By: Sharon Byrne
Why did the school bond measures fail in June? Over the years, perhaps voters have noticed that no matter how much money we hand over to Sacramento for education, our kids still test on par with Mississippi. Every year, those of us with kids in public schools face further budget cuts, and try to fill the shortages.
I was the proud parent of a 1st grader when the state budget cuts hit in 2003. We funded art, music, and PE (newly cut) with parent donations of $330 per child. The next year, the budget was worse. We did fundraisers, carnivals, and bake sales. The following year Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiatives failed. Parcel taxes arose as an emergency relief valve for crucial local school funding, until the state budget was restored.
The Great Recession was still 2 years off…
How does California stay mired in this educational morass, year after year, whether in boom times or bad?
Trot out all the usual suspects, but start also looking at the California Teachers Association. The image is apples and pencils, but with 325,000 members and annual dues collection of more than $1,000 per year from every teacher in the state, they’ve got serious muscle. In 2009, the CTA’s income was more than $186 million, all of it tax-exempt.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission reported in 2010 that the CTA had spent more than $210 million over the previous decade on political campaigning—more than any other donor in the state. They outspent the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry, and the tobacco industry combined.
A brief look at their legislative record:
1988- passed Proposition 98. Compelled California to spend more than 40% of its annual budget on education in grades K–12 and community college. Guaranteed spending removed any incentive to get value.
1993- defeated Proposition 174. Provide families access to vouchers to help pay for private school enrollment. Same money per pupil, higher outcomes. CTA spent $12.5 million on the opposition campaign, and got the CTA-endorsed SOS to change the heading from “Parental Choice” to “Education Vouchers”.
1996 – reduce classroom sizes K-3. Cost California nearly $2 billion a year- the most expensive education-reform initiative in the state’s history. But it worked out well for the CTA, whose ranks and coffers swelled with the new teachers hired.
1998 – spent nearly $7 million to defeat Proposition 8—Use student performance as a criterion for teacher reviews. Require educators to pass credentialing examinations in their disciplines. That same year, the CTA, spent more than $2 million in a failed attempt to block Proposition 227, which eliminated mandatory bilingual education based on a student’s last name.
2002- spent $26 million to defeat Proposition 38, another school voucher proposal.
2005 – spent $50 million(!) to defeat Schwarzenegger’s special initiative election that would have made it easier to fire underperforming teachers.
The CTA excels at protecting teachers, even those who behave criminally, and at killing legislation that would curb for their power. Take SB1530 – a narrow-scope bill that dealt only with credible claims that a teacher has abused a child with sex, drugs, or violence. It would have allowed a school board to suspend an employee for “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct.”
The bill was a response to scandals in the LAUSD this year: two elementary school teachers arrested for lewd acts on children under 14; an aide contacted a 15 year-old girl for sex; and a janitor arrested for committing a lewd act with a child on campus. The cost of proceedings to fire a teacher who behaves obscenely or criminally runs up to $500,000, and can take years. Little wonder, then, that LAUSD has dismissed only 4 teachers over the past decade.
The state senate passed SB1530 33 to 4. But then CTA took the position that it was a “teacher-bashing bill.” The bill needed six votes from the 11-member Assembly committee to advance; it got five ‘”yeses”, two “nays” and four abstentions. Das Williams, who ran as the ‘education’ candidate, backed by the CTA, abstained.
We don’t allow pedophiles to live near schools, but apparently have no objection to letting them teach in them.
From 2003 to 2012, the CTA spent nearly $102 million on political contributions; 99.2% of that money went to Democrats.
The CTA is the big force behind Brown’s tax increase measure. After floating their own, they forced him to change his in exchange for their backing. If it fails, Brown (CTA-backed in 2010) threatened $6b in budget cuts, and shorter school years. This is the same government that ‘found’ $50m in parks monies after threatening CA taxpayers with park closures for lack of funding.
Maybe that’s why the parcel-tax measures narrowly failed – taxpayers sense something is very rotten in Sacramento, and decided against furthering more of same with renewing local parcel taxes, once pitched as one-time emergency stopgaps. Kudos to the school board for trying to fund our schools, but it’s a big hurdle to ask voters to be taxed twice.
Help kids by directing your ire, criticism and reforms to Sacramento and the CTA, where they belong. Then maybe our kids will finally get the resources they need.