Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Dear Colleague,

It has now been six years since California lawmakers revamped the state funding formula for local schools, but there are allocation issues. As the Mercury News informs us, it was touted by then-Gov. Jerry Brown as a way to simplify k-12 education spending and “close the state’s achievement gap by giving more money to districts that disproportionately serve needy kids.”

Since then, state spending on schools has increased about 50%. But, as state Auditor Elaine Howle explained in a troubling report last month, there is no way to track whether money is being spent as it should.

School officials across California have co-mingled billions of dollars of state money that was supposed to be used for children who fall into one of three categories: English learners, low-income or in foster care.

Howle’s findings confirm what critics have been saying for years: Rather than specifically helping needy kids, the money has simply been used to boost general spending.

That partially explains why California students’ test scores continue lagging the national average and the state has failed to close the achievement gap that divides along racial and economic lines.

To learn more, go here.

In the same vein, The Los Angeles Times ponders, “California’s education funding is at a record high. So why are schools short on cash?”

California’s economy has steadily grown since 2010, and voters approved tax increases on the wealthy in 2012 and 2016 to help fund education.

But at the same time, a few important things have complicated the flow of dollars to the classroom. One is the rapid growth in expenses for special education. More children are qualifying for additional services, particularly those diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Even preschool-age kids are entitled to services funded by existing school budgets.

The state government’s special education expenses are projected to rise 21% next year, according to the governor’s new budget. The impact on local dollars is even bigger — those funds pay for 61% of special education expenses, according to a legislative analysis.

School districts are being squeezed, too, by the rising costs of employee healthcare and pensions.

To continue reading, go here.

In fact, a large chunk of education dollars go for public employee pension and healthcare perks. In a paper published by the Brookings Institution in May, University of Missouri economics professor Cory Koedel writes, “California’s pension debt is harming teachers and students now—and it’s going to get worse.” He explains that the California State Teachers Retirement System’s total unfunded liability is over $100 billion, “which is greater than the total amount of money spent to educate all of California’s public K-12 students for a year ($97.2 billion).”

To learn more, go here.

But whatever the reason, the state wants more. As such, there will be a school bond on the March 3rd ballot. The ironically named Prop. 13, a “School and College Facilities Bond,” would authorize $15 billion in general obligation bonds for school and college facilities. However, the prop is no friend to taxpayers. As Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association president Jon Coupal notes, the $15 billion figure “reflects typical credit card math” because the money would be borrowed from Wall Street, and taxpayers would pay it back plus 80 percent in total interest costs. So the stated $15 billion is actually $27 billion.

To learn more, go here.

An interesting piece in the Los Angeles Times asks the question, “Grades vs. SAT scores: Which is a better predictor of college success?”

Pressure is growing on the University of California and California State University to drop the SAT and ACT exams as admission requirements because of their perceived bias against disadvantaged students and underrepresented minorities. As part of the debate, policymakers are considering increasing the weight of high school grades in the admissions process.

Research has shown that grades are the best single predictor of college performance and aren’t as heavily influenced as the standardized exams by income, parent education levels and race.

But the ACT and College Board, which owns the SAT, argue that a combination of grades and test scores is the best overall guide to selecting students who are likely to succeed in college. Using grades without test scores could exacerbate inequities, test officials say, because grade inflation is worse in affluent schools, according to research they have reviewed.

To read on, go here.

On January 22nd, just three days before the start of National School Choice Week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. In December 2018, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the state’s tax credit program that allowed poor kids to use donated pre-tax money to attend private schools, including religious ones. (Very simply, tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships for kids. Currently 250,000 students benefit from private-school choice through education tax credits nationwide.)

As Matthew Vadum explains, the Montana program “provided a dollar-for-dollar tax credit up to $150 matching an individual’s or a corporation’s donations to nonprofit student scholarship organizations.” But according to the state court, it allowed the legislature to “indirectly pay tuition at private, religiously-affiliated schools,” which is contrary to Montana law. The ruling comes to us courtesy of Montana’s anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment, a variety of which exists in 36 other states, and is supported by the education establishment, notably the teachers unions.

To read more, go here.

On the union front, one of the big stories of 2019 was the growth of #RedForEd. It began as a grassroots teachers’ movement that was organized on Facebook in early 2018 by Noah Karvelis, a 24-year-old music teacher and socialist from Arizona, but was promptly co-opted by the teachers unions. Over at Breitbart, Michael Patrick Leahy outlines the top 10 #RedforEd political power plays in 2019. For example,

The #RedforEd teachers movement flexed its political muscle in the Kentucky gubernatorial race on Tuesday, powering the campaign of Democrat Attorney General Andy Beshear against incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting as of 9:55 p.m. EST, Beshear had a narrow 0.3 point lead, with 49.2 percent of the vote to Bevin’s 48.9 percent. Libertarian candidate John Hicks had two percent of the vote. . .

Bevin’s handling of a series of unauthorized teachers strikes organized by the local Kentucky #RedforEd teachers group this past spring created great anger among many of the state’s teachers, and they vowed to defeat him in November.

To learn more, go here.

Going forward, the next event for #RedforED – and all teacher union activists – is flipping purple states in 2020, and ousting Donald Trump from office. In 2016, Trump eked out victories in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and the union activists plan to concentrate their efforts in those and other battleground states to make sure that Trump is just a one-term president. It is worth noting that “teacher” was the most common occupation listed for donors to socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in the fourth-quarter of 2019.

To read more, go here and here.

Speaking of Trump, the teachers unions are already doing what they can to kill his presidency. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten weighed in on the impeachment imbroglio, accusing the president of “betraying American democracy.”

To read more, go here.

Due to union “opt-out windows,” which are very possibly illegal, this may be the time to quit if you are planning to do so. If you have any questions about the process, 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 – possibly getting you legal assistance, if necessary. 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 -  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks, as always.

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Dear Colleague,

The ongoing discussion about whether or not we really need to spend more money on education has taken an interesting turn here in California. As an editorial in The Mercury News explains,

It’s been six years since California lawmakers revamped the state funding formula for local schools.

It was heralded by then-Gov. Jerry Brown as a way to simplify K-12 education spending and close the state’s achievement gap by giving more money to districts that disproportionately serve needy kids.

Since then, state spending on schools has increased about 50%. But, as state Auditor Elaine Howle explained in a troubling report last month, there is no way to track whether money is being spent as it should.

School officials across California have co-mingled billions of dollars of state money that was supposed to be used for children who fall into one of three categories: English learners, low-income or in foster care.

Howle’s findings confirm what critics have been saying for years: Rather than specifically helping needy kids, the money has simply been used to boost general spending.

To learn more, go here.

And on the subject of money, American Enterprise Institute scholar Andrew Biggs has some thoughts on teacher pay – specifically the gap between the salaries of teachers in the public v. private sector.

On top of public-school teachers’ salary advantage, Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate that public-school teachers receive more than twice as much in benefits as those in private schools, with private-school teachers getting less-generous health coverage and 401(k)-type retirement accounts rather than traditional pensions, whose rising costs are squeezing public-school districts nationwide.

The question is why parents with money to spend on education aren’t spending it on their children’s teachers. If higher teacher pay produced significantly better educational outcomes, private schools would pay teachers much more than public schools, rather than much less. These are the same parents who pay for tutors, after-school enrichment programs, and summer internships, but better-paid — and presumably better-qualified — teachers don’t seem to be a priority.

To continue reading this provocative piece, go here.

Senate Bill 673 is still alive in California. The bill would make it easier for parents to access the sex ed curriculum and give them the opportunity to opt their child out of lessons they find objectionable. The bill has two main provisions:

It requires school districts that teach elementary-age comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention to put that curriculum online for parental review. 

It restores the right of parents of elementary-age students (TK-6th grade) to opt their children into comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education courses, rather than passively opt their children out.

SB 673 next has to clear the Senate Education Committee, which will hear the bill in January.  

To learn more, go here.

On the political front, the Democratic candidates continue to align their education positions with the teachers unions. After trashing charter schools, Elizabeth Warren went after vouchers, but got caught in a lie. She maintained that her own kids went to a public schools, but an exposé by Cato Institute scholar Corey DeAngelis revealed that Warren sent her son Alex to an expensive private school in the 1980s. Warren also used to be ardently pro-school choice. “Fully funded vouchers would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools,” Warren wrote in her 2004 book, “The Two Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke.”

Cory Booker is no different. As a sop to the unions, he began hedging on charters in May, and railed against vouchers in an interview with The Washington Post in September. In fact, as Newark mayor, Booker was famously pro-charter. Moreover, he once served on the board of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s pro-voucher group, the American Federation for Children, which he deemed an “incredible organization.”

So maybe he evolved, right? Well, not exactly. He is currently a co-sponsor of a Senate bill to reauthorize Washington D.C.’s school voucher program, legislation he signed onto in February after announcing his bid for president. 

To learn more, go here.

Also, on school choice, a new poll by Real Clear Opinion Research posed the question:
School choice gives parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Generally speaking, would you say you support or oppose the concept of school choice?

A whopping 68% said they support school choice and just 22% were against. Importantly, the numbers varied little across sub-groups: 69% of 18-24 year-olds were in favor as were 68% of 55-64 year-olds; 68% of whites were in favor, while 71% of blacks supported the concept.

A survey conducted by Beck Research, a Democratic polling firm, found very similar results. Released in January, the poll reveals that nationally 73% of Latinos and 67% of African-Americans back “the broad concept of school choice,” as do 75% of millennials.

To see all the results of the poll, go here.

On the union front, Mike Antonucci asks if the recent strike in Chicago really benefitted teachers. He compares the union demands with what was offered by the school district, and then looks at the language in the new contract.

Salaries. The original offer by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools was for a 14 percent increase over five years. The union wanted 15 percent over three years. In August, an independent fact-finder recommended a 16 percent hike over five years, to which Lightfoot immediately agreed. The union immediately rejected the offer.

CTU ultimately accepted the fact-finder’s recommendation.

Health insurance. The district had unilaterally raised premiums by 0.8 percent earlier this year, but the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint. Under the agreement, the district rescinded the increase and the union rescinded the complaint. Otherwise, the fact-finder’s recommendation for premiums was accepted by both sides: no increases for the first three years, a quarter-percent increase in the fourth year and a half-percent increase in the fifth year.
To read on, go here.

Also, concerning unions, the so-called “clawback” cases continue to be filed. Perhaps the highest profile litigation comes via Mark Janus, lead plaintiff in the 2018 case that outlawed mandatory union fees for all public employees.

Janus is still locked in a legal battle, seeking to recover the thousands of dollars that the union forcefully collected from his paychecks before the 2018 decision. A panel of judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that unions don't have to refund dues collected in compliance with the pre-Janus legal statutes. Janus has appealed that judgment, asking for an en banc review to be carried out from every judge on the circuit.

"The Supreme Court agrees with me—the union was wrong to take money out of my paycheck without my permission," Janus said in a statement. "The union knew what it was doing was wrong. The union shouldn't get to profit from behavior that the Court recognized as unconstitutional."

The union did not return request for comment about the case.

Janus's current court battle could have significant ramifications on the bottom lines of unions. If AFSCME Council 31 is forced to retroactively return money it took from Janus's paychecks, it would strengthen the cases of dozens of class-action lawsuits filed by workers across the country, according to Patrick Semmens, a spokesperson for the National Right to Work Foundation. The foundation is representing employees in more than a dozen lawsuits that could force labor groups to refund $120 million of past dues and fees to workers. Workers in several other states and cities across the country filed similar suits.

To learn more, go here.

Anyone wishing to make a year-end donation to CTEN can do so very simply through a personal check or PayPal. As a non-profit, we exist and operate only through the generosity and support of people like you. (And to those of you who already regularly donate – our heartfelt thanks!)

It has been another exciting year for CTEN, and we look forward to an even more vigorous 2020. We are grateful for your interest and involvement, and wish you and your families the happiest of holidays. See you next year!

Larry Sand
CTEN President

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Dear Colleague,

California is frequently the first state to pass some kind of legislation which may or may not be beneficial. The newest such effort is a law that mandates later school start times.

“The science shows that teenage students who start their day later increase their academic performance, attendance, and overall health,” Newsom said in a statement. “Importantly, the law allows three years for schools and school districts to plan and implement these changes.” 

The law will take effect over a phased-in period, ultimately requiring public middle schools to begin classes at 8 a.m. or later while high schools will start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The law does not apply to optional early classes, known as “zero periods,” or to schools in some of the state’s rural districts.

The new start times will be implemented by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year or when a school’s three-year collective bargaining agreement with its employees comes to an end, whichever is later. Schools that have recently negotiated agreements or are in the midst of negotiating new agreements with teachers have the option of adjusting to the later times when their contracts end.

Interestingly, CTA called Newsom’s decision to sign the bill “unfortunate,” saying it creates significant challenges that will ultimately affect students.

To learn more, go here.

A report released earlier this month by the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center on “targeted school violence” doesn’t add much to what we already knew. Nearly every attacker “experienced negative home life factors.” Most were victims of bullying and had a history of school disciplinary actions. The perpetrators typically had a grievance and a plan, that usually involved the use of a gun. But ultimately the report finds, “There is no profile of a student attacker, nor is there a profile for the type of school that has been targeted.”

As Stephen Sawchuk writes in Education Week, the analysis generally confirms the conclusion of the agency’s 2002 publication on school safety that “checklists of characteristics supposedly common to school shooters were not helpful in preventing violence.”

About a month before the report was released, Florida became the latest state to allow teachers who pass psychological and drug screening, and complete at least 144 hours of training to carry guns at school. The volunteers receive a stipend of $500 for participating.

While American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten insists that teacher carry makes our children’s classrooms less safe, John Lott, founder of the Crime Prevention Research Center, disagrees. In a report released in April, he concludes, “Since at least as far back as January 2000, not a single shooting-related death or injury has occurred during or anywhere near class hours on the property of a school that allows teachers to carry.” He adds, “There are currently 20 states that allow teachers and staff to carry guns to varying degrees on school property.”

To read the report, go here. To learn more about Lott’s findings, go here. To read Weingarten’s thoughts, go here.

The NAEP scores were released a few weeks ago and the results were not pretty, especially here in California. As EdSource reports,

In 2017, California education leaders heralded the significant increase in the state’s 8th-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress as a sign that the state’s investment in education and its adoption of the Common Core standards had taken hold.

Curb that enthusiasm. In 2019, California’s 8th-graders gave back the gain, as did much of the nation, underscoring that progress on state and national standardized tests is best measured over a decade, not in single years.

In math, both California’s and the nation’s 8th-grade scores fell less than 1 point. The nation’s 4th-grade math score rose 1 point and California’s rose 3 points — though it was not considered statistically significant because of the sample size.

The biggest change was in reading and the news was not good. Joining 30 states whose 8th-grade reading scores also fell, California’s decline of 3 points, the same as the nation, about matched its point gain in 2017.

In 4th-grade reading, the national score fell 2 points, which was considered significant, while California’s 1-point rise was not. Only one state, low-scoring Mississippi, saw a gain in 4th-grade reading.
To learn more, go here.

While California’s students struggle, at least one teacher union leader’s thoughts and efforts would seem to be elsewhere. In a recent post on the California Federation of Teachers website, new president Jeff Freitas talked about his union’s priorities. 

When I was elected CFT President in March, I said in my speech to Convention delegates: “I believe that when we fight for education, we also fight for social justice, racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and climate justice.” 

To be a social justice union, we must not only consider the complex lives of our members and the challenges they face, but look beyond the doors of the schoolhouse to consider the ways our campus communities intersect with our larger communities. When we fight for labor, we must fight for our communities, too. 

To read more on Freitas’ thoughts, go here.

The leftist agenda in education stretches far beyond the teachers unions, however. In a revealing piece in Real Clear Investigations, John Murawski writes, “Woke History Is Making Big Inroads in America's High Schools.”

Like growing numbers of public high school students across the country, many California kids are receiving classroom instruction in how race, class, gender, sexuality and citizenship status are tools of oppression, power and privilege. They are taught about colonialism, state violence, racism, intergenerational trauma, heteropatriarchy and the common thread that links them: “whiteness.” Students are then graded on how well they apply these concepts in writing assignments, performances and community organizing projects.

Students at Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale are assigned to write a “breakup letter with a form of oppression,” such as toxic masculinity, heteronormativity, the Eurocentric curriculum or the Dakota Access Pipeline. Students are asked to “persuade their audience of the dehumanizing and damaging effects of their chosen topic.”

Students at schools in Anaheim, San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco are taught how to write a manifesto to school administrators listing “demands” for reforms.

To learn more about “woke history,” go here.

As NAEP scores decline and politics in the classroom ascend, Carl Cannon at Real Clear Politics writes, “K-12 Education Falls Short, and Hope for Gains Lags.”

A majority of registered voters are dissatisfied with the performance of the elementary and secondary education system in this country, according to a detailed new survey. Moreover, Americans have little confidence that public schools will improve any time soon.

“Looking ahead on education, few people are optimistic about the future,” said John Della Volpe, who designed and directed the poll. “Only about one in 10 voters believe America’s K-12 education will be a model of excellence by 2040.”
To read on, go here.

Not surprisingly, as confidence in traditional public schools declines, school choice is ascendant. Chapel Hill-based education writer Kristen Blair reports:

A new federal report, School Choice in the United States 2019, provides long-term proof on enrollment claims. Culling years of data, the report shows choice has been a major engine of enrollment growth nationwide, fueling maverick models of schooling. Public charter growth is the stuff of reformers’ dreams, skyrocketing 571% between 2000 and 2016. Homeschool enrollment nearly doubled. Most students, 47 million, still attend traditional public schools, but enrollment has increased just 1%. Private school enrollment decreased 4% during similar timeframes.

Voters’ attitudes defy partisan pigeonholing. A new poll from Education Reform Now of likely 2020 voters show 57% want “new ideas” and “real changes” in how public schools operate, in addition to more funding. Eight in 10 Democratic primary voters and nearly nine in 10 black Democratic primary voters want expanded access to choices and options in public education, including charter schools.

To learn more, go here.

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 -  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks, as always.

Larry Sand
CTEN President