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Jon Fleischman

Democrats “Battle” Over Education Non-Reforms

Much will be in the main stream media today about the “battle” shaping up between Governor Jerry Brown and Democrat legislative leaders, each of whom are putting forward plans that they say would improve the education for young children in California.  However, when you look at their two plans, and then look at the vast challenges facing the state’s K-12 education system, you literally have to shake your head because, frankly, neither plan appreciably moves the needle.  But yet the “warring parties” are so passionate about that which is so uninspiring.

Bele and Lokai, Bitter Enemies

It reminds me of one of the classic Star Trek episodes from the last season, Let This Be Your Last Battlefield.  Two humanoid aliens, Bele and Lokai, are locked in a 50,000-year-long battle, into which the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is drawn in.  The passion between these two warring aliens was fierce — their dislike for one another immense.  In the end, you find out that the reason for the hatred comes down to the most ludicrous issue — Bele was white on the right side, and black on the left, and Lokai was black on the right side, and white on the left.  They looked like idiots arguing over such a non-difference.  And that is what we have with the Democrats’ dueling plans.

Let me throw some praise to the Governor (everyone note this moment, a rarity these days) in that a component of his proposal calls for a loosening on some of the vast web of restrictions that the State of California has placed on how local school district can spend the money that they receive from Sacramento.  While no panacea, this is an improvement and should be recognized as such.

That having been said, the main issue here in this family feud is about (of course) — the spending of more money.  All that liberals like to do is like to figure out how to use government to redistribute wealth, in this case how to put more taxpayer dollars into a failing public education system.  They are quibbling about what formula to use, but in essence the “great plan” is to simply throw more money at the problem.

CA Teachers Association

In some respects this makes perfect sense, because the reality here is that the California Teachers Association (along with a phalanx of other public employee unions) pretty much own state government.  Their lock-hold on the Democrats who control state policy is one of the worst kept secrets in California politics.  They pour vast sums of money directly and indirectly into the campaigns of their allies or puppets running for the State Senate and the State Assembly.  Their funding for the candidacy of Jerry Brown for Governor was epic.  Because of the stranglehold of the California Teachers Association, there can be no education reform coming out of the State Capitol that violates any of these core CTA issues:  reform cannot reduce the number of CTA members, reform cannot reduce the salary and benefits of CTA members, and reform cannot in any way seek to change working conditions for CTA members in a way that could be construed as dis-empowering a CTA member.

When you consider all of these chains on the majority party, it’s no wonder that these proposals from Brown and Legislative Democrats center around just throwing more money at the program (which no doubt will, in part, end up leading to more CTA members, and raises for existing CTA members).

The kinds of real reforms needed to jump-start California moribund K-12 system would include introducing school choice, and real parent triggers that would allow parents who are concerned about their children’s’ school either take part in reforming it (perhaps by converting it to a charter school) or maybe even deciding that a school is so bad it needs to be closed all together.  In essence reforms that empower parents to be decision makers with a role in the process.  (I say “real” triggers because some very modest and thus largely ineffective trigger legislation was passed in California).

Michelle Rhee

Public school reformer Michelle Rhee, and her organization Students First, is championing the causes of a fair and robust teacher and principal evaluation system, and preserving great teachers by ending the practice of seniority-based teacher layoffs.  These are just a couple of Rhee’s transformational ideas — which are all summarily rejected by the CTA, and thus off limits for any reforms that come out the legislature which they control.

A great example of how even the most modest reforms are shot down by the CTA is Senate Bill 453, authored by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff year.  Recently killed in committee, this legislation would have allowed districts to make staffing decisions based on performance evaluations and factors other than a teacher’s simple date of hire – ensuring that every student benefited from the best teacher possible.  This kind of reform could never see the light of day as it’s passage would be counter to the mission of the CTA.  Add to Huff’s legislation dozens of other meaningful reforms that have been proposed over the years by Republicans, all meticulously cut up and thrown away by the status-quo loving majority party.

Which takes us to the great irony and tragedy of this Democrat on Democrat “battle” over education — there can be no winners, only losers.   Because neither “side” is willing to push the CTA away and implement the kinds of systemic education reforms that will change outcomes, and actually lead to a better education system.