This has happened so often over the past few years that it almost doesn’t qualify as news anymore. Still, probably the most important change in the education policy landscape has been the willingness of high-profile Democratic politicians to buck one of the primary sources of their power – the public employees’ unions. This doesn’t always end happily for the Democrat (see Gray Davis, et al.), but it’s no longer the career-ender it used to be.
In Oregon, the school employees’ unions have had an on-again, off-again relationship with Gov. John Kitzhaber. The Oregon Education Association endorsed his opponent in the Democratic primary, largely because of Kitzhaber’s “performance-based funding” proposal. When Kitzhaber won the nomination, OEA and other public sector unions bet the ranch on him.
Gov. Kitzhaber’s latest proposal is a merger of the state boards dealing with K-12 and higher education, which has caused OEA some heartburn. “I am surprised and disappointed to hear that OEA has changed course and now opposes Senate Bill 909 and a package of modest education reforms that would deliver better results for students, more resources for teachers and more accountability for taxpayer dollars. For them to cling to the status quo is not in the best interest of Oregonians,” said Kitzhaber in a statement.
Meanwhile in California, David Kieffer, the executive director of the state SEIU affiliate announced his opposition to Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for a special election in September to extend and raise taxes. The state’s public sector unions are interested parties because they would be expected to fund the campaign with dues dollars.
“I think it’s highly likely (the taxes) would lose,” Kieffer said.
Kieffer’s short-term solution? Paper over the deficit. “There’s a bottomless pit of gimmicks,” he said.
Democrats are in a bind. They can’t tell the unions to go to hell, and they can’t follow them off the cliff. But the fence they’re straddling is getting awfully thin.