Modest Strike Settlement Nonetheless Puts LAUSD in Even Worse Financial Shape

Charter schoolOne of the grievances expressed by the union during their recent strike against Los Angeles Unified School District was that, according to them, charter schools are draining funds from public schools. This assertion, repeated uncritically by major news reports on the strike, does not stand up to reason.

Public schools in California receive government funding based on student attendance. Since one of the other primary grievances of the union was overcrowded classrooms, it would be reasonable to conclude that LAUSD schools are not underfunded, but overfunded. There should be plenty of money, but there’s not. LAUSD is teetering on insolvency, and the strike settlement agreement is going to make their financial challenges even worse.

Charter Schools Outperform LAUSD’s Unionized Schools

The reason LAUSD is running out of money has little or nothing to do with charter schools. It has to do with inefficient use of funds. A study conducted by the California Policy Center in 2015 calculated the per student cost in LAUSD’s traditional public high schools to be $15,372 per year. The same study evaluated 26 charter high schools and middle schools located within LAUSD’s geographic boundaries, and found their cost per student to be $10,649 per year.

At the same time as LAUSD spends far more than charters per student, they do a poorer job educating their students. The same 2015 study, “Analyzing the Cost and Performance of LAUSD Traditional High Schools and LAUSD Alliance Charter High Schools,” compared the educational outcomes at nine charter high schools to nine traditional public high schools in LAUSD. These 18 schools were selected based on their having nearly identical student demographics to LAUSD’s traditional public high schools – i.e., the same percentage of English learners, learning disabled students, and low income students. The charter schools clearly outperformed LAUSD in every important metric – SAT scores, graduation rates and college admissions.

There are two critical issues here, neither of which appear to have been discussed in the strike negotiations. One, why do charter schools manage to educate students for so much less than traditional public schools, and two, why do they manage to do it for so much less money?

The answer to the first may be hard for the union leadership and their supporters to accept: These charter schools are able to better educate students because they are not subject to union work rules. Incompetent teachers can be dismissed. If layoffs are necessary, the best teachers can be retained, instead of the most senior. What is more teachers do not acquire “tenure,” a job-for-life right negotiated by the teachers union despite its origins in the university with the purpose of protecting scientific inquiry, not protecting bad teachers in K-12 schools.

There are a host of reasons charter schools don’t cost as much as traditional public schools. Much of it has to do with teacher compensation. The average base pay in charter schools is less than in public schools, as is the average cost of benefits. But the “other pay,” typically taking the form of performance incentives, is higher in the charter schools. An interesting compilation, using data taken from Transparent California, estimated the bonus pay in the charter networks within LAUSD (Green Dot and Alliance) to average two to three times the average in LAUSD’s traditional public schools. This disparity, wherein compensation in charter schools is linked to the effectiveness of individual teachers, undoubtedly also helps explain why they achieve better educational outcomes.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking LAUSD

LAUSD’s cost of employee benefits increased from $1.54 billion in 2015-16 to $1.92 billion in 2016-17, an increase of 25 percent, when the total employee headcount only increased by six-tenths of one percent. The reason for the increase is simple, and immutable: LAUSD, like many public agencies throughout California, has fallen woefully behind in its funding of retirement benefits, and they have reached a point where they must dramatically increase payments in order to catch up.

Staggering Pension Debt: LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion. Just paying down that debt over twenty years should be costing LAUSD over $600 million per year, not including the normal contribution they have to pay each year as their active employees earn additional pension benefits. As it is, including the normal contribution, in 2018 LAUSD “only” paid $584 million to CalSTRS and CalPERS.

The financial sickness relating to pensions is a statewide problem. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for LAUSD teachers, as of June 30, 2017, was only 62 percent fundedSixty-two percent. CalPERS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for LAUSD support personnel, is only slightly better off financially than CalSTRS. It has already announced it will roughly double the required employer contributions between now and 2025. CalSTRS, if it wants to survive, will likely follow suit.

Retiree Healthcare Costs: If anything, the financial challenges surrounding LAUSD’s other primary retirement obligation, retiree health benefits, are even more daunting. LAUSD’s OPEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. Like many public agencies, LAUSD does not pre-fund their retiree health benefits. In 2018, retiree healthcare cost the district nearly $400 million. A 2016 study prepared for LAUSD estimated that cost to double in the next ten years, and to nearly quadruple within the next twenty years.

LAUSD does face declining enrollment, something they claim is exacerbated by diversion of students into charter schools. Total enrollment in 2013-14 was 621,796, and by 2017-18 it had declined somewhat to 591,411. As a percentage of total enrollment during that period, unaffiliated charter enrollment rose from 15 percent to 19 percent of all students. But LAUSD nonetheless contends with bursting classrooms. LAUSD’s traditional, unionized public schools are still collecting revenue based on attendance that stretches the capacity of their facilities. If they are still attempting to teach more students than their facilities can handle, they can’t blame charters for their financial problems.

There is, however, an indirect financial threat that charters represent to traditional unionized public schools that is very serious indeed. The problem is not that charter enrollment steals money from LAUSD’s classrooms, because the classrooms are full. More students might bring in more money, but they would also require more classrooms. The problem is the growth of charters shrinks the revenue base LAUSD needs to pay the costs for retirees.

Charter Schools Dilute LAUSD’s Revenue Base Necessary to Pay Retiree Benefits

As LAUSD’s traditional unionized public schools contend with burgeoning per-retiree costs, every student that they lose to charters represents less available revenue to feed the pension funds. Every student lost to charter schools decreases LAUSD’s ratio of active workers to retirees.

These compounding effects are similar to what faced the auto industry back in the 1980s – retirees collecting expensive benefits, supported by companies with fewer workers and lower revenues. The difference, of course, is that public schools, and public sector unions, do not contend with the irresistible reality of global markets. Instead their ultimate solution will be to call for higher taxes.

This prediction is borne out by the strike settlement, which called for more hiring of teachers and support personnel, retroactive raises, and nothing in the form of benefit reductions or higher employee contributions to their benefits through payroll withholding.

The other key victory for the union, an aggressive stance by the LAUSD Board against any new charter schools, is a rear guard action to preserve the revenue base necessary to pay retiree benefits. Stop the charters, or reform pensions and retiree healthcare formulas. It was one or the other. But all this war on charters does is buy time.

LAUSD Will Eventually Have to Adapt to Financial Reality

Sooner or later, financial reality will strike. LAUSD’s total expenses in 2016-17 were $7.6 billion. Benefits constituted $1.9 billion. Twenty-five percent of all spending. Ten years from now, those benefit costs are likely to double, as the pension fund payments rise to around $1.2 billion, annual OPEB contributions near the $1.0 billion level, and current benefits – which constituted around $900 million in spending in 2016-17 – rise with inflation. Can LAUSD afford to pay current and retiree benefits equal to 40 percent of all spending? Will higher taxes, to enable much higher per student reimbursements – make up the difference?

Financial reform to put LAUSD on a stable financial footing requires benefit reform. Teachers will have to pay, through payroll withholding, a higher percentage of the costs for their current health benefits, their retirement health benefits and their pensions. The alternative is for them to get more state funding for these benefits, or accept lower benefits. Increased state funding is on the way, but it is unlikely it will be sustainable.

There is another solution that bears discussion, which concerns the ratio of teachers to other employees. Based on their own data, LAUSD in 2016-17 had 26,556 classroom teachers, and 33,635 administrators and support personnel. Why is it necessary to have so many non-teachers? Why is it that between 2016-17, and the year before, the number of classroom teachers declined by 271, while the number of non-teaching employees grew by 639? In this regard, charter schools also offer a lesson. Just as they don’t spend precious funds on employee benefits that dwarf what private sector professionals typically expect, charters also don’t spend as much money on support personnel.

Not all charter schools succeed academically, but the ones that do offer examples that LAUSD and other traditional public school districts could emulate, and would emulate, if it weren’t for the intransigence of the teachers union. In all critical areas, from benefits reform to tenure, dismissal policies, and layoff criteria, the teachers union fights change. They have declared war on charters, and just won a major battle in LAUSD. But like the auto industry in Detroit back in the 1980s, unionized public schools need to adapt to changing times.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Policy Center.

Will Anything Good Come Out of the LAUSD Strike? Probably Not

LAUSD school busAs the teachers strike in Los Angeles entered its second week, it appeared the strike would soon be over. On January 22, online reports declared an agreement has been “hammered out,” with union members ratifying the deal late last night.

Union representatives have consistently stated that more pay is not the only reason they’re striking. That’s believable. The unions also want to unionize charter schools, they want smaller class sizes, and they want more hiring – for example, a full-time nurse at every elementary school. All of this, however, costs money.

Noriko Nakada, a LAUSD public school teacher, wrote a column in the December 18th edition of the UTLA “United Teacher” newspaper, entitled “People don’t strike for 6%; we strike for justice.” Considering each of those two phrases, one at a time, yields insights into what’s really going on in LAUSD, and by extension, throughout the unionized public schools of California. Briefly stated, according to the teachers union, “justice,” inside and outside the classroom, is to implement a Leftist political agenda with no regard to the sentiments of teachers or parents.

To start with, however, Nakada’s assertion that “people don’t strike for 6 percent” is false, because getting a 6 percent raise was one of the goals of the strike, and it looks like they’re going to get that raise. So how much will that cost? If there are 30,000 teachers on strike, and their average salary is $75,000 per year, then a 6 percent raise is going to cost at least $135 million per year. At least, because whenever salaries are increased, the cost for other benefits such as pensions increase proportionately.

So this concession of $135 million (or more) per year would have paid for the district to hire roughly 1,500 more teachers and support personnel, which when the details of the settlement are known, is likely to be roughly equivalent to how many new hires will be made. Where the money will come from? Who knows.

The more revealing phrase in Nakada’s article title is “we strike for justice.” What are examples of this “justice”? Would it include “restorative justice,” that well intentioned, benevolent sounding practice which in reality forbids schools from expelling students of any given ethnicity at a greater rate than expulsions occur within the entire student population?

Maybe “justice” is referring to “social justice,” which would include “protecting Dreamers,” “affordable healthcare,” “fair tax structures,” increasing the minimum wage, opposing the “privatization of public education,” immigrant rights, “green” space, bilingual education, reducing “inequality,” creating “racial justice” (such as through preferential scholarships for Asian, Latino, African, and LGBTQ students), and much, much more.

It’s unlikely that UTLA leadership would disavow these elements of their “justice” agenda. But is it nonpartisan? Is it focused on the skills that will truly enable a graduate to be successful – English literacy, math competency, and an awareness of history and civics that instills the American values of individual responsibility and hard work? Or is it a hard Left political agenda?

To answer that question, maybe the national political spending of the two largest teachers unions in America, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) might be instructive. The table below, lifted from the book “Standing Up to Goliath,” written by the courageous Rebecca Friedrichs, reveals the political bias of these unions.

As can be seen, using 2016 data gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics, over 99 percent of direct political contributions by the NEA and AFT in that year were directed either to Left-leaning political action committees or to Democratic candidates and the Democratic party. Ninety-nine percent.

Can this degree of partisanship possibly be in synch with the sentiments of teachers who belong to these unions? Not according to the NEA’s own survey data on their members. As also reported by Friedrichs in “Standing Up to Goliath,” the most recent study available on this was a 2006 survey of American public school teachers, where they were classified as either “liberal,” “lean liberal,” “conservative,” or “lean conservative.” As shown, at the time, 55 percent of public school teachers in the U.S. were either “conservative” or “lean conservative.” Has this changed over the intervening decade? Would the findings be different in California compared to the rest of the nation? Of course the answer to both questions is yes, but how much different?

Two things can be reasonably inferred from these charts. (1) The political ideology of public school teachers in America is split roughly evenly between liberals and conservatives, and (2) the national political spending of the major teachers unions is almost 100 percent allocated to liberal causes and Democratic candidates. From their literature and their rhetoric, it is almost certainly accurate to state that the political agenda and political spending of the United Teachers of Los Angeles is in lockstep with that of these national teachers unions. And it is extremely unlikely that literally 100 percent of the UTLA teachers – and, more importantly, the parents of LAUSD students – adhere to an ideology that is 100 percent supportive of liberal causes and Democratic candidates.

The question of whether or not unions should even exist in the public sector is one worth asking. Already, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Janus vs. AFSCME case has recognized that all public sector union activity is inherently political. If so, shall the California affiliate of the NEA, the California Teachers Association, continue to collect and spend an estimated $325 million per year? Shall the California affiliate of the AFT, the California Federation of Teachers, continue to collect and spend an estimated $100 million per year?

Shall the UTLA continue to use their formidable power to deny school choice in spite of forcing students to attend mediocre and failing schools, to unionize charter schools despite many of them achieving spectacular results, to reject the common sense, bipartisan reforms proposed in the Vergaracase, and to inculcate students with Leftist political ideology, at the same time as their financial demands leave the district teetering on the brink of insolvency?

By all recent indications, yes.

L.A. Teachers Strike To Preserve Their Ruinous Monopoly

Teachers unionLast week, 31,000 Los Angeles Unified School District teachers represented by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) union went on strike for the first time in 30 years.

Substitute teachers and administrators make up a skeleton crew that is keeping schools open, and about one-third of the 640,000 district students are attending class.

The strike is exacting a tremendous toll on parents, many of whom are poor and who must decide whether to take time off of work to care for their children or send their children to grossly understaffed schools.

The issues underlying the strike highlight the challenges facing public school administration, teacher unions and school funding, and shows what must change if U.S. public schools are to increase student achievement.

The strike is about teacher pay, classroom size and increasing the number of school support staff, including counselors, librarians and nurses. But at a deeper level, the strike is really about suppressing the state’s charter schools, which are the major competition facing traditional schools.

Charter schools, which grew out of interest in having public alternatives to traditional schools, began in 1992 and now enroll over 600,000 students within California. Charters have become increasingly popular, and their number has doubled over the last decade. …

Click here to read the full article from The Hill

Are LAUSD Teachers Underpaid, or Does it Cost Too Much to Live in California?

Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

In California, public sector unions pretty much run the state government. Government unions collect and spend over $800 million per year in California. There is no special interest in California both willing and able to mount a sustained challenge to public sector union power. They simply have too much money, too many people on their payroll, too many politicians they can make or break, and too much support from a biased and naive media.

The teachers strike in Los Angeles Unified School District cannot be fully appreciated outside of this overall context: Public sector unions are the most powerful political actor in California, at the state level, in the counties and cities, and on most school boards, certainly including the Los Angeles Unified School District. With all this control and influence, have these unions created the conditions that feed their current grievances?

The grievances leading the United Teachers of Los Angeles to strike center around salary, class sizes, and charter schools. But when the cost of benefits are taken into account, it is hard to argue that LAUSD teachers are underpaid.

According to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the median salary of a LAUSD teacher is $75,000, but that’s just base pay. A statement by LAUSDin response to a 2014 report on LAUSD salaries challenged the $75,000 figure, claiming it was only around $70,000. They then acknowledged, however, that the district paid $16,432 for each employee’s healthcare in 2013-14, and paid 13.92 percent of each teachers salary to cover pension contributions, workers comp, and Medicare. That came up to $96,176 per year.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking Education Budgets

This average total pay of nearly $100K per year back in 2013-14 is certainly higher today – even if salaries were not raised, payments for retirement benefits have grown. For their 35,000 employees, LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion, and their OBEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for most LAUSD employees, receives funds directly from the state that, in a complete accounting, need to also count towards their total compensation. And CalSTRS, as of June 30, 2017 (the next update, through 6/30/2018, will be available May 2019), was only 62 percent fundedSixty-two percent!

The reason to belabor these unfunded retirement benefits is to make it very clear: LAUSD paying an amount equivalent to 13.92 percent of each employees salary into the pension funds isn’t enough. What LAUSD teachers have been promised in terms of retirement pensions and health insurance benefits requires pre-funding far in excess of 13.92 percent. To accurately estimate how much they really make, you have to add the true amount necessary to pay for these pensions and OPEB. This real total compensation average is well over $100K per year.

To put LAUSD teacher compensation in even more accurate context, consider how many days per year they actually work. This isn’t to dispute or disparage the long hours many (but not all) teachers put in. A conscientious teacher’s work day doesn’t begin when the students arrive in the classroom, or end when they leave. They prepare lesson plans and grade homework, and many stay after regular school hours to assist individual students or coordinate extracurricular activities. But teachers working for LAUSD only work 182 days per year. The average private sector professional, who also tends to put in long hours, assuming four weeks of either vacation or holidays, works 240 days per year – 32 percent more. The value of all this time off is incalculable, but simply normalizing pay for a 182 day year to a 240 day year yields an average annual pay of not $100K, but $132K. Taking into account the true cost of pensions and retirement healthcare benefits, much more than $132K.

This is what the LAUSD teachers union considers inadequate. If that figure appears concocted, just become an independent contractor. Suddenly the value of employer paid benefits becomes real, because you have to pay for them yourself.

California’s Ridiculously High Cost-of-Living

If a base salary of over $70,000 per year, plus benefits (far more time off each year, pensions far better than Social Security, and excellent health insurance) worth nearly as much, isn’t enough for someone to financially survive in Los Angeles, maybe the union should examine the role it played, along with other public sector unions, in raising the cost-of-living in California.

Where was the California Teachers Association when restrictive laws such as CEQAAB 32SB 375 were passed, making housing unaffordable by restricting supply? What was the California Teachers Association stance on health coverage for undocumented immigrants, or sanctuary state laws? What did they expect, if laws were passed to make California a magnet for the world’s poor? Don’t they see the connection between 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in California, and a housing shortage, or crowded classrooms? Don’t they see the connection between this migration of largely destitute immigrants who don’t speak English, and the burgeoning costs to LAUSD to provide special instruction and care to these students?

From a moral standpoint, how, exactly, does it make the world a better place, when for every high-needs immigrant student entering LAUSD schools, there are ten thousand high-needs children left behind in the countries they came from, as well as less resources for high-needs children whose parents have lived in California for generations?

When you make it nearly impossible to build anything in California, from housing to energy and water infrastructure, and at the same time invite the world to move in, you create an unaffordable state. When California’s state legislature passed laws creating this situation, what was the position of California Teachers Association? Need we ask?

The Union War Against Education Reform

Charter schools, another primary grievance of the UTLA, is one of the few areas where politicians in California’s state legislature – nearly all of them Democrats by now – occasionally stand up to the teachers unions. But why are charter schools so popular? Could it be that the union controlled traditional public schools are failing students, making charter schools a popular option for parents who want their children to have a better chance at a good education?

Maybe if traditional public schools weren’t held back by union work rules, they would deliver better educational results. The disappointing result in the 2014 Vergara vs. California case provides an example. The plaintiffs sued to modify three work rules, (1) a longer period before granting tenure, (2) changing layoff criteria from seniority to merit, and (3) streamlined dismissal policies for incompetent teachers. These plaintiffs argued the existing work rules had a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, and proved it – view the closing arguments by the plaintiff’s attorney in this case to see for yourself. But California’s State Supreme Court did not agree, and California’s public schools continue to suffer as a result.

But instead of embracing reforms such as proposed in the Vergara case, which might reduce the demand by parents for charter schools, the teachers union is trying to unionize charter schools. And instead of agreeing to benefits reform – such as contributing more to the costs for their health insurance and retirement pensions – the teachers union has gone on strike.

Financial reality will eventually compel financial reform at LAUSD. But no amount of money will improve the quality of LAUSD’s K-12 education, if union work rules aren’t changed. The saddest thing in this whole imbroglio is the fate of the excellent teacher, who works hard and successfully instructs and inspires their students. Those teachers are not overpaid at all. But the system does not nurture such excellence. How on earth did it come to this, that unions would take over public education, along with virtually every other state and local government agency in California?

L.A. Teachers Proceeding With Monday Strike Plan

Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

Without any new proposals from Los Angeles Unified School District officials coming over the weekend, the union representing 34,000 district educators is moving forward with a strike set for Monday morning, Jan. 14.

Calling the offer on Friday by district officials unacceptable, Alex Caputo-Pearl, United Teachers Los Angeles president, said the union was engaged in a “battle for the soul of education” at a news conference Sunday afternoon at union headquarters near downtown Los Angeles.

“We are more convinced than ever that the district won’t move without a strike,” Caputo-Pearl said as he was flanked by roughly two dozen teachers, parents and students.

“Let’s be clear, teachers do not want a strike. Teachers strike when they have no other recourse,” he said.

Union leaders illustrated four demands that remained unresolved Sunday. They included a cap on class sizes, providing a full-time nurse in every school, reforming co-location policies and improving special education. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Daily News

L.A. Teachers to Strike After Rejecting Offered Pay Raise

unionAfter a temporary delay, teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District seem likely to go on strike Monday morning. They are demanding, among other things, a 6.5 percent pay increase after rejecting a 3 percent hike offered by the district.

About 30,000 teachers in the nation’s largest school district had originally planned to strike on January 10, but union leaders postponed the strike until Monday after a judge ruled that the union had failed to give the district adequate notice for the work stoppage. Even with a few extra days to reach an agreement, the two sides remain apart, according to the Los Angeles Times, despite the district offering to pay an additional $75 million to meet union demands regarding staffing levels and class sizes.

The main disagreement, of course, is about wages. The union wants a 6.5 percent raise immediately, while the district has offered a 3 percent raise followed by another 3 percent raise next year, the Times reports. (Update: The average LAUSD employee earns $73,000 annually.)

Even without handing out pay raises, the Los Angeles Unified School District finds itself in dire financial straits.

On its current trajectory, the school district will face a $422 million shortfall by 2020, driven in large part by its $15 billionin unfunded health care benefit liabilities for current workers and retirees. A task force that studied the district’s fiscal condition in 2018 concluded that the structural deficit “threatens its long-term viability and its ability to deliver basic education programs.”

A major driver of the budget problems at the LAUSD is employee pension and health care costs. According to the budget task force, those costs will consume more than half of the district’s annual budget by the end of the next decade. Since there is no way to give employees raises without also increasing the future liabilities owed by the pension system, boosting pay now will only add to the long-term problems facing the district.

“LAUSD has already offered much more than it can afford (increase teacher pay across the board, dollars for lower class sizes, and new positions) so either way the resolution will likely expedite the drawdown of the district’s reserves,” says Aaron Smith, an education policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, which publishes this blog.

The other major issue is class sizes. The union is demanding that the district hire more teachers and staff to reduce the average class size in Los Angeles schools—which currently range from an average of about 26 students per class in elementary schools to nearly 40 per class in the city’s high schools. In its most recent offer, the school district said it would set caps of 37 students for high school classes and 34 students for lower grades.

But while smaller class sizes would be nice, that’s far from the only consideration facing the LAUSD. As even former Obama-era Education Secretary Arne Duncan has argued, teacher quality matters far more than class size as a determinant of student outcomes.

Hiring more employees is unlikely to solve the district’s problems. Since 2004, the LAUSD has seen a 16 percent jump in administrative staffers while student enrollment has fallen by 10 percent. Increasingly, students (and their parents) are opting for charter schools, which have proven to be successful and efficient alternatives. More than 160,000 students already attend charter schools in Los Angeles, and another 41,000 are on waiting lists trying to get in.

The school district likes to blame its structural problems on the loss of students to charter schools—but the real problem is that LAUSD has failed to adapt to changing circumstances. In 2015, the district’s Independent Financial Review Panel made a series of recommendations to help the district adjust to competition from charters—for example, if employees and retirees had to cover just 10 percent of their health insurance premiums, the district could save $54 million annually. Those ideas have mostly been ignored.

A long strike will likely only exacerbate those problems, warns Smith. A protracted strike may encourage more families to seek out alternatives to the public schools.

“If anything,” he says, “the strike will further illustrate exactly why more (not fewer) charters are needed.”

This article was originally published by Reason.com

Unions Attempting to Circumvent the Janus Ruling

unionThe landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court in the Janus vs AFSCME case has given government workers the right to not only refuse union membership, but to refuse to pay any dues or fees to that union. In the wake of this ruling, new lawsuits have been filed on behalf of plaintiffs who allege the unions are attempting to circumvent the Janus ruling.

Enforcing Provisions of the Janus Ruling

A notable example of such a case is Few vs UTLA, In this case, the plaintiff, Thomas Few, is a special education teacher in Los Angeles. Few was told that he could end his membership in the United Teachers of Los Angeles union. But even as a nonmember, the union told him that he would still have to pay an annual “service fee” equivalent to his union membership dues. Few’s position, which is likely to be upheld, is that he cannot be compelled to pay anything to a union he does not choose to join, regardless of what the payment is called.

This lawsuit and others are likely to ensure that the Janus ruling is enforced. The practical result will be that government unions lose some of their members, and some of their revenue. But how many? After all, there is a valid economic incentive for public employees to belong to their unions. In California, unionized state and local workers earn pay and benefits that average twice what private sector workers earn.

For this reason, most people refusing union membership will be doing so for ideological reasons. They will find their objections to the political agenda of these unions to be more compelling than the economic reasons to support them. But there are additional ways the unions compel public employees to remain members.

For example, in some cases, within the same bargaining unit, unions will negotiate pay and benefit packages for their members that are more favorable than the pay and benefit packages they negotiate for the non-members. In some cases in academia, only union members are permitted to sit on faculty committees that determine curricula and hiring decisions.

Challenging Exclusive Representation

This right to exclusive representation is the next major target of public sector union reformers. They argue that it is unconstitutional for public sector unions – whose activity the Janus ruling verified is inherently political – to advocate on behalf of non-members, or to represent non-members, or to exclude non-members from participating in votes or discussions on policy, or to deny non-members the same negotiated rates of pay and benefits as members, or, possibly, all of the above.

Just filed this week in the US Supreme Court is the case Uradnik vs IFO, which worked its way through the lower courts in under a year. It is possible it will be heard in the 2019 session. This case calls for an immediate end to laws that force public-sector employees to accept a union’s exclusive representation.

Kathleen Uradnik, a professor of political science at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, alleges that her union (“IFO” or Inter Faculty Organization) “created a system that discriminates against non-union faculty members by barring them from serving on any faculty search, service, or governance committee, and even bars them from joining the Faculty Senate. This second-class treatment of non-union faculty members impairs the ability of non-members to obtain tenure, to advance in their careers, and to participate in the academic life and governance of their institutions.”

There is a strong possibility that within a few years, if not much sooner, this case will be heard and ruled on by the US Supreme Court in favor of the plaintiff. If so, the future of public sector unions will be altered in ways even more significant than Janus. Unions will be prohibited from discriminating in any way against non-members who are part of their bargaining unit. They also will be powerless to stop public employees from withdrawing completely from their bargaining unit to – gasp – represent themselves in salary and benefit negotiations, something that professionals in the private sector have always done.

The Impact of Non-Exclusive Representation

An impact of a favorable Uradnik vs IFO ruling that would have even greater consequences would be if it enabled the emergence of competing unions. What if two or more unions represented a bargaining group? What if a super-union emerged whose membership welcomed government workers from an entire state, or entire profession, or the entire nation. What if these super-unions embraced a political agenda that ran counter to the left-wing agenda that has dominated public sector unions for decades?

The possibilities are tantalizing.

What if faculty members in America’s colleges and universities had the option to join a conservative union with a national membership that advocated a return to pro-Western college instruction, an end to reverse discrimination, a restoration of academic merit as the sole criteria for admission and graduation, and the abolition of divisive courses of study that offer no useful skills? What if conservative faculty members who have been silent all these years had the power of a national union to protect them from the Left?

What if K-12 teachers across America had a national union to protect them when they objected to curricula designed to turn immigrant children against the people and traditions of their host culture? What if police and firefighters across America had a national union that advocated unequivocally for a merit-based system of immigration? What if civil engineers across America had a national union that was implacably opposed to the environmentalist extremism that has doubled the cost of infrastructure projects and quadrupled the time it takes to complete them?

Enforcing Janus will begin to undermine public sector union power, which is deployed almost exclusively in the service of the Left. Enforcing Uradnik may actually create a balance of power between public sector unions that lean Left vs Right, and that, in turn, would represent a seismic shift in the political landscape of America. At the least, it would neutralize the tremendous boost that public sector unions have given the political Left in America. At most, it might create a hitherto unthinkable consensus in America that public sector unions are indeed inherently political, and have far too much political influence, and must be subject to draconian restrictions including losing the right to collectively bargain, if not complete abolition.

School Choice Matters: Teachers unions still trying to deny parental choice

shocked-kid-apIn March, six months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island’s lawmakers approved a bill that offered parents school choice options, including vouchers and charter schools. Hardly radical, the voucher program was capped at 3 percent of total student enrollment and charters could not exceed 10 percent of all public schools.

As day follows night, the teachers union in Puerto Rico filed a lawsuit arguing that it is unconstitutional to use public funds for private schools. And then in April, another bit of devastation hit the tiny island: Hurricane Randi blew in. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, still aglow after teacher strikes had crippled the educational process in West Virginia and Oklahoma, decided to direct Puerto Rican educators follow suit.

Weingarten was overheard on a train plotting a shutdown strategy, but the union boss wanted to make sure that it was not called a strike, claiming they never use the “S” word. Instead, she said the public should be told “We are a human shield for the kids … teachers are doing this in the stead of parents and kids.”

On August 10, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court threw out the lawsuit, allowing the two small choice programs to go on as planned. And as night follows day, the union called a strike to protest the choice law and a few other policy changes. The good news is that it was a one-day walkout which began and ended on August 15.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, it’s no secret that the teachers union is in conflict with the school district, and a strike in October could follow. One bone of contention is the staffing of magnet schools, which are public schools of choice with specialized themes – performing arts, science and math, those aimed at gifted students, et al. These schools can draw students from outside the normal zip-code mandated boundaries, are very successful, popular with parents in Los Angeles, and are rapidly expanding.

Since magnet schools offer a specialized curriculum, they need teachers who are well-versed in certain subject areas. So what’s the big deal? The United Teachers of Los Angeles is demanding that if a school or part of a school is to be converted from a traditional program to a magnet program, “certificated bargaining unit employees at the school shall have a right to assignment at the converted school and shall not be required to reapply for assignment to the school after conversion.” This is like saying that if you had heart palpitations, you would have to be treated by a dermatologist because the hospital couldn’t hire a cardiologist.

But of course the union is doing this for the kids!

And what would a month be without a new bogus study on school choice? The latest entry comes from the Network for Public Education, a union-friendly outfit that believes in zip code-mandated government schools über alles. The group solemnly reports that “fewer and fewer states are escaping school privatization’s reach.” I’ll save the details for another day, but for now, let’s just say the National Education Association’s reporton the study makes it sound as if privatization is the equivalent of a bubonic plague that is rapidly ravaging our educational landscape.

But a poll from earlier this year paints a very different picture. According to EdChoice, only 33 percent of parents prefer that their child go to a public school, yet nationwide 83 percent of kids actually do. While 42 percent of parents would prefer to send their child to a private school, only 10 percent do. Also, a recent American Federation for Children poll, conducted by a Democratic polling firm, showed that 63 percent of likely voters support school choice, and among those most in need, the numbers are higher, with 72 percent of Latinos and 66 percent of African Americans favoring it.

In addition to the above, the survey found that 54 percent of Democrats support school choice. In our ultra-politically polarized time, this is very important. School choice has become a truly bipartisan issue, with more and more liberals sticking up for kids and taking on the teachers unions. In an eloquent and powerful piece, Catherine Durkin Robinson, who self-identifies as a “militant advocate, organizer and member of the Democratic Party for 30 years,” has quit her party. She deplores the fact that the Dems toe the teachers union party line because the union provides hefty campaign contributions to them. “This movement has helped me look closer at my side of the aisle. I’m so very disappointed in a party that refuses to fight for the people who need it most – children struggling to break free from generational poverty. Education is the most reliable way to do that. Democrats are blocking the schoolhouse door.”

If Ms. Robinson is any indication, the unions’ loss in the Janus case may just be the beginning of a descent that not even Hurricane Randi will be able to manipulate.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center

L.A. teachers union schedules strike authorization vote

UTLAThe Los Angeles teachers union announced Friday that it has scheduled a strike-authorization vote for later this month.

A strike would not be automatic, even if a majority of members vote yes. But such a result would give union leaders the authority to call a strike without returning to members for another vote. Having members authorize a strike is a well-established pressure tactic, and once in a while, a strike does occur.

United Teachers Los Angeles scheduled the vote after the state’s Public Employment Relations Board agreed with the union that talks were deadlocked.

Other district employee unions have reached deals that provide for about a 6% raise over three years. L.A. Unified has yet to offer that much to teachers, but that’s clearly where officials want to end up. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

Teachers’ union leaders grandstand about evil corporations while drawing fat salaries

School union protestAmerican Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten recently pilloried President Trump’s health plan in the Huffington Post: “GOP Rewards The Rich, Rips Off The Rest Of Us,” she declared. Is Weingarten among “the rest of us?” The union leader hauled in $472,197 last year.

Weingarten is hardly the only fat-cat teachers’ union leader. According to the Department of Labor, National Education Association executive director John Stocks bagged $355,721 last year, while NEA president Lily Eskelsen García scraped by on $317,826. At the 2017 California Democratic Party Convention, California Teachers Association president Eric Heins ranted about billionaires without acknowledging his own $317,000 total compensation package. CTA executive director Joe Nunez’s compensation is $460,000; associate ED Emma Leheny makes $480,000, and deputy ED Karen Kyhn gets by on $427,000 yearly. New York City’s United Federation of Teachers boss Michael Mulgrew is practically working class by comparison, making $288,000.

Teachers’ union bosses are obsessed with “corporate” bogeymen. The Janus v.AFSCME case, if decided in the plaintiffs’ favor, will free public employees in 22 states from having to pay any money to a union as a condition of employment. The NEA sees the case as a plot by corporate interests to weaken unions. Schools are “the centers of our communities, not corporate profit centers,” Heins says.

But no one is more willing to invoke the “c” word than United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl. The UTLA honcho is on a mission to kill Proposition 13 protections for corporations. In a state aptly called “Taxifornia,” Proposition 13 is a desperately needed lifeline, limiting property-tax increases for business and individuals. The UTLA has released a barrage of propaganda in an attempt to close the “corporate property-tax loophole” and “level the playing field.”

Funny how Caputo-Pearl and other union leaders neglect to point out that teachers’ unions are themselves de facto corporations, though with a difference: all their income — money they get from teachers, voluntarily or otherwise — is tax-free. No teachers’ union — or any union — pays a penny in taxes. The unions have oodles of spare cash on hand — and they park a good deal of it with corporations. As teachers’ union watchdog Mike Antonucci writes, the NEA sinks lots of money into mutual funds, which invest in big corporations, including “AT&T, Verizon, Target, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, IBM, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Comcast, Coca-Cola, Philip Morris, Microsoft, Boeing, JP Morgan Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and Aramark.” The NEA “invests in 9 of the 10 richest corporations in the United States,” Antonucci says.

So union leaders howl about the rich and how corporations don’t pay their “fair share in taxes,” but they support the biggest corporations with their own untaxed income — income that puts many union leaders themselves into the 1 Percent Club.

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