Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Dear Colleague,

California test scores have barely improved,” read the headline in the Los Angeles Times two weeks ago. Younger students’ scores inched up this year, but that good news was undone by a drop in scores at the high school level. The scores for black and Hispanic students were not good at all. As Howard Blume writes,

32% of black students met the standard in reading compared with 76% of Asians and 65% of white students. The gap in reading narrowed slightly for Latinos and black students in 2018, by less than 1 percentage point, as did the gap in math for Latinos. But the math gap widened slightly for black students.

At the current rate of improvement, it would take generations for black students to catch up, said Elisha Smith Arrillaga, a senior official with Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy group.

To learn more, go here.

While many think the answer to improving student outcomes is spending more money on education, there is no evidence for that. First, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, we currently spend about $668 billion nationwide per year on public education. This puts us right at the top when compared to the rest of the world. In 2013, we were #1. Currently, we are third, a bit behind Switzerland and Norway.

Perhaps it’s not the amount we spend, but how and where we spend it. Researcher Benjamin Scafidi found that between 1950 and 2015, the hiring of non-teacher education employees in government-run schools – administrators, teacher aides, counselors, social workers, etc. – rose more than 7 times the increase in students, while academic achievement has stagnated or even fallen over the past several decades. Scafidi writes that absent this mostly wasteful expenditure, our schools would have had an additional $37.2 billion to spend.

To learn more about our educational outlay, go here. To see Scafidi’s data on the “Staffing Surge,” go here.

On a related note, Martin Lueken, EdChoice’s director of fiscal policy and analysis, makes the case that not only do vouchers save the taxpayer money, they have no effect on per-pupil spending.

When students leave public schools, they usually generate fiscal savings because the voucher amount in all programs is significantly less than the overall cost of educating students in district schools, and typically less than the short-run variable costs.

These savings, however, do not necessarily materialize as reductions in K–12 expenditures because public officials must make decisions to reduce expenditures. When they don’t reduce those expenditures as public schools lose students, public schools will end up with more resources on a per-pupil basis. A common by-product of introducing school choice programs is that spending per student in district schools increases. Although it may be the case that total revenue for a district may drop, it is usually not the case that revenue per student declines. 

To read Lueken’s study, go here.

Also, on spending, many union leaders in districts with fiscal issues point fingers at charter schools as the reason for the shortfall. But this is usually very far from the truth. For example, United Teachers of Los Angeles President Caputo-Pearl constantly demonizes charters, which he claims suck blood from traditional public schools. But as Reason Foundation scholar Lisa Snell writes, charters account for only 13 percent of the district’s enrollment drop in 2017-2018. She places much of the district’s fiscal woes on its spending on pensions, health care, and special education programs. 

The district’s most recent budget of $7.5 billion, approved in June 2017, projected that LAUSD will face a $422-million shortfall by the 2019–2020 school year. In addition, in four years the combination of pension costs, health and welfare costs, and special education costs are projected to take up 57.5% of unrestricted general fund revenue (LAUSD’s main operational funding), before the district spends a single dollar to run a regular school program.

To read more on Snell’s in-depth analysis, go here.

Caputo-Pearl and UTLA are also using the charter issue as one reason for its threatened strike, which could come in early 2019, if not sooner. Most of the news reports on the issue focus on the district and union. But there is a rising parent voice that demands to be heard. Speak Up has been especially vocal in its opposition to a strike. The group is a grassroots organization of parents who want a more powerful voice in education policy. “Kids don't have lobbyists, and kids don't have a union. Kids have parents, and parents are the only people whose sole interest is the success of kids.” Speak Up leader Katie Braude recently penned a piece for LA School Report that spells out the parents’ concerns.

As the adults fight over salaries and district finances, there’s a simple fact that should not be forgotten or discounted: LAUSD kids would be deprived of an education during a strike. They are the innocent victims of these adult battles.

Last year, 70 percent of LAUSD students failed to meet state academic standards in math, and 60 percent failed to meet standards in English. Only 56 percent of LAUSD kids graduated eligible to even apply to a state four-year college. Clearly, our students cannot afford to lose more school days during a strike and fall even farther behind.

To continue reading Braude’s article, go here. To learn more about Speak Up, go here.

As recent events have shown, we live in very politically polarized times. So the question on many minds becomes, “How should teachers bring up controversial subjects in the classroom?” History professor John Muresianu writes, “Civics Education Should Focus On Critical Thinking, Not Activism.” He writes,

… there has been a revival in civics courses in middle and high school over the past year and a half. For someone passionate about civics education, this should be a source of optimism. But the subject matter of these civics courses is what matters, and a significant share of these new classes have been focused on increasing civic activism. “Getting out the vote” and engaging in activism should only come after students have weighed the arguments on every side of each issue.

He goes on to say that civics education needs to be taught in elementary school.

Learning civics, like learning a second language, requires constant thinking, speaking, and writing. In order to train the next generation of citizens and voters, we need a serious approach to civics education that focuses on critical thinking before action.

To read Muresianu’s thought-provoking piece, go here.

CTEN has received many emails from teachers who have tried to quit their union but were told that they couldn’t because they missed their window of opportunity. For example, in San Francisco a teacher can resign from her union only between 30 and 45 days before the anniversary of the date she signed the membership form. If she misses that window, she is on the hook for another years’ worth of dues. (A teacher who signed up to be a union member 10, 20 or 30 years ago probably has no clue what her anniversary is and her union just may decide not to give her that information.) In Las Vegas, you must part ways between July 1st and July 15th, or you are trapped paying dues for another year.

The unions’ actions are legally tenuous, to say the least, and lawsuits have been initiated. A couple of weeks ago the Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed suit against New Jersey’s governor and attorney general, challenging the constitutionality of Assembly Bill A3686 – which was signed into law on May 17th. The issue is with that part of the law that limits a union member’s ability to resign “the 10 days following each anniversary date of their employment.” 

The Mackinac suit is actually the second; it follows similar litigation by the Freedom Foundation in Washington state in August. 

To learn more about the two lawsuits, go here and here.

Also, on unions, CTEN board member, former teacher and Supreme Court plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs’ excellent new book, Standing Up to Goliath: Battling State and National Teachers' Unions for the Heart and Soul of Our Kids and Country is due out next month. To learn more and pre-order it, go here.

Also, CTEN will continue to keep up with post-Janus doings in addition to any other issues pertinent to education and teachers, and inform you as things happen. If you have any questions, or have experienced any problems because of your decision to leave your union, please let us know, and we will do our best to help you in a timely manner. We will also be able to share your concerns with other teachers across the state. And speaking of sharing, please pass this email along to your colleagues and encourage them to join us.

Also, anyone wishing to donate to CTEN can do so very simply through check, money order or PayPal - http://www.ctenhome.org/donate.html  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks, as always.

Sincerely,
Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, August 15, 2018



Dear Colleague,

As we head into the new school year, quite a few questions surrounding the Janus decision remain, and many of them have been directed our way. Hopefully we at CTEN can clarify a number of these issues for you. (By the way, there is good news for teachers who have been fair share payers; please see pasted in letter from CTA at end.)

The #1 question we get is “When must the union release teachers who want out?” First of all, make sure you let your union know your wishes in writing. The National Right to Work Foundation has provided teachers with an easy-to-fill-out template that you can use to resign. To access the form letter, go here.  

How the union will respond to your resignation/revocation letter is uncertain at this time, and we are not sure exactly when it is legally bound to release you. The union may try to make you pay dues until the current bargaining agreement is up. The federal courts ruled prior to Janus, however, that such a restriction on your right to “resign and revoke” violates your First Amendment rights.

Also, the union may say you can only leave between dates that it specifies in the membership application, dues deduction authorization, its own bylaws or collective bargaining agreement. Any hoops the union tries to make you jump through are probably unconstitutional, and very possibly will be met by a legal challenge. Please send CTEN any communication that the union sends you on this matter, if it does not immediately honor your resignation and revocation requests. We very well may be able to get you free legal help, and at the same time, assist others who are in the same situation.

The above questions and others are featured in our updated FAQ page, which can be accessed here. Also, National Right to Work Foundation Lawyer Milton Chappell recently devoted 45 minutes to answering questions sent in by teachers. That video can be accessed here. (The Q&A starts at 45:45.)

One of the more frequently asked questions is about loss of liability insurance if one quits the union. The Association of American Educators and Christian Educators International have this benefit covered quite well. Membership in either organization will take care of your legal needs for a lot less than the cost of union membership. In fact, AAE has just upped its coverage without raising its membership fee. From a recent press release, the professional educator association has doubled its job protection benefits for members without raising dues.

Throughout their career, educators can experience workplace issues that threaten their job as well as their professional reputation. Along with liability insurance and protection against lawsuits, AAE professional membership includes employment rights coverage for members experiencing termination, demotion, involuntary transfer, suspension, or other disciplinary actions. By including job protection benefits in each member’s liability insurance policy, AAE is able to provide legal support at the onset of workplace issues while still charging only $198 per year to members. The doubling of each of the three levels of job protection now covers up to $10,400 in legal fees paid by the insurance policy to defend each member’s due process rights for covered incidents.

To learn more, go here.

Also, we have found that many teachers like their local union, but see no reason to also belong to the state and national unions. Among other issues, the majority of your union dues payments here in California get shipped to the California Teachers Association ($700 a year) and the National Education Association ($192 a year). If you are interested in keeping your local but disaffiliating from CTA/NEA, we suggest contacting Rafael Ruano at (888) 993-1600. More information on this option can be found here.

Additionally, in light of the new national teacher freedom legal decision, several new informational websites have sprung up. Former SCOTUS plaintiff and CTEN board member Rebecca Friedrichs has inaugurated “For Kids and Country,” a very informative website which covers a myriad of education and union issues. To access the website, go here.

And you might want to check out, Teacher freedom.org, a national clearinghouse that focuses state by state on “opt out rights, association options, limitations and misconceptions.” To learn more, go here.

Once again National Employee Freedom Week is upon us, which runs from Aug. 19-25 this year. The NEFW website informs us that the “Janus decision is simultaneously one the of most significant labor decisions in our lifetime -- and only the beginning of our next phase of activity.” To learn more about NEFW, go here.

While many union-related questions still need to be answered, one seems to have been dealt with in a most definitive way.  In the run-up to the Janus decision, some thought a victory for the plaintiff would lead to the teachers unions becoming more politically balanced…that they would embrace at least some conservative candidates and causes as a way to ensure the uninterrupted flow of union dues. Others suggested the unions would double down and choose ideology over money.

The National Education Association convention at the beginning of July gave us a clue which theory would become reality when the union passed quite a few liberal New Business Items, maintained its lopsided leftward political spending, and gave quarterback Colin Kaepernick a human rights award. And here In California, CTA continues its one-way spending on progressive initiatives, and endorsed 35 state legislators in the June primary – all Democrats.

Right after the NEA convention, the biannual gathering of the other national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, left absolutely no doubt as to its future political direction. On Day 1, Hillary Clinton received AFT’s Women’s Rights Award, which is given to “a woman whose vision and courage have raised the game for other women.”

After Clinton’s appearance, the convention veered further left. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s partisan rant left no doubt that the union’s political leanings remain intact.

And then there was Bernie Sanders. The socialist Senator from Vermont took the stage and had the crowd on its feet as he maintained that it is good news that, “all over this country, people are standing up and fighting for a progressive agenda. There is a political revolution sweeping across this country.” He then claimed that the Supreme Court does the bidding of the powerful, and that “racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia are threatening to cripple America.” In fact, the resolutions passed by the union at the convention would make any socialist proud. Universal health care – whether single-payer or MediCare for All, full public funding for, and free tuition at all public colleges and universities, and universal, full-day, and cost-free child care are what AFT wants for the country. Additionally, the union resolved to double per-pupil expenditures for low-income K-12 districts and to “tax the rich” to fully fund “IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Title I and state allocations to public colleges and universities.”

The point here is that the union has a right to support any politician or cause it wants. But post-Janus, no teacher has to fork over their hard-earned money to a union whose politics are very different from theirs. Teachers who are right of center, libertarian or even apolitical need to think about paying any money to the union. Now that agency fee status is no more, a teacher cannot opt out of the political portion of union dues. It’s either you’re 100 percent in or a 100 percent out.

The new school year is a very busy time for teachers and CTEN will do its best to keep up with post-Janus doings in addition to any other issues pertinent to education and teachers, and inform you as things happen. If you have any questions, or have experienced any problems because of your decision to leave your union, please let us know, and we will do our best to help you in a timely manner. We will also be able to share your concerns with other teachers across the state. And talking about sharing, please pass this email along to your colleagues and encourage them to join us.

Also, anyone wishing to donate to CTEN can do so very simply through check, money order or PayPal - http://www.ctenhome.org/donate.html  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks, as always. And happy new (school) year!

Sincerely,
Larry Sand
CTEN President

 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dear Colleague,

As most of you undoubtedly know by now, on June 27th the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in the Janus v. AFSCME case. The decision means that no public school teacher or any other government worker in the U.S. has to pay money to a union as a condition of employment.

What we know

Effective immediately, nonmember agency fee or fair share payers should have no more money taken from their monthly checks by their school district and union. CTA has sent a letter stating as such. If anyone has not received this missive, please let me know and I will email you a copy. I have not seen nor heard about any such communication from CFT, however. If any AFT/CFT agency fee payer has received a “sayonara” letter from that union, please scan and email a copy to CTEN.

Because agency fee payer status is now a thing of the past, there is no need to send in a yearly rebate/objection letter any more. (The yearly letter required to be submitted by November 15th each year applied to the existing school year in which it was submitted.)

What we don’t know

For existing union members, things are not that cut and dried. If you have been a union member and decide you want out, you must let your union know in writing. The National Right to Work Foundation has provided teachers with an easy-to-fill-out template that you can use to resign. To access the form letter, go here.

But we are not sure when the union is legally bound to release you. Will they wait until the current bargaining agreement is up? Will the union say you can only leave between dates that it specifies? Any hoops the union tries to make you jump through will very possibly be met by a legal challenge. Please send CTEN any communication that the union sends you on this matter. We very well may be able to get you free legal help, and at the same time, assist others who are in the same situation.

New laws

The unions and their friends in the legislature in Sacramento have been planning for the ruling for quite some time now, and there is no shortage of new laws intended to insure the unions don’t lose too many of their members.

A year ago AB 119 was signed into law. Government unions now have access to all workers’ personal contact information and rookies are now required to attend a mandatory union “orientation” meeting, during which a union huckster tries his/her best to convince a captive audience about the benefits of union membership.

More recently, AB 2970 would prohibit government agencies from publicly disclosing information about the new employee orientations. The unions fear that new public employees attending the orientation meetings might hear opposing views. More here.

AB 2577 would allow a “deduction (of) an amount equal to the amount paid or incurred during the taxable year by a taxpayer for member dues to a labor organization.” As reported by the Pacific Research Institute, “Californians, in effect, will collectively subsidize union dues – the bill would cost taxpayers $250 million the first year, $170 million in 2019-20, and $180 million in 2020-21.”

SB 866 stipulates that if an “employee notifies the district of his/her desire to opt out of paying dues/discontinue membership in the union, district staff must refer the employee directly to the union in order to work out termination of union membership/agency fee deductions.” More information here.

For a review of all Janus v. AFSCME related California legislation, the law firm of Lozano Smith has an extensive list which can be accessed here.

Also, California Policy Center’s Ed Ring has compiled “A Catalogue of California’s Anti-Janus Legislation, which can be seen here.

Lawsuits

Public-sector workers across the country are now suing to recover dues they paid to unions over the last several years. Class action suits have been filed against 11 unions in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, California, Oregon, Ohio, Illinois and the state of Washington, “accusing individual unions of violating workers' rights by collecting mandatory dues payments.” The suits argue that any public-sector employee who participated in forced dues systems should receive financial "redress" from labor organizations.

Grand Rapids, MI attorney John Bursch, the man behind many of the lawsuits, claims his litigation is an attempt to reclaim “a refund of the fees that were illegally extracted.” For more information on the lawsuits, go here and here.

Alternatives to unions

If you leave the union, you will lose your liability insurance and legal representation, but there are alternative ways to secure this coverage. You can join the Association of American Educators ( www.aaeteachers.org) or the Christian Educators Association International
(www.ceai.org) for your insurance and legal needs. These are professional organizations, not unions.

New Rules

We are in uncharted territory in California. There is serious pushback to the Janus ruling in several states and lawsuits will follow accordingly. CTEN will do its best to keep up with it all and inform you as things happen. If you have any news – good or bad – please let us know so that we can share it with other teachers across the state. Also, please pass this email along to your colleagues and encourage them to join us.

Many thanks.

Sincerely,
Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Dear Colleague,

As you all know by now, the California governor’s race will pit two candidates with divergent views on just about everything. On education, Gavin Newsom claims we need to think about education as a lifelong pursuit. “Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job and successful career,” he says. 

His opponent John Cox is in favor of school choice, stating, “We need to give parents and children the education they deserve, and that means more charters, giving parents more choice and encouraging home schooling.”

To read more about the candidates’ positions on various education issues, go here.

Also of concern to California’s educators is the Superintendent of Public Instruction position, and there the difference between the candidates is about as wide as the gubernatorial candidates. Marshall Tuck is running as a reformer who favors charter schools as an alternative. Also, “as CEO of the semi-autonomous Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, he helped instigate a lawsuit in 2010 that challenged teacher layoffs in Los Angeles Unified based on seniority, which led to massive layoffs in several Partnership schools. Tuck argues seniority should be one factor, not the sole factor, in teacher layoffs.”

Tuck’s opponent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, is backed by CTA. His platform includes increasing school funding, investing in language immersion programs for English learners, and addressing the teacher shortage by making college cheaper and more accessible for aspiring teachers, streamlining the teacher credentialing process, and working with legislators to provide access to affordable housing to educators in communities where they teach.

To learn more about Tuck and Thurmond, go here. To learn what the job description is for the SPI position, go here.

On the school choice front, a bill proposed by Congressman Jim Banks (R-IN) directs the Department of Education to establish a program that would “provide children with parents on active duty in the uniformed services with funds for specified educational purposes.” The proposed law would allow military parents to establish Education Savings Accounts, which would enable them to use public funds for private school tuition, online learning programs, tutoring, etc. Proponents say that ESAs are especially important for military families, many of whom move around frequently and should not be subjected to our zip-code mandated education system. Upon introducing the bill in March, Banks penned a piece for The Wall Street Journal, in which he wrote, 

A 2017 survey of Military Times readers showed that educational opportunities play an important role in determining whether a military family accepts a particular assignment—or even remains in the service at all. Thirty-five percent of service members have considered leaving the military because of the limited education options available, and 40% have either declined or would decline a career-advancing opportunity at a different installation if it meant their child would have to leave a high-performing school.

To read the WSJ piece, go here. To dig into the proposed law, go here.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden has written a riveting article about a discipline breakdown which resulted in “bullying, chaos and death” at a high school in New York City. The Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation was once a “safe and supportive school that fell into chaos as new administrators implemented a supposedly more positive approach to school discipline.”

This change was in line with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign promise of putting city schools at the vanguard of a nationwide movement to unwind traditional discipline in favor of a new progressive, or restorative, approach. At UA Wildlife, meaningful consequences for misbehavior were eliminated, alternative approaches failed, and administrators responded to a rising tide of disorder and violence by sweeping the evidence under the rug, students and teachers said. If they had prioritized student safety over statistics, McCree’s (a student who was murdered) teachers believe, he would still be alive. And they fear that the dynamics that destroyed UA Wildlife are playing out across New York City.

To read Eden’s provocative exposé, go here.

A decision in the Janus case is due any day now and CTEN will keep you abreast with information about the effect of the ruling on teachers, the unions’ reactions, etc. If the litigation is successful, CTA is projecting a loss of 23,000 members, according to Mike Antonucci. The union also figures to lose a great majority of its 28,000 fee payers, those who have quit the union but still are forced to pay the “agency fee.” But as a way to soften the financial hit, CTA has announced a per-teacher dues raise of $23 a year for the 2018-2019 school year, bringing the state component for teachers’ dues to $700 annually, which will help ease the pain of a membership decline.

NEA is also planning strategies pending an adverse Janus decision. While it is preparing for a 10 percent teacher quit-rate and has slashed its budget by $50 million, NEA has also raised its per teacher share of dues, from $189 to $192, and has a few tricks up its sleeve to help make up for the financial shortfall. It is pondering a new class of member called “community ally.” As Antonucci writes, the new category would be open to “any person who demonstrates support in advancing the cause of public education, who advocates for the mission, vision, and core values of the Association, and who is not eligible for any other membership category.” Since labor unions can only solicit political action committee contributions from members, this could open the door for deep-pocketed folks like Tom Steyer to join. This strategy is legally tenuous to say the least, and most likely will be subject to judicial scrutiny.

To read Antonucci’s pieces on CTA and NEA, go here and here.

Educators for Excellence has released “Voices from the Classroom: A Survey of America’s Educators” which the group says is a “ground-breaking, nationally representative survey written for teachers, by teachers.” And there are certainly some very interesting findings. For example, the poll found that 57 percent of all teachers have neither read nor heard anything about the Janus case. Another question from the survey addressed agency fee payers and asked if the Court case rules in favor of Mark Janus, “How likely would you be to opt out of paying agency fees to a union?” Sixty-one percent said they would be somewhat or very likely to do so. To read more about the survey, go here.

In April 2015, Bain v. CTA, a lawsuit brought by StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based activist outfit founded by Michelle Rhee, was filed on behalf of four public school teachers in federal court in California. The aim of the suit was for teachers not to have to resign from a union because they didn’t want to pay for the political part of union dues. Well, today the suit is officially dead. The 9th Circuit dismissed the case because all of the original plaintiffs have left their teaching positions in the three years the case has been pending and are no longer union members. Bain attorney Josh Lipshutz said the issues it challenged are still outstanding and “plans to file a similar lawsuit, possibly with the Association of American Educators, a non-union organization of educators, as plaintiffs.” Lipshutz explains,

Janus is great for teachers who want to opt out of unions and want nothing to do with them. But there’s arguably a larger class of teachers who want the benefits, who want to serve on policymaking committees in their districts, but don’t want to be put to the choice of all or nothing. Without Bain, teachers will still be put to that choice.

To read more, go here.

As per the recent email we sent you, I have been informed that the law firm is still looking for plaintiffs.  

A law firm is looking for current or newly retired teachers who feel they have been unjustly treated and would like an opportunity to recoup agency fees they were forced to pay going back three years, which is the statute of limitations period. If you are interested, please contact Sloane Skinner directly at sskinner@clarkhill.com or call her at 202-640-6673. 

If you are still using a school email to receive these newsletters, please consider sending us your personal email address. More and more school districts are blocking CTEN. In any event, if you enjoy these letters and find them to be informative, please pass them along to your colleagues and encourage them to join us.

Also, anyone wishing to donate to CTEN can do so very simply through check, money order or PayPal - http://www.ctenhome.org/donate.html  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks, as always. Enjoy your summer!

Sincerely,
Larry Sand
CTEN President