A funny thing happened on the way to teacher-union political hegemony: common sense kicked in and the people threw the unions for a huge loss with the defeat of the proposed parcel-tax increase in Los Angeles.
In fight after fight across the country, and especially here in California, the teacher unions have chalked up one victory after another.
In the recent teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, the unions won expensive contract battles and successfully forced the local school boards to support statewide bans on new charter schools.
It looked like the union steamroller would flatten any opposition and all that would be left would be for the unions to enjoy the spoils of their inevitable political victories.
But then the people spoke, and they spoke very loudly.
In order to pay for the expensive contract that the Los Angeles school district bestowed upon the local teachers’ union, a proposal to increase parcel taxes was placed on a special election ballot for June 4th.
The tax increase needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but district and union leaders believed that the public supported the new high-priced union contract, which the chronically fiscally mismanaged district could only afford if the tax hike passed.
However, not only did the tax-increase proposal fail to get the two-thirds majority of the vote on Tuesday, it failed to even get a simple majority.
In fact, a large majority of voters—55 percent—voted against the tax hike.
Despite face-saving comments by pro-tax-increase Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that “Pass or not, tomorrow we roll up our sleeves and continue the work,” the reality is that the whole union political strategy has been thrown into disarray.
If Los Angeles voters had approved the parcel-tax increase, one could have bet one’s bottom dollar that unions in other school districts would have been pushing for similar tax hikes.
Further, it has been understood that the Los Angeles teachers strike was a first salvo, not for the parcel-tax increase, but for changing Proposition 13 to allow commercial property to be taxed at higher rates than residential property—the so-called “split roll” option.
In an interview with Reuters, California Business Roundtable president Rob Lapsley said that the Los Angeles teachers strike “was all to start a campaign for split roll. It is not about the kids.”
Policy analyst and retired Los Angeles teacher Larry Sand has accurately observed: “If you ask [Los Angeles teachers-union leader] Alex Caputo-Pearl, or any teacher union leader how much money would be enough, the response is always, ‘MORE.’”
Yet, with a large actual majority of voters loudly saying “no” to the unions and their allies, future tax increases look much less certain.
To further pierce the unions’ appearance of political invincibility, two union-supported anti-charter-school bills that seemed destined for passage by the Legislature were just shelved.
AB 1506 would have capped the number of charter schools in California, while SB 756 would have placed a moratorium on the creation of any new charter schools until 2022.
While other anti-charter bills are still alive in Sacramento, Sand points out: “Considering how bleak the situation was just a couple of weeks ago, the latest news is terrific for charter schools and the children who attend them.”
So, while the teacher unions are still the most powerful special interest in California, it turns out that there is still one group in the state that can stop their special-interest agenda—the people.
–Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the 2019 book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.