The Union that Stole Christmas

The holiday season is upon us, but California’s schoolchildren won’t be receiving many gifts this year—at least not from their lawmakers or teachers’ unions.

California is poised to become the nation’s largest school system that will not qualify to compete for $4.3 billion of federal Race to the Top funds. In order to compete for the money, states must allow teachers to be assessed based on student performance. California currently has a law preventing such assessment, and the teachers’ unions adamantly oppose any effort to change this.

Two bills seek to address the problem, and neither is expected to pass. Education reformers support a Senate bill backed by Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, Governor Schwarzenegger, and the state superintendent of public instruction. The bill would allow children to move out of failing districts, and would make it possible to evaluate teachers and principles based on student performance.

The California Teachers Association opposes the bill. The union doesn’t like the provisions that let parents transfer students out of failing districts, expand charter schools, and allow parents to lobby for closure of failing schools. Since nearly 2,800 of California’s schools are failing according to federal standards, these provisions are an essential component of any real effort at reform. Students should not be trapped in schools that are not living up to their purpose.

In a self-interested move that hurts the students and parents the union claims to serve, the CTA instead supports a watered-down piece of legislation that education reformers say will not make California competitive for Race to the Top funds.

California’s $50 billion education budget could be supplemented by anywhere from 300 to 700 million dollars of federal funds. Given the state’s continuing fiscal crisis, these federal funds could be well spent in improving California’s broken system. But the state won’t even be able to compete for the funds at all if reform-oriented legislation does not pass soon.

The pressure to pass such legislation is mounting, despite the efforts of the CTA to oppose it. Alice Huffman, president of California’s NAACP branch, testified before the Assembly Education Committee that reform was necessary. She called education reform a civil-rights issue because of the achievement gap that persists. While most California students are stuck in a broken system, minority students often fare worst on standardized tests.

Perhaps pressure from such traditionally Democratic voices will help shift the discussion enough to get effective reform legislation passed. After all, Huffman reminds us that while lawmakers and union representatives pursue self-interested legislation, thousands of California students remain trapped in failing and underperforming schools.

During this holiday season, perhaps California’s adults in the Capitol can remember the children whose future is at stake. Maybe then students will receive a holiday present worth cherishing—the chance to receive a top-quality education in safe and successful schools.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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