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.

(Read Full Article)Court

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

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

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

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 The tenure pillar, for example, says, “Permanent status should be able to be rescinded if a teacher receives multiple evaluations showing an ineffective rating.” That’s a sound idea—though if permanence can be rescinded, why call it permanence at all?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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown vs. Board of Education for 21st century?

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

California’s New, Big, Nonpartisan Political Tent

“In politics, a big tent or catch-all party is a political party seeking to attract people with diverse viewpoints and thus appeal to more of the electorate. The big tent approach is opposed to single-issue litmus tests and ideological rigidity, conversely advocating multiple ideologies and views within a party.

–  Wikipedia, “Big Tent”

Something is happening in California. An unstoppable movement for reform is building, attracting support from conscientious Californians regardless of their age, income, race, gender or political ideology. The metaphor of a “big tent” aptly describes the approach that reform leaders are finally embracing.

The fabric of this big tent is supported by two poles, one representing restoring quality education, the other representing restoring financial health to California’s public institutions. But the big tent metaphor breaks down somewhat if it describes a political party. Because most of California’s reform leaders no longer care who gets it done, or what political party takes credit. They just want to Californian children to get quality educations, and they just want to restore economic opportunity to ordinary citizens.

For years, the powers that oppose education reform and fiscal reform have painted reformers as either Republican fanatics, bent on dismantling government, or Democratic traitors, beholden to “Wall Street Hedge Funds.” But this argument is wearing thin. On the topic of education reform, here are three reasons why Californians, all of them, are waking up:

(1) The Vergara Decision:  This case pits nine Oakland public school students against the State of California, arguing that (a) granting tenure after less than two years, (b) retaining teachers during layoffs based on seniority instead of merit, and (c) the near impossibility of dismissing incompetent teachers, is harming California’s overall system of public education, and is disproportionately harming public education in low income communities. Earlier this year, in a Los Angeles Superior court decision, the judge wrote: “The evidence of the effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.” In return, the California Teacher’s Association had this to say in an official press release:

“All along it’s been clear to us that this lawsuit is baseless, meritless, and masterminded by self-interested individuals with corporate education reform agendas that are veiled by a proclamation of student interest” (ref. CTA press release).

Watch the plaintiff’s closing arguments in the Vergara case. Note how the plaintiff’s legal team was actually able to use the testimony of the defendant’s expert witnesses to support their own case.

(2) Parent Trigger Laws:  In 2010, the California State Legislature signed into law the “Parent Empowerment Act.” This law enables parents in failing schools to (a) transfer their child to a higher performing school, (b) permits parents to change policies at an underperforming school if 50 percent of parents sign a petition, and (c) requires the California Dept. of Education to regularly publish a list of the 1,000 worst performing schools in the state. Former State Senator Gloria Romero, the liberal Democrat who is largely responsible for getting passage of the Parent Empowerment Act, writes this week in UnionWatch about how the Los Angeles Unified School District tried and failed to exempt themselves from the law. But government employee unions in California are incredibly powerful, collecting and spending over two billion dollars in taxpayer funded dues per two-year election cycle. They literally can be in all places at all times. Read the slime job someone sympathetic to the union machine entered on Romero’s Wikipedia profile:

“Romero leads the California chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, an interest group funded by Wall Street hedge fund managers who support charter schools.”

(3) Charter Schools:  Here is an example of why claims that “Wall Street hedge fund managers” are somehow hoping to profit from private schools or charter schools (which are not private) are absurdly unfounded. The Alliance College-Ready Public Schools in Los Angeles is a network of 26 high schools, located throughout Los Angeles, which, like nearly all charter schools, consistently delivers superior educational outcomes at a fraction of the cost of union controlled public schools. But the Alliance network is a nonprofit. The capital investments necessary to launch these schools are funded by donations. There is no return on investment. And the benefactors of these schools have no political agenda – they are Democrats, Republicans, and independents. They are a perfect example of California’s new, powerful, big tent.

Financial reform issues are the other pole that supports the big tent. Despite accusations of “hedge fund managers” and “Wall Street” getting behind allegedly phony reform proposals for public education along with fiscal issues such as runaway pension costs, it is actually corrupt financial interests that join with government bureaucrats to perpetuate the abuse and prevent reform. The reason government services are being cut and infrastructure spending is neglected is because unionized government workers receive excessive pay and benefits, crowding out funding for everything else. Wall Street firms underwrite the bonds to cover the deficits and finance deferred maintenance. Wall Street firms (including hedge funds) invest the pension fund assets. People are connecting the dots.

The behavior of powerful government unions, opposing education and fiscal reforms that virtually everyone else supports, is finally exposing them – along with their partners, corrupt financial interests and crony corporations – as the root cause of the most severe challenges facing Californians. This issue is nonpartisan and transcends ideology. The big tent is filling up.

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

The Unapologetic Teachers Unions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Pension crisis divides CA Dems on UC tuition hikes

 

 

Janet_NapolitanoA 14-7 vote yesterday by the full University of California Board of Regents made it official: Golden State Democrats are deeply divided on tuition increases, thanks to the intractable politics of underfunded pensions.

On one side are Democrats who favored the increases, including UC President Janet Napolitano, formerly President Obama’s secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Regent Richard C. Blum, the husband of long-time U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and the school’s overwhelmingly Democratic faculty, who seek the tuition hikes to fill their pension plan that is $25 billion underfunded and would benefit from the extra money taken from students.

Napolitano insisted the UC system could not maintain its “vitality” or “stability” without more money from students.

In the 14-7 vote, among those seven opposed were some heavy-hitters in Democratic state politics: Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson — all just re-elected to their offices; and former Speaker John Perez. Also in this camp would be many students who have protested the increases.

Brown went to the extraordinary length of offering his own counterproposal, falling back on the traditional idea of convening a panel of experts to recommend a policy.

Although the split among Democrats has dominated the news, tuition has not been the only issue to introduce party fractures in recent months.

State Democrats previously divided on education in the wake of the Vergara ruling, wherein Judge Rolf Treu ruled that California’s teacher tenure system unconstitutionally violated students’ civil rights. The controversy helped tee up a close and rancorous race between union-backed incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and his challenger, Marshall Tuck. Both are Democrats.

But a broader range of issues also proved problematic. Environmentalists chafed, for instance, at Brown’s diversion of cap-and-trade fees into the costly high-speed rail project, which wouldn’t help reduce statewide emissions for years.

An open secret

The pensions crisis, however, has been quietly pushing Democrats apart. Outgoing controller and incoming Treasurer John Chiang, encouraged by Gov. Brown, developed a reputation for laying bare the abuses of pension funds like the California Public Employee’s Retirement System, whose pension-sweetening machinations recently drew the ire of the governor.

Chiang’s relatively bold stand has led some observers to speculate he could upset an anticipated struggle between Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate two years from now. For the moment, however, Chiang has helped drive a wedge into the Democratic Party by giving political cover to Democrats willing to object to California’s pension burdens. And though the pension issues at the heart of the UC tuition increase have been an open secret, they have yet to receive a commensurate amount of media attention.

As Bloomberg recently reported, the UC system operates an independent $90.7 billion pension fund, underfunded by about 20 percent. The state of California covers the employer’s percentage of pension costs for most state employees, but not for UC teachers.

Nathan Brostrom, UC’s chief financial officer, put the problem to Bloomberg in blunt terms. “Frankly, if the state were to pay that, we would not be proposing a tuition increase,” he said.

But Bloomberg pointed out, “Brown’s budget office says the pension system is independent and lawmakers have no input into how it is structured or the level of benefits provided. If the state were to pay more toward the university’s retirement costs,” Brown’s administration reasoned, “It would essentially be the same as giving them more funding.”

Given Sacramento’s current level of pension obligations — and the fraught politics surrounding the outcome of pension-fueled municipal bankruptcies in cities like Stockton — state Democrats have not been motivated to take on the UC’s massive pension obligations.

Student frustrations

Confusion and a sense of powerlessness among students have deepened the political impact of UC’s pensions.

At San Francisco’s UC campus in Mission Bay, where the regents gathered, “hundreds of students” staged angry protests, with some, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, breaching “metal barricades and police security lines.”

Ry Rivard at Inside Higher Ed recounted the judgment of Student Regent Sadia Saifuddin, who told Regents she’d been obliged to take on four jobs to cover her schooling costs. Saying “students have always been taken hostage,” Saifuddin claimed “students have always had to pay the price of economic mismanagement by the regents and the state.”

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

 

Triumph of the Status Quo — Torlakson over Tuck

California’s education reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. Tuck wasn’t wrong, though both candidates spent a great deal of energy and money attacking one another’s character. And the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The day before the election, a Reuters analysis called the nominally nonpartisan state superintendent’s race the “most expensive political contest in California . . . for an office nobody’s heard of.” The candidates and their allies poured more than $30 million into the election—more than three times what Governor Jerry Brown and his Republican opponent, Neel Kashkari, spent on their campaigns combined. The California Teachers Association alone spent $11 million, including at least $2 million on independent radio and TV ads touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck. Meantime, about a dozen well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, contributed nearly $10 million to an independent campaign committee backing Tuck.

Yet in the end, Torlakson bested Tuck by a margin of 181,489 votes out of more than 4.3 million ballots cast. Not a landside, but not a nail-biter, either. What happened?

Tuck’s candidacy hinged on two issues: tenure reform and greater local control, especially for charter schools. He hammered Torlakson for supporting the state’s appeal of Vergara v. California, the class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles that seeks to void the state’s tenure, seniority, and dismissal rules. L.A. Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu had ruled in June that students and newly hired teachers “are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantaged by the current [law].” Torlakson called Treu’s ruling “an attack on teachers” throughout the campaign. Tuck said Torlakson’s eagerness to appeal the decision showed that he put union interests over the interests of children.

But polls showed that Vergara resonated weakly with voters. Though 42 percent of likely California voters ranked education as their top priority this year, and the vast majority of voters surveyed after Treu’s ruling agreed that the state should do away with “last hired, first fired” tenure protections, nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about. Reformers may not like to hear it, but Governor Brown wasn’t wrong when he dismissed tenure reform in the campaign’s waning days as an “ephemeral” issue. Nor was Torlakson wrong when he said, “I think [Tuck] is focusing inappropriately on one lawsuit, one set of issues around that.”

Tuck also touted his experience as president of the Green Dot chain of charter schools. He voiced his support for California’s landmark parent-trigger law, which lets parents at failing schools petition to force their school district to implement certain reforms, including charter school conversion. Here again, though, voters don’t completely understand charter school reforms. And the CTA and its lesser partner, the California Federation of Teachers, have opposed parent-trigger campaigns and generally consider the charter movement to be “privatization,” even though California’s charters are nonprofit organizations that must adhere to the state education code. The teachers’ unions and their surrogates, such as Diane Ravitch, used Tuck’s charter school ties to paint him as a racist, a bigot, and a tool of “the power elite.” Their attacks bordered on defamation, but they worked.

Outside those contentious but narrow policy questions, Torlakson and Tuck didn’t differ much. Both expressed enthusiasm for the Common Core State Standards, despite their declining popularity among Californians. The PACE/USC Rossier School of Education poll in June found just 32 percent of voters supported the standards, while 42 percent opposed them—a sharp drop over the previous year’s survey, which found majority support. Yet Tuck chose to distinguish himself from Torlakson by accusing the incumbent of implementing the standards too slowly.

On school funding, both candidates agreed that the state should spend more on public schools—apparently, the 1988 constitutional amendment requiring the legislature to earmark at least 40 percent of the general fund for elementary and secondary education provides too little money. Tuck himself told an Education Week reporter last month that on questions of compensation and professional development, “I have tons of alignment with CTA’s agenda.” At bottom, Tuck and Torlakson shared the belief that whatever ails public education, greater government intervention can cure it. They simply disagreed over the means. And with 40 percent of voters still undecided days before the election, it’s easy to see why voters chose to play it safe with the incumbent.

Before Election Day, education policy wonks speculated that the outcome of the Torlakson-Tuck fight could resonate into 2016. Sacramento Beecolumnist Dan Morain argued, “Public school unions will be fundamental to Democrats’ success. But there will be a cost. Teachers unions have not been a force for change for the better. . . . The question is when, not whether, that divide will become a problem for the Democratic Party.” Not this year. The status quo holds, for now.

CA Dems Battle on Key Issues

 

 

Democrats fighting logoAlthough Democrats in California are eager to celebrate major victories next Tuesday, political fault lines lie under their party.

From anti-rape legislation, to education reform, to health costs and beyond, an anticipated left-leaning consensus has failed to materialize in the Golden State. The resulting controversies, disagreements and difficulties in politicking have thrown a suprising degree of doubt on Democrats’ broader election-year routine.

National Democrats had grown accustomed to a clear, reliable dividing line between identity politics and more general issues. The distinction helped strategists protest the status quo for allies with powerful institutional interests — while microtargeting voters based on criteria like race or ethnicity, sex or gender, age, immigrant status and sexual orientation.

But the new cleavages among California liberals have upset that carefully calibrated approach, leading to close scrutiny and, in some cases, close state elections.

Yes means yes

The phenomenon became hard to ignore when the national political media picked up on sharp disagreements over California’s new “yes means yes” legislation, which requires affirmative sexual consent at universities receiving state funding. Initially, the controversial bill seemed poised to become law without incident.

Outside the state, however, commentators influential among establishment liberals and progressives found themselves at loggerheads over the implications of its strict, invasive rules. As the Los Angeles Times observed, the scuffle — which drew in figures at publications ranging from Vox to The Nation to New York magazine — escalated into “a clash between those who believe the law is too intrusive and those who believe intrusiveness is the entire point.”

For Democrats, the political point has become clear: rather than helping cement a consensus among liberal voters about how to advance legislation concerning sex, “yes means yes” has given voters a stark reason to reassess what they want out of Democrats in that regard.

Given the significance Democrats have placed on the women’s vote in recent years, and the hope they have placed in rising generations of younger voters, the news is especially unwelcome.

Teachers unions

California also gave Democrats a preview of even broader and more fundamental divides on the left.

When Judge Rolf Treu handed down the Vergara ruling, which held public teacher tenure protections to unconstitutionally infringe students’ rights, Democrats split immediately. Some, like Gov. Jerry Brown, went to bat for the teachers unions.

Others, like U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, presented the ruling as a clarion call to improve educational opportunities for all students. Because many underperforming schools and teachers have been found in districts with substantial (or majority) minority populations, some Democrats recognized they could be forced into an uncomfortable choice.

On the one hand, Democrats wished to stand publicly for the interests of minority children and families. On the other, they wanted to defend teachers unions, which have long played a decisive role in Democrats’ political success, especially in California.

These broad political challenges quickly crystallized into a pitched battle over the tenure of one man: California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a dedicated ally of the teachers unions. Torlakson’s incumbency has become a referendum on his staunch opposition to the Vergara decision.

His challenger, former charter schools executive Marshall Tuck, also is a Democrat — creating an intra-party race as close and bitter as any in recent memory, even though officially the post is non-partisan.

If Tuck wins, an even bigger confrontation will arise, pitting him against Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, his fellow Democrats, assuming both are re-elected. Brown handily is leading Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, who applauded the Vergara decision.

Harris filed the state’s appeal of Vergara on behalf of Brown. Her opponent is Republican Ronald Gold, who urged her not to appeal VergaraHe asked, “Is she with students, particularly inner city and economically disadvantaged ones, or is she with the teachers unions that support her campaign?”

Even after their expected victories next Tuesday, that’s the kind of headache California Democrats can do without.

Health insurance costs

Finally, the remarkable divides among California Democrats on Proposition 45 could establish another pattern of disagreement for liberals nationwide. It would give the California insurance commissioner the power of approval over changes in health-insurance rates — including over Covered California, the state’s implementation of Obamacare.

Prop. 45 is sponsored by the left-leaning Consumer Watchdog organization.

It comes down to this: Will Covered Care rates be set as part of the federal legislation, or by the state insurance commissioner because of Prop. 45?

The official Ballot Pamphlet from the California Secretary of State features the dueling liberal visions.

The Pro side insists: “Proposition 45 will lower healthcare costs by preventing health insurance companies from jacking up rates and passing on unreasonable costs to consumers.”

The Anti side retorts: “Prop. 45 creates even more expensive state bureaucracy, duplicating two other bureaucracies that oversee health insurance rates, causing costly confusion with other regulations and adding more red tape to the health care system.”

These political fault lines are just opening up, and are likely to get even larger.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Kashkari’s Attention-Getting Ad has a Point

Neel Kashkari’s campaign for governor sought to gain attention with its first statewide television commercial and succeeded. The ad titled Betrayal depicts a boy drowning before being pulled to safety by Kashkari. The boy is symbolic of the school children Kashkari asserts have been abandoned by Governor Jerry Brown when he appealed the Vergara vs. California case.

The judge declared in Vergara that conditions in California schools for minority students “shock the conscience” in concluding that “grossly ineffective teachers” protected by the state’s teacher tenure laws deny minority students constitutional protections for an equal education.

Kashkari’s attention-getting ad is intended to get the media and, through the media, the people talking about this issue. With the one sided advantage the governor has in financial resources Kashkari is relying on an edgy campaign commercial to get his word out.

Brown argued that the appeal to a higher court was necessary if the teacher tenure laws are to be changed. Previously, I wrotethat an appellate ruling would be helpful in validating the lower court’s decision.

However, Brown’s reasoning for the appeal ignored the main question ruled upon by the Superior Court. He did not take a stand on the issue. He did not say that his goal with the appeal is to confirm that the current standards must change; that the students are being denied a quality education. He was silent on the issue.

By not speaking up for the students who brought the Vergara case it clearly appears that Brown is playing up to the teachers’ unions, as Kashkari charges. The unions adamantly want to wipe Vergara away.

I suppose there is something to say about the attention getting aspect of the ad – a boy drowning until pulled to safety by Kashkari. Attention to a child in jeopardy worked in the famous political commercial put out by Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign in 1964. A little girl picking flowers disappeared from the screen replaced by the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion. That commercial actually ran only once but we are still talking about it 50 years later.

Kashkari, undoubtedly, was willing to use a dramatic image to get people talking.

Kashkari speaks of the problem examined in the Vergara case as a civil rights issue. If that is so, the dramatic ad to point out the issue can be compared to the demonstrations that were criticized during the civil rights era. They brought attention. But, the key for Kashkari is that people examine the core point he is making – that Brown is unwilling to stand up and proclaim that minority children are suffering under the current teacher protection laws supported by the unions — and not the ad’s image.

As Martin Luther King noted in his civil rights struggles of a half-century ago, while critics deplored demonstrations they failed to express similar concerns for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. He wanted his critics to deal with the underlying causes.

Kashkari hopes his commercial will bring attention to the underlying problem and those who resist change.

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily.

Tuck outraising incumbent, but union looms large in State Superintendent race

Education reformer Marshall Tuck has accomplished a rare feat for a political challenger: He’s raised more money than the incumbent.

According to the most recent campaign finance disclosure reports released Monday, Tuck has raised nearly $1.6 million since he launched his campaign to fix California’s failing schools. That’s roughly $200,000 more than incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Both are Democrats.

In addition to raising more money, Tuck has more cash on hand heading into the final month of the campaign. Tuck’s $699,037 in available funds puts him with a nearly six-figure advantage over Torlakson, who reported $608,609 in cash on hand, as of Sept. 30.

Tuck’s strong fundraising shows donors are responding to his reform message. He’s the only statewide challenger to outraise an incumbent this year. In some cases, challengers are at a significant disadvantage.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Republican Ronald Gold, who is challenging Attorney General Kamala Harris, had $17,601 in available funds, with $80,000 in outstanding debts. Meanwhile, Harris reported $3.6 million in cash on hand for the most recent period.

Teachers union’s $1.9 million ‘issue’ campaign just beginning

But Tuck’s financial advantage is largely illusory. That’s because the California Teachers Association, the most powerful special interest group in Sacramento, has declared war on Tuck. The teachers union is the biggest player in the superintendent’s race, even dwarfing the candidates.

On Oct. 1, the state’s richest union launched its latest “issue” advocacy praising their loyal ally Torlakson. According to state campaign finance disclosure reports, the CTA reported spending $1.94 million in issue ads benefiting Torlakson. To put that number in perspective, it’s more than either of the candidates has raised for his entire campaign.

And the union is likely just getting started with its outside campaign spending. According to the Los Angeles Times, the CTA spent $2.5 million in independent expenditures during the June primary on Torlakson’s behalf. Despite the union spending, Torlakson received the fewest votes of any statewide incumbent, an anemic 46.5 percent of the vote.

Vergara decision alters the race

Since the primary, things have only gotten worse for Torlakson as more voters are becoming aware of a landmark court case, Vergara v. California, which has fundamentally changed the dynamics of the superintendent’s race.

In June, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu found California’s teacher tenure and dismissal process violates students’ rights by leaving low-income and minority students with the worst teachers. Immediately, the teachers union adopted a “you’re either with us or against us” policy, attacking anyone in their way, even the judge.

“The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts,” California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt said in a press release condemning the ruling. “Instead he issued a blanket decision to scuttle these important statutes, absent the kind of compelling evidence that should be the standard for changing state law.” The CFT is the state’s second teachers union.

In August, Torlakson, a staunch union defender, announced he would appeal the decision. “The people who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession deserve our admiration and support,” he said in a statement. “Instead, this ruling lays the failings of our education system at their feet.”

In contrast, Tuck has praised the ruling and vows to drop the state’s appeal if elected.

“When I win … I’m immediately submitting to the appellate court our request to no longer be a defendant and will side with the plaintiffs in the case,” Tuck told the UT San Diego.

Tuck’s reform message resonating with all Californians

The teachers unions’ campaign onslaught could backfire. But, much like Republican Meg Whitman proved in 2010 with her run for governor, money sometimes can backfire. Every major newspaper in the state has endorsed Tuck — all citing Torlakson’s cozy relationship with the union as part of their reason.

“As for Torlakson, he seems too busy defending public schools to think about fixing them,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders. “Torlakson actually has attacked Tuck for working on Wall Street during his first two years out of college. That’s the sort of nasty salvo that made it easy for every major newspaper in California, including The Chronicle, to endorse Tuck.”

On Monday, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune became the latest newspaper to back Tuck.

“Torlakson has joined in a legal appeal of the Vergara ruling, and mouths the union line that people want to streamline the hiring and firing rules are ‘blaming teachers,’” the paper wrote. “Tuck applauds the Vergara decision and has called on the state Board of Education not to wait through an appeal before developing alternative rules, including longer evaluation periods before tenure is granted.”

This piece was originally published on CalWatchdog.com.