John Seiler: Gray Davis never should have been recalled

As only he can, former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently enthused before a crowd at the Sacramento Press Club about the 20th anniversary of him becoming governor. That occurred after the recall of Gov. Gray Davis in Oct. 2003. 

Schwarzenegger’s charisma and immense popularity propelled him to victory. He met three times with the Orange County Register’s editorial board and was as charming as you see on TV. Each time in the large foyer of the Register building a couple hundred employees crowded in to see him as he entered with his entourage.

“It was the best seven years of my life, without a doubt,” Schwarzenegger said at the Sacramento shindig. “People I talked to said Sacramento doesn’t work. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do, and I explained it to the people.” 

He started out with two good years of “blowing up the boxes” of government bureaucracy, cutting spending and canceling Davis’ unconstitutional car-tax increase. Unfortunately, he reversed his original vision and, thanks to his misrule, the state works less well than ever.

I now regret supporting the recall in Register editorials. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Davis governed badly, for example botching the 2000-01 energy crisis.

But it would have been better to just let him ride out three more years. Republicans could have primed themselves to win the governorship the normal way in 2006. 

Perhaps then-state Sen. Tom McClintock, now a U.S. representative and a fiscal hawk, would have won. 

Indeed, if Schwarzenegger had not butted in, McClintock might have won the 2003 recall replacement election. Instead, he garnered 13% to Schwarzenegger’s 49%. In second place was Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who ran on the slogan, “No on Recall, Yes on Bustamante.” It was a weird year.

The key moment came after his reform initiatives lost in the special election Schwarzenegger called for Nov. 8, 2005. He announced, “The people have spoken.” Actually, it was attack ads funded by public-employee unions that had spoken, again. 

He turned sharply left. The spending restraint was gone, the general fund rising an incredible 25% in the next two years. 

At his smoking tent outside the Capitol, he thought he could negotiate with legislative Democrats like he did Hollywood executives. Instead, Senate President John Burton and other Old Bulls rolled him like a neophyte at a high-stakes poker game.

He passed two horrible pieces of legislation I’ve attacked at the time and ever since: Senate Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006; and Senate Bill 375 in 2008, which restricted housing construction. My colleague Susan Shelley described the results in these pages, “AB32 has added extra costs to manufacturing and energy production in California, and SB375 has limited construction of new homes in affordable areas by trying to contain ‘sprawl’ and reduce driving…. Combined, these have driven home prices out of reach, which further discourages employers from locating here.”

Schwarzenegger still brags about these bills, featuring a picture of his 2006 AB 32 signing ceremony online at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute. 

At the recent Sacramento shindig, he lamented, “The only thing I’m interested in is president, and I can’t.” That’s not just a quip. His Oval Office dreams are detailed in Ian Halpern’s 2010 biography, “Governator: From Muscle Beach to His Quest for the White House, the Improbable Rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger.” He thought he could amend the Constitution to allow foreign-born candidates.

Except an amendment needs two-thirds approval from the Senate, most of whose members are hankering for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue themselves and wouldn’t want the competition.

Schwarzenegger’s tenure also ended with his stature “terminated.” The overspending caught up with him when the subprime recession hit, budget deficits ballooned and he increased taxes a record $13 billion in 2009. He left office commuting the murder sentence of the son of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, enraging the victim’s family. 

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Damage from legislative bills delayed, but still harmful

CapitolSometimes, California’s laws are like a guillotine on a timer.

By the time the blade drops, everybody who set it up has made a safe getaway.

To illustrate, consider four different laws that did their damage long after the perpetrators moved on, and a brand new one that’s likely to raise rents and perhaps tax Californians right out of their own homes.

In 1999, the Legislature passed and Gov. Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 400, which increased the pensions of state workers, even those already retired. At the time, everyone was told it would cost taxpayers nothing because the pension fund’s investment returns would easily pay for the higher benefits.

Then the blade dropped. In 2016, the tab for state employee pensions was $5.4 billion, more than 30 times what the state was paying before SB400 took effect. Today the state faces crushing pension debt that’s deep into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

In 2006, the Legislature passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 32, which included a requirement to lower the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Regulators had the idea to raise money by auctioning permits to emit greenhouse gases as part of a “cap and trade” program. The new expense for manufacturers, utilities, refineries and truckers was passed through to consumers, who today pay $1 per gallon more for gasoline than the national average, 30 percent higher electricity rates, and don’t even ask about the price of tomatoes.

In 2008, the Legislature passed and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 375, which was intended to reduce “sprawl” and “vehicle miles traveled.” This law made it more difficult and expensive to build new housing in outlying areas. In 2016, California lagged behind 28 other states in new housing creation, while rents have been bid up by the surge of people who, under different government policies, might be homeowners in new communities.

In 2011, California lawmakers cut the reimbursement rate that the state pays doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients, but that didn’t stop them from expanding the Medi-Cal program under the Affordable Care Act. In the last four years, about 4.5 million Californians were added to the rolls of the safety-net health insurance that’s called Medicaid in the rest of the country. There are now about 13.5 million people on Medi-Cal, one-third of the state’s population.

But there was no corresponding increase in doctors who accept Medi-Cal, and the number of emergency room visits has gone up, not down, as more people became insured. A lawsuit just filed against the state charges that the shortage of providers is discriminatory against Latinos, who are now the majority of Medi-Cal enrollees, according to the suit. The newly formed California Future Health Workforce Commission says that by 2025, the state will have 4,700 fewer primary care doctors than needed.

The latest guillotine-on-a-timer is SB231, by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, which passed the Assembly on Aug. 31 by one vote. It redefines “sewer” to include stormwater, “correcting” a 2002 court ruling that said local governments can’t impose taxes or fees for stormwater projects without voter approval. Now they can, according to the bill. It will be easy to add huge new annual fees to property tax bills, and rents will go up, too.

SB231 now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

By the time the blade cuts your throat, he’ll be out of there.

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”

New State Controlled Pension System – Will Taxpayers Have to Bail It Out?

retirement_road_signGov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1234 to establish a state supervised retirement fund called Secure Choice for private workers. One wonders if at some future time this action will be remembered much like Gov. Gray Davis’s signature on SB 400 of 1999, which put taxpayers on edge by driving public pensions into deep debt.

The bill Davis signed expanded public employee pension benefits putting in place an investment scheme that has not met the demands of pension liabilities. Many of the local taxes on November ballots will see revenue used to satisfy pension obligations, with local pensions increased along the lines of SB 400. SB 1234 by Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon has no provision for taxpayer involvement. However, skeptics believe, with good reason, that because of the state’s involvement, taxpayers will be backstop if the system falters.

Brown’s signature ended a four-year quest to establish a private worker retirement fund. There is no argument workers must save more for retirement. The question is should government oversee such a venture. SB 1234 would require employers to take a small percentage out of worker’s checks and deposit into a retirement fund unless the worker opts out. It is estimated than 7 million California workers would be covered by the plan.

The business community objected to the legislation until some late amendments were added to shield employers from liability and administrative burdens while making it clear that the employer is not the sponsor of the retirement plan. The California Chamber of Commerce and some local chambers pulled opposition and, in the end, stood neutral on the measure. Business will still have the obligation of enrolling workers into the system.

Still, taxpayers should be wary considering the history of promises made about the public pension system that expanded under SB 400. Supporters of that bill declared public pensions would be easily funded by investment revenue, even with employees taking retirement at earlier ages. It has not played out that way, with the state looking at billions in public employee pension debt.

As State Senator and financial expert, John Moorlach, commented after the governor signed SB 1234, “You can anticipate that this ‘secure’ investment has the potential to morph into a massive boondoggle.”

While a couple of other states are looking at a similar private worker retirement system, it should be noted that the drive for state controlled private sector pension programs might have a political connection to public pensions.

The term “pension envy” has been used to describe private workers distaste for the public employees superior benefit packages. Private workers have to save for their own retirement while funding the guaranteed public pensions through their taxes. While the creation of a system to establish a private worker fund would help those private workers in retirement, public unions hope to establish a connection between private workers and public pensions, making voters more sympathetic to the public workers if reformers attempt to reel in public pensions.

As I wrote on this site when SB 1234 first surfaced four years ago, “With the glare of the spotlight on public retirement debt, public unions want to change the focus and talk about private employees retirement.”

Thanks to the governor’s signature, Secure Choice is now in place. It will probably take a couple of years to get started. We’ll see a decade from now if echoes of the SB 400 criticism attaches to SB 1234.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

The Ever-Growing California Pension Gap

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

With the stroke of a pen, California Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation that gave prison guards, park rangers, Cal State professors and other state employees the kind of retirement security normally reserved for the wealthy.

More than 200,000 civil servants became eligible to retire at 55 — and in many cases collect more than half their highest salary for life. California Highway Patrol officers could retire at 50 and receive as much as 90% of their peak pay for as long as they lived.

Proponents sold the measure in 1999 with the promise that it would impose no new costs on California taxpayers. The state employees’ pension fund, they said, would grow fast enough to pay the bill in full.

They were off — by billions of dollars — and taxpayers will bear the consequences for decades to come. …

Click here to read the full story

Guess who pays if Obama’s plan to defer deportations is upheld

Immigration ObamaBy the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether President Obama really has the power to defer the deportation of 4 million people who are in the United States illegally.

The justices have agreed to hear the case of United States v. Texas, in which 26 states are suing the federal government to stop the president’s deferral policy from going forward.

The first issue to be decided is whether the states have “standing” to sue. They’ll have to show that they are harmed by the president’s actions.

Former California Gov. Pete Wilson says there’s no doubt about it.

“The states continue to feel the heavy impacts and the very high costs of federal failure to deal rationally and adequately with immigration policy,” Wilson told a meeting of the Federalist Society recently at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

In 1994, Wilson said, California spent “more than $3 billion, or 7 percent of the entire state operating budget” to provide health care and education to illegal immigrants and to incarcerate alien felons.

Wilson unsuccessfully sued the federal government to recover the costs that state taxpayers were bearing. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected all his arguments, even the claim that the federal government ought to pay the costs of incarcerating criminals who should have been stopped at the border.

The court said, “California can simply exercise discretion not to prosecute and imprison alien felons and thus not incur the expense,” Wilson recalled sardonically.

No discretion is allowed in education. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that states must provide free public education to all children, regardless of immigration status.

Wilson said one reason he backed Proposition 187 — the 1994 ballot measure that prohibited state funding of public benefits for undocumented California residents — was that he wanted to challenge the Plyler ruling.

“I was convinced that if we could get 187 before a notably less liberal Supreme Court a decade later, there was a good chance that the court would overturn Plyler,” Wilson said, describing it as a “weak” 5-4 decision. But because of a long delay in the lower court, time ran out for Wilson, and his successor, Gov. Gray Davis, dropped the appeal.

“The people of California were cheated of their day in the Supreme Court,” Wilson said.

Today, the cost of illegal immigration is embedded in state and local budgets.

In 2014, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $61 million program called My Health L.A. to provide free medical care to undocumented immigrants ineligible for Obamacare.

California’s new system of distributing education money, the Local Control Funding Formula, gives more money to districts with high concentrations of students classified as “English learners.” The LCFF replaced a system that provided “categorical funding” for specific programs, including the arts and music block grant, gifted and talented education, and the school safety block grant.

Californians will pay $132 million a year for a new state law that provides free health coverage to undocumented residents under the age of 19.

And if Obama prevails in the Supreme Court, California may feel it in the Medi-Cal program, which already serves 13.5 million people. The state has considered deferred immigration status to be a category eligible for full Medi-Cal coverage.

However, the outcome of this case is completely unpredictable. What happens if the court upholds the president’s use of executive orders to change immigration policy, and Donald Trump is elected president?

Maybe the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the law of unintended consequences.

What’s the True Impact of California’s High School Exit Exam

Standardized TestAs the state looks to replace the California High School Exit Exam with a new version, or eliminate it altogether as a graduation requirement, it remains difficult to find much consensus among educators, researchers and advocates regarding the legacy of the test for California.

Gov. Brown last week signed legislation that exempted students from the graduating class of 2015 from having to take the test in response to a snafu that left thousands of seniors without the ability to take the test several more times as permitted under state law. Still to be resolved is the bigger issue of the fate of the test itself, which may be partly determined by assessing its impact since it became a graduation requirement nearly a decade ago.

The California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) debuted in 2001 as an effort aimed at ensuring every student graduated from high school with basic skills and, as the California Department of Education spelled out, “to identify students who are not developing skills that are essential for life after high school.”

Nearly 5 million students have taken the test since then. A majority of students passed on their first try, with an increasing number each year that the test has been administered.

Some, however, have struggled through multiple attempts before successfully completing it. About 249,000 students have failed the test since it became a graduation requirement in 2006.

Supporters of the exit exam say the exam has raised the bar for graduation by encouraging students to work harder and pressured schools to increase their efforts to close the achievement gap.

Certificate of Achievement awarded to Prospect High student Arlene Holmes instead of diploma because she didn't pass the California High School Exit Exam.

TIFFANY LEW/EDSOURCE TODAY Certificate of Achievement awarded to Prospect High student Arlene Holmes instead of diploma because she didn’t pass the California High School Exit Exam.

Opponents argue that the test has discouraged some low-achieving students from staying in school and that it disproportionately punished low-income children and English learners who were unable to pass the test.

The research the state commissioned each year to evaluate the exit exam was generally positive about its impact, but other research reports were more critical. (For an overview of the research, see the end of this article.)

After an extended debate on the issue, Gov. Gray Davis signed legislation in 1999 to create the exit exam as a condition for students to receive a high school diploma. At the time, California joined a growing number of states that had such a requirement. By 2002, 24 states administered exit exams. Ten years later that number had grown to 26.

At the time he signed the law, Davis said the exam would add value to a diploma by ensuring students showed competency in math, reading and writing before they finished high school.

Students were tested on their aptitude in 10th-grade English and algebra, which students typically took between the 8th and 10th grade. Students could first take the test as sophomores, and if they didn’t pass, they could take it up to six more times before the end of their senior year. Even if they had not passed it by then, they could also take the exam up to three times in the year after their senior year and be awarded a diploma if they eventually passed.

About 91 percent of students in the class of 2006 passed by the end of their senior year, including 67 percent who passed on their first try as sophomores. By 2014, about 95.5 percent of seniors passed, including 90 percent who passed on their first try as sophomores.The test was first administered to freshman students in 2001, and they were required to pass it before they graduated in 2004. By 2002, only four in 10 students from the class of 2004 had passed the test, prompting lawmakers to postpone it as a graduation requirement another two years.

But given California’s size, even a small percentage of students failing the tests translates into large numbers of actual students. Last year, for example, 4.5 percent of high school students couldn’t pass the test by the end of their senior year. That amounts to nearly 20,000 seniors.

Former state Superintendent Jack O’Connell authored the legislation that created the exit exam when he was a state senator in 1999.

“I didn’t want a high school diploma to only reflect a certification of seat time,” O’Connell, who served as state superintendent from 2003 to 2011, said in a recent interview. “It should mean something much more. It should reflect the education we are delivering to our students.”

O’Connell, now a partner at Capitol Advisors Group, a Sacramento-based consulting firm, said the exam helped educators better target which students needed the most support by funneling them into intervention programs that helped improve their overall academic success.

“If you talk with folks in the field, this is one of the most significant reforms in high school they’ve seen,” he said.

The former state superintendent said results that show a higher rate of students from at-risk groups passing the test by 2014 compared to 2006 proves the exit exam accomplished one of its biggest goals.

“I didn’t want a high school diploma to only reflect a certification of seat time. It should mean something much more,” said former State Superintendent Jack O’Connell.

In 2006, about 86 percent of low-income students, 73 percent of English learners, 85 percent of Latino students and 84 percent of black students passed by the end of their senior year. By 2014, about 94 percent of low-income students, 82 percent of English learners, 94 percent of Latinos and 92 percent of black students passed.

“This exam helped close the achievement gap,” he said.

O’Connell said he now supports Senate Bill 172, which proposes to suspend the exit exam through 2017­-18 to give the state time to decide whether a new test should be administered that is aligned with the Common Core standards.

“It was never intended to go on indefinitely,” he said. “Once Common Core came in, I knew it would be the end for an exam that’s based on California’s previous state standards.”

CHALLENGING THE EXAM’S EFFECTIVENESS

Critics have said there is little evidence the exam alone helped boost achievement of at-risk students. Some have said that other accountability systems implemented at the same time, including the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the state’s Academic Performance Index, contributed more to pressuring schools to improve achievement among all student groups. Instead, critics said, there is significant evidence the exit exam prevented many English learners, minority and low-income students from earning a high school diploma.

Arturo González, an attorney with the San Francisco law firm of Morrison & Foerster, filed a lawsuit in 2006 on behalf of a group of students from Richmond who sued the state in Valenzuela v. O’Connell, claiming poor and minority students were at a disadvantage because of sub-par teachers and resources in low-performing schools.

“This was a worthless exam,” González said. “The only thing it did was deny deserving students a diploma. In my view, it was more a political move by educators to show they were doing something.”

An Alameda County Superior Court judge in May of 2006 ruled that the exit exam could not be used to deny students a high school diploma, just three months after the lawsuit was filed. But the state Supreme Court reinstated the exam a few weeks later after the state appealed the lower court’s ruling.

González said the fact that the vast majority of students failing the exit exam are low-income, English learners, Latinos and blacks proves the assessment is flawed. Of the 19,679 students from the class of 2014 who did not pass by the end of their senior year, 68 percent were Latino, 49 percent were English learners and 77 percent were low-income, according to state Department of Education figures. (Some of these students fit into multiple categories.)

González said that if the state really wanted to improve achievement among at-risk students, it should have invested the millions of dollars it cost to create and implement the test on more AP courses, teacher training, after-school programs and tutoring in schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

STUDENTS WITHOUT DIPLOMAS

Students at many school districts across the state who met all other graduation requirements except for the exit exam have instead been awarded certificates of completion, a diploma-like document that looks like a high school diploma and states that the student met all of their individual district’s graduation requirements. But the document does not carry the same weight as an actual diploma when applying to college or for jobs. It is not known how many districts offer certificates of completion in lieu of a high school diploma because the state does not track those numbers.

Most four-year colleges, including the University of California and the California State University systems, decide whether to admit applicants with certificates of completion on a case-by-case basis. Students without diplomas in districts that chose not to award certificates of completion are often encouraged to enroll in community colleges, which don’t require diplomas, or work toward passing the General Educational Development test, or GED, a high school equivalency exam.

“I’ve had so many doors of opportunity slammed in my face for not having my diploma,” said Telesis Radford, who could not pass the exam before the end of her senior year.

Arlene Holmes received her certificate of completion in 2012 from Prospect High School in Pleasant Hill in Alameda County. Holmes easily passed the English portion, she said. But the math proved too difficult.

Holmes, now 21, said not earning a diploma prevented her from enrolling in a vocational nursing program and other trade schools.“It is ridiculous how I actually worked extremely hard to even finish high school back in 2012,” she said.

“I would have done a lot more with college and jobs because I am very capable,” she said. Holmes has received job offers, but was later told by human resource departments that they couldn’t hire her until she’s earned a diploma.

Telesis Radford received a certificate of completion from Santa Rosa High School in 2006 after failing the math section by just a few points.

“It was a sad and devastating day for me when I learned I wouldn’t receive my high school diploma,” Radford said. “I’ve had so many doors of opportunity slammed in my face for not having my diploma.”

Radford, now 27, was unable to enroll in a medical technician program, where she hoped to earn a phlebotomy license, which would allow her to work in a clinic or hospital drawing blood from patients.

“If I had my diploma, I would be in the medical field, and I would not be struggling like I am today to achieve and accomplish my dreams,” said Radford, who currently works as an administrative coordinator for the American Red Cross.

Lucinda Pueblos, assistant superintendent for K-12 performance and culture in Santa Ana Unified, said she has “mixed emotions” about the exit exam. Pueblos previously served as principal at Century High School, which also awarded certificates of completion.

While the exam overall set minimal expectations for students, it was still difficult for new English learners to pass the English section, she said. “It really did present a barrier for a lot of students.”

When the exit exam started, educators had to place a stronger focus on reading, writing and algebra in middle school in preparation for the test, said Pueblos, who also previously worked as a middle school principal. The pass rates improved, as students were better prepared.

She said the exam achieved its goal. “We were at least able to say they are at an 8th-grade level when they graduate,” she said.

Education Trust-West, an advocacy group for minority and low-income students, has generally supported the exit exam as another tool that helps increase the focus on struggling students.

“It prevented these students from being invisible,” said Carrie Hahnel, director of research and policy analysis at Education Trust-West. “It put responsibility and pressure on the system to help students.”

Hahnel said the yearly exam scores helped highlight the achievement gap for educators and policy makers. “The exam provided a lot of good data,” she said. “It also made the point that a high school diploma has to mean something, that you need these basic skills for college and careers.”

WHAT THE RESEARCH SHOWS

Human Resources Research Organization, or HumRRO, an independent evaluator, was commissioned by the state to review results of the exit exam each year since the program began. Its reports have generally been favorable, linking increased graduation rates and overall academic proficiency to the exit exam. The research group concluded in its most recent report in November 2014 that, “over fifteen years, we have seen test scores rise overall and for demographic groups defined by race/ethnicity and economic status. Graduation rates climbed, dropout rates declined, and successful participation in college entrance exams and Advanced Placement exams rose.”

HumRRO also reported that the exam has prompted schools across the state to create remedial opportunities for students who needed help passing it.

“Available evidence suggests that students have worked hard to meet the current (exit exam) requirement and that teachers have used class time to help them do so,” according to HumRRO’s latest report.

The report concluded that a higher rate of high school students are enrolling in advanced math courses, including geometry, intermediate algebra and calculus, as a result of the exit exam’s focus on algebra proficiency.

Still, HumRRO acknowledged that although scores for some minority groups, low-income students and English learners continue to improve, these students continue to lag significantly behind their peers.

2009 study by Stanford University professor Sean Reardon and UC Davis professor Michal Kurlaender concluded that the exit exam “has had no positive effects on students’ academic skills. Students subject to the (exam) requirement – particularly low-achieving students whom the exam might have motivated to work harder in school – learned no more between 10th and 11th grade than similar students in the previous cohort who were not subject to the requirement.”

The study compared 11th-grade scores on California Standards Tests, or CSTs, across years when the exit exam was a graduation requirement with years when it was not. On average, CST scores were slightly lower among students subject to the exit exam as a graduation requirement, according to the study. It also made the case that graduation rates of minority students who were struggling academically declined as a result of them failing the test – far more than the graduation rates of white students:

“The graduation rate for minority students in the bottom achievement quartile declined by 15 to 19 percentage points after the introduction of the exit exam requirement, while the graduation rate for similar white students declined by only 1 percentage point. The analyses further suggest that the disproportionate effects of the CAHSEE requirement on graduation rates are due to large racial and gender differences in CAHSEE passing rates among students with the same level of achievement.”

Reardon and Kurlaender said at the time that since the exam wasn’t working as it was intended, the state should consider eliminating it as a graduation requirement.

The Public Policy Institute of California released a study in 2008 that used the grades, test scores and behavior of 4th graders to reliably predict whether students would pass the exit exam. The study concluded the best way to ensure more students pass was to target intervention programs well before students begin high school. The study did not address the effectiveness of the exit exam.

Other studies over the years on exit exams nationally, including those from the Center on Education Policy and the Education Commission of the States, have also reported that the exams are most effective when states provide enough support to help struggling students eventually pass.

Originally published by EdSource.org

EdSource Today reporter Sarah Tully contributed to this report.

Teachers’ Union Propaganda Is Creeping Into CA’s Public School Curricula

To say California’s teachers’ unions wield outsize influence over state education policy is hardly novel. From setting tenure rules to rewriting dismissal statutes and blocking pension reforms, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers roam the halls of the legislature like varsity all-stars. But less well known are the unions’ efforts to remake curriculum — and thereby influence the next generation of citizens and voters.

According to labor expert Kevin Dayton, organized labor has been trying to get its collective hooks into classroom content since 1981, when the City University of New York developed the “American Social History Project.” The idea was to present the history of marginalized and oppressed groups — including labor unions — to a “broad popular audience.” In California, the project took a great leap forward in 2001, when Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg cooked up the Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education, which, as Dayton explains, was established “to address issues of labor education in California’s public school system.” At the commission’s behest, Governor Gray Davis signed a bill that encouraged school districts to set aside the first week in April as “Labor History Week” and “commemorate it with appropriate educational exercises to make pupils aware of the important role that the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.”

By 2012, labor’s “week” had morphed into “Labor History Month,” and California’s teachers’ unions began advancing their politicized agenda. The CFT’s elementary curriculum includes a story about a “mean farmer” and his ticked-off hens that organize against him. The CTA meantime offers up a passel of lessons with a heavy emphasis on issues such as “tax fairness.” The University of California’s Miguel Contreras Labor Program joined in, adding an anthology of stories promoting the IWW, a radical union noted for its ties to socialism and anarchism, as well as a biography of America’s singing Stalinist, Pete Seeger.

The unions were on the move again in 2014, as the California Department of Education began its periodic review of the state’s history framework. In November, the CFT sent a proposal to the Instructional Quality Commission, an advisory body to the state board of education on matters concerning curriculum, instructional materials, and content standards. The union’s suggestions included downplaying the Second Great Awakening—the eighteenth-century religious revival that had a profound effect on the temperance, abolition, and women’s rights movements—in favor of greater emphasis on anti-Muslim discrimination after the 9/11 attacks. The union also wants the United States described as an “empire” that regularly “dominate[s] other civilizations,” despite the nation’s record of rebuilding countries we have defeated in war, such as Germany and Japan after World War II.

Naturally, the CFT makes a case for a “Labor Studies” elective. California is considering a lesson that would let students “participate in a collective bargaining simulation to examine the struggles of workers to be paid for the value of their labor and to work under safe conditions. They can examine legislation that gave workers the right to organize into unions, to improve working conditions, and to prohibit discrimination.” The Speaker’s Commission on Labor Education co-chairs, Fred Glass and Kent Wong, weighed in with a letter of their own urging the Instructional Quality Commission to establish the labor studies elective.

Will the unions advocate a full and fair treatment of labor’s history, including routine episodes of union violence and intimidation? Can students expect thorough exploration of labor economics, including how collective bargaining lowers the pay of many workers due to wage compression? Probably not. It’s even less likely that students will hear anything about the teachers’ unions twenty-first century political ventures—such as how the CTA spent more than $26 million in 2000 to defeat a school-voucher initiative that would have let families escape failing schools, or how, in 2012, it successfully lobbied to defeat SB 1530, which would have simplified the process of firing pedophile teachers.

The teachers’ unions are clearly lobbying for changes to a curriculum they believe presents a sanitized version of U.S. history, but they would simply replace disfavored “myths” with their own versions. As an American history teacher for much of the last decade of my career, I was faithful to the state framework and taught extensively about slavery and other injustices in our collective past. Most other history instructors I knew did the same. We didn’t browbeat the kids, however, into believing that American history was riddled with treachery and malevolence. If parents and citizens don’t take action, a bundle of America-bashing lessons, distorted history, and indoctrination into the glories of collective bargaining may become a part of the Golden State’s curriculum.

Originally published by City Journal.

The Money Man Exits the Lobby

John Mockler cast a long shadow over the modern history of public education in California. “I once suggested in print that California needed a constitutional amendment requiring [John] Mockler to live forever,” wrote Zócalo Public Square columnist Joe Mathews of the man who authored Proposition 98, the 1988 constitutional amendment that earmarked 40 percent of the general fund budget for K–12 education. Mathews did not get his wish, of course. On March 3, at the age of 73, Mockler died of pancreatic cancer and prominent Californians marked the passing of a legend.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson called Mockler a “giant.” He was the “brilliant wonk” responsible for steering $65.7 billion to public schools in the coming year, $5 billion more than last year, wrote Sacramento Bee editorial page editor Dan Morain. He was a man who “cared deeply about schools.” Governor Jerry Brown tweeted that Mockler “knew education law like no one else and was able to put school finance on a solid footing that endures even today.” Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called Mockler “a true champion for our children,” and a man who was “honest and provided excellent advice on how best to improve our educational system.”

Aside from Prop. 98, Mathews observed in his obituary, Mockler was “deeply grounded in the realities of kids” and “he also had a great devotion to facts.” But more than a few important facts were missing from the eulogies, most notably Mockler’s lucrative career as a lobbyist. Mockler personified the stereotype of the “revolving door” in politics, moving back and forth every few years from consulting and lobbying to the public sector. In the mid-1960s, Mockler became a consultant to the state assembly’s education committee, and from 1974 until 1977 he served as a senior staffer to Wilson Riles, the state superintendent of public instruction. In 1977, Mockler left Sacramento for a post with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the United States. One year later, Californians passed Proposition 13, which limited the power of government to raise property taxes, which were a prime source of revenue for schools. Mockler was not a fan. In 1980, he formed Murdock, Mockler and Associates, a lobbying firm specializing in education policy. But before long, he returned to government as Assembly Speaker Willie Brown’s education adviser from 1983 to 1985, when public education reform was a raging issue.

Mockler, a liberal Democrat, rejected the conclusions the National Commission on Excellence in Education reached in A Nation at Risk. In Mockler’s view, public education was not drowning in a “rising tide of mediocrity.” He often decried what he called the “California schools suck industry,” and people “who make their living hand-wringing about how bad California schools are.” Mockler persisted with his belief in the Golden State’s excellence until the very end. “If a kid goes out and steals a lunch, you’re going to hear about that,” Mockler said. “But how about a headline saying 93 percent of students went to school today and got along just fine? You’re not going to hear about that.” But Mockler also knew that evaluation was not his strong suit. “I feed the pig,” Mockler would often say when he lobbied for L.A. Unified. “Other people weigh the pig.”

In Mockler’s world the problem was simple: the education establishment was underfunded and needed more money—always. That was also the default position of the California Teachers Association and State Superintendent Bill Honig, who recently told the Los Angeles Times, “back in the ’80s we were so frustrated by the underfunding of schools.” Mockler conceived Prop. 98 as an “antidote” Prop. 13. Yet the school establishment’s complaints about poor funding persisted. So did the public’s complaints about dysfunctional and dangerous schools. Prop. 174, the Parental Choice in Education Initiative, appeared on the 1993 ballot as the antidote in turn to Prop. 98. At a San Francisco conference, I heard Mockler fulminate against the measure. The jovial man who joked that Prop. 98 would help send his own kids to Stanford was opposed to low-income parents choosing the schools their children would attend. Voters soundly rejected the choice initiative and preserved the status quo.

Soon afterward, Mockler formed the lobbying firm of Strategic Education Services, where his clients included the Association of American Publishers, California Public Radio and Television, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, and the California Association of Administrators of State and Federal Programs. Another client was L.A. Unified, not known as a bastion of achievement or accountability. Mockler’s lobbying connections came in handy when he served a brief stint as secretary of education and later executive director of the State Board of Education under Governor Gray Davis. There he would play a key role in selecting the textbooks the state would purchase. For some observers, that was troubling. San Jose Mercury News education reporter Jessica Portner noted that Mockler, “established personal financial relationships with lobbyists for the publishing industry.” After joining the board, Mockler “received loan payments from two textbook industry representatives who purchased his lobbying firm.” Portner also reported that Mockler co-owned a Bodega Bay vacation home with state school board member Marion Joseph. She remained on the state board after Mockler left, retaining “significant sway over which texts are selected.”

Whether those texts were any good is subject to debate. But as Portner saw it, they were certainly more expensive. The average price of English textbooks for students in kindergarten through eighth grade ballooned 212 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 1990 and 2002; the price of math books climbed 156 percent over the same period. Mockler never complained. Nor did he ever experience the sort of legal trouble that took down his friend Honig in 1993, when he was convicted of felony conflict-of-interest charges—specifically, making contracts in which he had a financial stake.

Californians should remember Mockler as a government success story in the style of Robert Klein, the real estate tycoon who made out well with Proposition 71 and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Likewise, environmental zealot Peter Douglas gained a veritable state within a state in the California Coastal Commission. Like that pair, Mockler wielded great power but never once had to face the voters. His career confirms that California’s government education system has a for-profit subsidiary a clever insider can exploit for a lot of money, working both sides of the table.

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