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December 14, 2009

1)  California Teachers Association's (Almost) Million Dollar Race to the Stop. In an attempt to qualify for some $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special session of the legislature to remove some impediments and increase the state's chances. The result was a bill sponsored by Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) that would lift the state's charter school cap, allow children in the lowest-performing schools to transfer to any school in the state or let their parents "force overhauls that could include firing teachers or changing the school into a charter school."

The bill narrowly passed the Senate, but died in the Assembly Education Committee - replaced by a bill sponsored by the committee's chairwoman, Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica). Brownley's bill eliminates the school choice and parental empowerment provisions, and adds new regulations of charter schools, though it does lift the cap. Unsurprisingly, the Romero bill was met with fierce opposition from the California Teachers Association (CTA), while the Brownley bill received union support. 

"This was crafted by the education establishment, and they are anti-charter school because, simply put, it threatens their enterprise," said Margaret Fortune, a charter school founder and California State University trustee. Gov. Schwarzenegger says he will veto the Brownley bill if it reaches his desk.

If you think this all occurred in the normal rough-and-tumble of California politics, think again. CTA developed an activist plan for dealing with Race to the Top legislation during the summer and allocated up to $950,000 to implement it. The union's first order of business was to stall the Romero bill. 

"Education reform shouldn't be a race; it deserves serious attention that will actually help kids and improve student achievement," said CTA President David Sanchez. "Proposed reforms need thoughtful discussion with all stakeholders, including parents, teachers and community members. They should not be sprung on the public just hours before last-minute hearings if any meaningful input is really going to take place." It won't surprise you to know that CTA has used similar tactics in the past to pass legislation it liked. 

CTA's power to stonewall education bills is legendary. The primary reason California was able to create charter schools in the first place is because CTA feared something worse - vouchers. What is less examined is the lack of intestinal fortitude shown by administrators and school boards. 

In a recent blog post for the American Enterprise Institute, Andrew Smarick wrote of his recent visit to California to speak to school board members about Race to the Top: 

"...I got question after question about the state's teachers union. The board members didn't know how it was possible to advance legislation related to charter schooling, merit pay, and other reforms when the union and the legislators who listen to them are adamantly opposed. I, unfortunately, had little by way of advice." 

If Smarick had known, he might have suggested they tell the California School Boards Association to stop carrying CTA's water

"By rushing to enact legislation before the release of final federal regulations," said CSBA President Paula S. Campbell about the Romero bill, "the California State Senate is jumping to conclusions about what is required by the federal government as well as what makes good sense. For example, while districts should have a wide range of options to improve low performing schools, SB1 5X instead limits reform options by forcing districts to choose from options that research has consistently shown to have a limited chance of success. It makes no sense to act quickly if the result is a step backward for school reform." 

The school administrators association was no better. "At this time we should be focusing on working together to develop a thoughtful Race to the Top plan, rather than adding new laws that may be unnecessary or that may conflict with the final guidelines," said Association of California School Administrators president Charles Weis. "Our analysis shows there is no need for changes to state law to apply for Race to the Top, and premature reforms may have long term and potentially unnecessary consequences for students and schools." 

The non-union public education establishment in California loves to whine about CTA, but they would rather stand with the union than with the Democrats and civil rights groups who are defying it. 

2)  Contract Hits. Wherein we highlight a contract provision from the current agreement between the National Education Association and its largest staff union. This is Article 39, Section 1: 

"The following benefits shall be provided for employees:

"(a) medical and hospitalization benefits equivalent to those provided by NEA's present medical plan, without cost to employees, provided, however, that in the event an employee elects to participate in an HMO, NEA shall not be required to contribute to such HMO at a cost greater than it would have incurred on behalf of said employee under the aforementioned plan.

"(b) dental and orthodontic benefits equivalent to those presently provided, without cost to employees with an annual dental maximum of $3,000 and a lifetime orthodontic maximum of $4,000.

"(c) the cost of ophthalmologic examinations for employees and their families once every two years. Additionally, NEA shall reimburse employees up to $600 during the term of this Agreement for the cost of prescription eyeglasses/contact lenses, or Lasik surgery for the employee and each eligible dependent.

"(d) life insurance benefits equivalent to those provided by NEA's present life insurance plan up to $50,000 of coverage, including payment by NEA of the premium cost. The employee may elect to pay for additional available coverage between $50,000 and $300,000. The cost of elective life insurance is contained in the table at Attachment E.

"(e) a short-term disability program (STD), available to an employee who is unable to perform the type of work he/she normally performs at NEA because of continuing illness or disability, upon exhausting the employee’s medical leave, after a ten (10)-day waiting period, assuring the employee an income equal to one hundred percent (100%) of the employee’s current income for up to one hundred twenty (120) days until the employee is eligible for long-term disability.

"(f) In the event that an employee remains unable to perform the type of work he/she performed at NEA prior to being placed in the short-term disability program because of continuing illness or disability, NEA will, through a long-term disability program coordinated with all other benefits provided to the employee, assure the employee an income equal to two-thirds his/her then current income until the employee is 65 years of age. The guaranteed assured income level will be annually adjusted to reflect adjustment in the wages of NEA employees.

"(g) Medical and dental coverage shall be available to an employee's domestic partner in accordance with applicable NEA guidelines.

"(h) Employees shall be eligible to participate in the existing NEA Flexible Spending Account programs, in accordance with Section 125 of the Internal Revenue Code, for medical and/or dependent care expenses."

3)  Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from December 7-14:

* Teacher Cuts Off First-Grader's Braid; Union Blames It on "Budget Constraints." It's enough to make you pull out your hair.

* History Belabored. Books that won't make it into Wisconsin's labor history curriculum.

* Jokeland. Gertrude Stein, affirmed.

* Indiana State Teachers Association Finds Fraud Charges "Perplexing." You mean, all isn't forgiven?

* Good Luck With That! No refunds.

* What Would YOU Say to the NEA? Opportunity missed.

4)  Quote of the Week. "When your boss gives you a check and says you either have to give up part of it or lose your job, that's extortion." - Stephen Conn, former (and future?) candidate for president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, discussing the district's proposal in which teachers would agree to a $250 deduction from their bi-weekly paychecks to close a $219 million budget deficit. (December 12 Detroit News)

All right, Stephen. If it's extortion when your boss does it, what is it when your union does it?


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