Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Dear Colleague,

Super Tuesday has come and gone, and the big news for California is that Prop. 13, a “$15 billion bond measure to fund construction and modernization of public schools and universities, has gone down in a stunning defeat. As Mike Antonucci reports,

Supporters raised almost $13 million for the campaign against no funded opposition. The California Teachers Association contributed $1 million, with the California Federation of Teachers and SEIU also chipping in.

The bond also provided funding for charter school facilities, so the California Charter Schools Association kicked in $500,000.

Naturally, the measure also received substantial support from developers, building trade organizations and assorted business interests, including the state chamber of commerce and California Business Roundtable.

But as Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association president Jon Coupal suggests, Californians may be getting weary of ongoing taxes:

According to data from the California Taxpayers Association, voters have rejected nearly half of the 236 local tax and bond measures on the March ballot and another 56 remain too close to call. This is a remarkable statistic considering the history of local revenue measures in California.

According to the website California City Finance, local revenue measures have had at least a 70 percent pass rate in all but two major statewide elections since 2012.

To read Antonucci’s and Coupal’s pieces, go here and here.

Super Tuesday also saw the end of several candidates’ run for president. In fact, it now appears that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are the only two who are still standing. Regarding their positions on education, EdSource has a handy guide to all the Democrat candidates’ positions.

To access the guide, go here.

The NEA has just endorsed Joe Biden, and AFT almost has. Back in 2015, after an alleged poll of .04 percent of the membership, the union heartily endorsed Hillary Clinton as its choice for president. That move really nicked thousands of the union’s Sanders’ supporters, and over 4,500 teachers signed a petition demanding that AFT withdraw its endorsement. The union didn’t budge, however.

Chastened, Randi Weingarten’s union promised to make it more open and democratic this time around. But on Feb 21st, AFT’s “executive council” made a top-down decision to winnow the field to just three candidates, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Then, in a 3,300-word post a week later, Weingarten anointed Warren as her personal favorite. Shortly thereafter, Warren dropped out of the running.

To read AFT’s and Weingarten’s statements, go here and here. To read about NEA’s choice, go here.

On school choice, all the Democratic candidates have been opposed and vehemently so. Whether it be charter schools or vouchers, the candidates, all trying to secure the blessings of the teachers unions, have stressed the importance of maintaining the traditional public school monopoly. But the Educational Freedom Institute has posted a “school choice hypocrisy” map which details how politicians across the country avail themselves of education options. For example, Joe Biden “opposes funding programs that would allow less fortunate kids to attend private schools, even though he sent his own kids to an expensive private school.”

To see the map, go here

Ed Ring, co-founder of the California Policy Center, writes “California’s K-12 Spending Exceeds $20,000 Per Pupil.” He claims that the commonly acknowledged per-pupil figure is inaccurate.

For the most recent available historical data, start with $72.4 billion in spending in 2017-18, an amount that is found on the Ed Data home page on their “Financial Data” tab:

This figure needs to be adjusted as follows:
– deduct pre-school, adult education, and community college spending,
– add the state’s annual CalSTRS contribution,
– add debt service on school bonds (or instead, add capital spending, but a lot of debt funds go into operating budgets (or “deferred maintenance” budgets) so not sure which to pick – it should be one or the other),
– deduct from student headcount all charter school attendees,
– deduct from total revenue all funds directed to charter schools,
– verify that $72.4 billion was the entire gross amount of incoming funds.

To read more, go here.

Also on school choice, one of the area’s greatest secrets is “town tuitioning” which exists in parts of New England. In Vermont, 93 towns – more than a third of the state’s municipalities – have no public schools, and the kids get an excellent education. These “tuition towns” are small. So small that they really cannot support a public school. Instead, tax money goes to parents who send their children to a local private school. And if that school doesn’t comport with parents’ expectations, the parents can place their kid in another school, with the money following the child – all this with no added cost to the taxpayer. As communication strategist Dr. Laura Williams points out, “Because parents, not bureaucrats or federal formulas, determine how funds are allocated, schools are under high economic pressure to impress parents⁠—that is, to serve students best in their parents’ eyes.”

Vermont’s town tuitioning program was launched in 1869, making it the oldest school choice program in the country. Additionally, Maine and, as of 2017, New Hampshire have tuition towns.

To learn more, go here.

As the sex ed agenda goes on unabated in California, parents in other states are fighting back. Fourteen Wisconsin parents represented by Alliance Defending Freedom and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, public interest legal firms, have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop a policy they say “instructs teachers to assist and encourage children in adopting transgender identities without notifying—and possibly while deceiving—parents.” The suit specifically targets schools in Madison after the district adopted a policy which includes the following provisions:

  • Children of any age can transition to a different gender identity at school, by changing their name and pronouns, without parental notice or consent.
  • District employees are prohibited from notifying parents, without the child’s consent, that their child has or wants to change gender identity at school, or that their child may be dealing with gender dysphoria.
  • District employees are even instructed to deceive parents by using the child’s legal name and pronouns with family, while using the different name and pronouns adopted by the child in the school setting.
Hardly radical, the lawsuit very simply calls for school officials to be transparent and honest when dealing with parents, and “to meet standards of informed consent.”

Unfortunately, California seems to be going in the other direction. The Epoch Times reports that in January, the California Teachers Association changed an existing policy in an internal document, to “explicitly include transgender and non-binary youth among the students who can leave class without parental permission to receive birth control, abortions, and other such services.” While the updated policy does not include a provision for “hormone therapy,” the rationale discussed by CTA’s civil rights committee in making the policy change “indicates that’s the final goal.”

Granted, while CTA is not a law-making body, the powerful union all too often gets its way in Sacramento; as one of the biggest political spenders in the state, the powerful lobby holds great sway of over many legislators.

To read more, go here.

If you, as a parent or teacher, object to the sex ed agenda in California, CTEN may be able to secure you legal representation. Please contact us for more information.

And finally, just a few words on the Coronavirus. With many schools being closed, teachers have certainly been affected. I think the most important thing we can all do at this point, is remain vigilant and sane on the issue. For some perspective, go here. To track the spread of the virus, 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


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Dear Colleague,

With the legislative session in full swing in Sacramento, Golden State legislators are entertaining AB 1922, a bill mandating that climate change education be a “coursework requirement for students in grades 1 through 6, and a graduation requirement for students in grades 7 through 12, starting 2025.” As Sydney Johnson writes,

Schools are encouraged to teach environmental literacy, which by definition includes climate change, according to state law. The Education Code does not mandate that schools teach it, however. But because climate change is in the state standards, and California’s state science test is aligned to those standards, climate change could appear on the statewide science assessment.

To emphasize the importance of these standards and the impact of climate change more broadly, many districts have passed resolutions and policies to commit to environmental education. Some have even included specific actions, such as reducing carbon emissions on campus.

To learn more, go here and here.

As we mentioned last month, there is an election in California on March 3rd. The issue of most interest to many teachers is Prop. 13, the School and College Facilities Bond. As John Fensterwald writes in EdSource,

The state has traditionally shared the cost of construction with school districts, community colleges and universities. Since 2002, voters have approved four bond measures totaling $45 billion, with 80 percent allocated to K-12. The last bond, in 2016, was for $7 billion strictly for K-12. All the money from that bond has been allocated or committed to districts that have applied.

School districts and community colleges also pass bonds for school construction and repairs not covered by state aid. Local bonds require 55 percent of voter approval to pass. State bonds like Prop. 13 require a simple majority of voters statewide.

However, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) disagrees and explains,

Prop. 13 (2020) is a huge $15 billion statewide school bond chock full of hidden traps for taxpayers. First, it reflects typical credit card math by Sacramento politicians because it would borrow $15 billion from Wall Street and then make taxpayers pay it back plus 80% in total interest costs. That’s an additional $12 billion we’ll be forced to pay, bringing the entire bill to $27 billion.

While no one disputes the need for adequate school facilities, the problem is that the state’s education establishment has failed to show that it uses existing school facility bond money effectively. California voters already have approved big school bonds, including a recent 2016 $7 billion measure, only to see much of those funds squandered.  (Remember the infamous Belmont High School scandal when LAUSD wasted hundreds of millions building the nation’s most expensive high school on top of a toxic waste site?)

To learn more, the ballot guide can be accessed here. Fensterwald’s take is here. HJTA president Jon Coupal’s rebuttal can be found here.

Whatever your take on Prop.13, the state is spending a lot on education at this time. The California Department of Education projects total state expenditures for 2019–20 from all sources to be a record $214.8 billion. The problem in many school districts is the inability to live within a budget. In Los Angeles, for example, after the six-day teacher strike in January 2019, the district and union settled on a contract that many questioned. Now, a year later, LAUSD officials admit to spending $18,788 per student. But in a mid-January interview with EdSource, school superintendent Austin Beutner indicated that the district receives just $16,402 from the state to educate each child.

Beutner went on to explain that LAUSD would have to borrow from future reserves to cover the hefty shortfall. Knowing that kicking the can down the road is a stopgap, he added that “we have to go to the Legislature and get more funding.” Which means, of course, “We need to raise taxes.”

UTLA leader Alex Caputo-Pearl sloughs off the problem by saying he is skeptical about “doomsday predictions.” He claims that California is 43rd in the U.S. in per-pupil spending. Yet, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the state actually ranks 21st in state education spending. The same report also informs us that L.A. is ranked 7th in per-pupil spending of the nation’s 25 largest school districts (and 11th of the top 50), coming in ahead of Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, et al.

Speaking of unions, the Buckeye Institute has announced it is filing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in Reisman v. Associated Faculties of the University of Maine. Professor Jonathan Reisman, an economics professor at the school, was previously a member of the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine, but decided to leave the union over political disagreements with its state and national affiliates – the Maine Education Association and the National Education Association. Now, Dr. Reisman is trying to free himself from compelled union representation. Should he succeed, many others will then be sure to follow.

The unions traditionally have complained that they are forced to represent all workers during collective bargaining and ridiculed any non-payer as a “free rider.” But in reality, it is the unions that are the problem. No law forces the responsibility of exclusive representation on the unions – in fact, the unions themselves demand it. As Mike Antonucci explains, “The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity,” whereby “no other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves.”

To learn more about the Reisman case, go here and here. To read Antonucci’s post on monopoly bargaining, go here.

School choice was a prominent part of President Trump’s State of the Union talk a couple of weeks ago.  He specifically gave a shout-out to Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunities Act. This legislation would provide tax credits to individuals and businesses that make contributions to scholarship funds that could be used to defray tuition costs at private schools, for career and technical education, etc. Trump added that no parent should be forced to send their kid to a failing government school. The teachers unions were not pleased, to say the least. Lily Eskelsen GarcĂ­a, president of the National Education Association fumed,

Tonight, Donald Trump once again put the agenda of Betsy DeVos, the least qualified Secretary of Education in U.S. history, front and center in his State of the Union by renewing his push to divert scarce funding from the public schools that 90 percent of students attend into private school voucher programs.

Those who are school choice advocates have mixed opinions on the bill. Pacific Research Institute scholar Lance Izumi likes the proposal, noting it would “not be a top-down federal program, but would allow states to decide whether to participate and how to select eligible students, education providers and allowable education expenses.” Other prominent choicers, like the American Federation of Children, are also positively disposed to the plan.

However, others are concerned with the fact that Washington would be running the show. The Heritage Foundation maintains that the program “could invite further regulations, impede further tax overhauls and was out of the federal government’s jurisdiction.” The Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey said that while the proposal sought to “skirt the control problem” by making it optional, it still invited federal encroachment.

Also, on choice, during National School Choice Week many groups used the opportunity to screen Miss Virginia. The film documents the story of Virginia Walden Ford, the force behind the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher program that lets low-income parents use public funding to send their children to private schools.

Set in 2003, the movie portrays Virginia as a devoted single mom raising her 15-year-old son, James, in a low-income Washington neighborhood. He’s a bright kid, but a fish out of water in a tough school. James ditches class regularly and even flirts with becoming a gangbanger. In one heartrending scene, after he reluctantly joins local hoods in assaulting an intelligent student, he is threatened with expulsion. Desperate, Virginia enrolls James in a private school, but the $7,000 annual tuition becomes an even bigger problem, so she becomes a maid, cleaning the office of a congresswoman.

The film’s turning point, however, occurs when Virginia discovers that her son’s expensive private school educates children at half the cost per pupil of the money spent by Washington’s public school system.

To read more about the film, go here and here.

And finally, as you well know, data and solid information are very useful in scoring political points and making cases for various causes. To that end, CTEN has a fact sheet on our website which has been updated – all with original sources. To see it, go here.

If you have information that counters what’s there or would like to see something added, please let us know.

As always, thanks for your continuing interest and support.

Larry Sand
CTEN President

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