teachers.

“Teachers are the original job creators,” Stern said in a statement. “The teaching profession is critical to California’s economic success and impacts every vocation and profession in the state.”

The senate bill aims to tell teachers they are valued in California by training them and keeping them in classrooms, Stern said. In addition to encouraging people to go into teaching, the bill aims to encourage veteran teachers, former teachers and out-of-state teachers to get into California classrooms. …

Click here to read the full article

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

Why Teachers Union is Desperate to Pass Prop. 55

K-12-spending-1California voters face a daunting challenge in November in that they’ll be asked to become familiar with a stunning 17 ballot measures. Some consultants fear that this will overwhelm many voters, who will choose either to vote no on everything or not vote on many initiatives.

But when it comes to Proposition 55, ignorance of its contents is not likely to be a problem for voters. The California Teachers Association and its allies are likely to spend $100 million or more on saturation TV and social media ads depicting the measure as crucial to the future of California public education.

Prop. 55 would extend for 12 years the temporary tax hikes on single people earning more than $263,000 and couples earning more than $526,000 that voters approved in 2012 (then at slightly lower income thresholds) as part of Proposition 30. Instead of sunsetting at the end of 2018, the income tax increase would continue through 2030. The $7 billion or more this is expected to generate annually would be earmarked for education. The temporary sales tax hike that voters also approved in 2012 will lapse at the end of this year.

Revenue recession took toll on teachers

prop 55 websiteThis month, the CTA wrote a $10 million check to the Yes on 55 campaign, which now has a $28 million warchest. The CTA and the smaller but still powerful California Federation of Teachers are likely to write several more checks that size to try to avoid the headaches that public school teachers faced from 2008 to 2012 during California’s long revenue recession.

While the “step” increases in pay that teachers typically receive in 15 of their first 20 years on the job were largely protected, strapped school districts didn’t grant additional across-the-board pay hikes that many provided during recent tech bubbles that pumped up capital gains revenue for the state. They also pushed for teachers to pay more toward their benefits and in some cases accept layoffs that extended beyond the newly hired to those with several years of experience.

As the Legislative Analyst’s Office graphic above shows, education spending has strongly rebounded since 2012, helped by a new boom in Silicon Valley and Proposition 30’s adoption that year. But the CTA and the CFT share Gov. Jerry Brown’sskepticism that the current good times can last. After first insisting that the temporary tax hikes must be allowed to expire because that’s what voters were promised, Brown has been far less vocal on the topic in the wake of new forecasts from his Department of Finance that state deficits are likely in coming years without retention of the income-tax hike.

Since state coffers are the main source of K-12 funding, Prop. 55’s approval is crucial to maintaining teachers’ pay and benefits. In most school districts, compensation eats up more than 80 percent of general fund budgets.

But Prop. 55’s route to passage may be rougher than Prop. 30’s in 2012. The Sacramento Bee editorial page has already saidthat support for extending the tax hikes should be explicitly linked to reforms in teacher tenure and to teacher unions’ support for state-subsidized childcare for poor families.

Some state lawmakers may also try to leverage their support for Prop. 55. Led by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, they are unhappy with how 2013’s Local Control Funding Formula has been implemented. The measure was supposed to pump billions of dollars in extra funding to districts with large numbers of English-language learners and foster children so they could provide help specifically for such students.

But three years in, education reform groups say that’s not happening, citing the absence of evidence of additional help for either category of student. Last year, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the local control dollars could be used broadly for general pay raises, overruling a lower-ranking official.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California bill tackles teacher tenure, firing, layoff rules

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

A California lawmaker is introducing legislation to answer a court ruling that could upend California’s teacher employment rules.

Currently on appeal, a 2014 decision in the Vergara v California lawsuit ruled unconstitutional laws that dictate how long it takes teachers to earn tenure, how underperforming teachers can be fired and how teachers are laid off during budget pinches. Judge Rolf Treu agreed with plaintiffs that the laws hurt disadvantaged students by keeping inept teachers in classrooms.

The group pursuing the lawsuit argues they went to the courts because a Legislature cozy with teachers unions will not act. Since Treu’s ruling, Republicans in the Democrat-dominated Legislature have unsuccessfully pushed bills to change teacher employment rules. They failed, opposed by the California Teachers Association and other unions.

But Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, believes her new bill will …

Click here to read the full article

Free Speech Rights on the Line as SCOTUS Hears Friedrichs Case

Rebecca FriedrichsIn less than one week the U.S. Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, to determine whether unions can force public employees to fund speech through collective bargaining with which they might disagree. The case could result in a landmark decision impacting the First Amendment rights of millions of public sector workers nationwide. The California Policy Center joins hundreds of other organizations and millions of individual activists in urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the plaintiffs.

If the justices rule in favor of Friedrichs, the decision would not only take away government union’s ability to get public employees who do not pay them fired in the half of the states – most definitely including California – which do not have right-to-work, but would allow public workers to opt out of their union without needing to renew their objection every year. Here in California, the decision, which is expected in June 2016, would impact well over 1 million state and local public employees who are currently unionized.

The Friedrichs case rests on the argument that anything and everything that public employee unions negotiate is inherently political. We couldn’t agree more. To state an obvious example, negotiations between unions and elected officials over public employee pensions and pay are arguments over how elected officials should use public money – an inherently political question. Conceding to demands for higher salaries during an economic downturn – or at any time, for that matter – is a political choice. When public employees make more, either other services are cut, or taxes are increased. These are political decisions, not mere employer/employee issues.

While how public agencies spend taxpayers’ money is obviously a matter of public policy, the work rules negotiated by government unions also are inherently political. Union negotiated rules governing California’s system of public education provide examples of this in the form of “lifetime tenure” – awarded after less than two years in the classroom, dismissal procedures that make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers, and “last in first out” layoff policies that reward seniority over merit. Conscientious teachers can be forgiven for believing these union rules, among others, are public policy decisions, inherently political, that have harmed California’s children. Yet they are forced to pay to support the unions who negotiated these rules.

The Friedrichs case, despite an avalanche of well-funded propaganda from unions, is not about whether or not unions even belong in the public sector. The point of the Friedrichs case, again, is that everything that public sector unions negotiate for is inherently political. And because they are inherently political, public employees should not be forced to fund these unions if they don’t want to, because that is a violation of their First Amendment free speech rights. You don’t have to restrict the scope of your argument to the explicitly political activities of government unions to make this case. Because everything government unions do, everything they fight for, affects government policy.

As a result, members of government unions should not be merely permitted to opt-out of the acknowledged “political” portion of their union dues, the amounts spent on political campaigns and lobbyists. They should be allowed to opt-0ut of paying all of it, including the so-called “agency fee.” And because these unions have made the “opt-out” process a difficult bureaucratic ordeal, where members can only opt-out during a certain limited time each year, and have to do that over and over again, year after year, paying union dues should instead depend on an “opt-in” process. This would mean the government unions themselves would have to obtain affirmative consent, year after year, in order to continue to collect dues from government workers.

Government unions are not just inherently political in everything they do. Their agenda is inherently in conflict with the public interest. Unlike private unions, government unions elect their own bosses. Unlike private unions, government unions can demand pay and benefits without having nearly the same concerns about how that may impact the financial health of their organization. And unlike private unions, government unions run the government bureaucracy, which means they can more easily intimidate their opponents. For these reasons, perhaps the Friedrichs case doesn’t go far enough. But it’s a very good start.

*   *   *

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