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April 24, 2015 standard

These days, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis doesn’t have much to be optimistic about. Certainly her arch-nemesis, Rahm Emanuel, is dealing with the fallout from allegations of corruption against now-sidelined Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett as well as having to address the Second City’s virtually-insolvent pensions. But scandals and financial problems are the costs politicians pay for winning re-election. The fact that Emanuel still oversees the nation’s third-largest city and its traditional district means that Lewis and the American Federation of Teachers local have failed in its four-year-long goal of ending systemic reform.

So how big was the loss suffered by Lewis, CTU, and AFT? Thanks to a final tally of campaign dollars spent against Emanuel’s re-election by the ailing local boss, the local itself, and AFT, it can be quantified in financial terms.

Illinois campaign finance document shows that CTU’s political action committee spent $158,967.14 on behalf of Emanuel challenger Jesus (Chuy) Garcia during the week of Election Day. This includes $126,709.00 for one collection of phone banks used to get the word out to likely voters, as well as another $7,773.34 for field canvassing and poll watching activities. This spend is on top of the $110,299.79 CTU spent on Garcia’s behalf the week running up to the recall election, and the $152,293 poured into Garcia’s campaign since the union backed his run for the top office late last year.

Altogether, the Chicago AFT local poured $421,559.93 into opposing Emanuel’s re-election. This, by the way, doesn’t include the money spent directly by the union on Garcia’s campaign (including expenditures for so-called representational activities that are almost always political in nature). It also doesn’t include the $16,000 Lewis’ mayoral exploratory committee tossed into Garcia’s campaign early on.

The good news for Lewis, such as it can be, is that CTU wasn’t the only branch of AFT that embarrassed itself spending plenty against Emanuel’s successful re-election. The AFT’s Big Apple local, United Federation of Teachers, dumped $20,000 into Garcia’s campaign right on Election Day. The donation came a couple of weeks after a $10,000 donation by New York State United Teachers, AFT’s virtually-busted state affiliate, and a $50,000 donation by the union’s Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Then there’s the national AFT’s own spend. By the time the union cut its losses and all but conceded that Emanuel would win re-election, AFT’s political action committee had poured $902,103.20 into Garcia’s campaign. This included $649,503.20 on behalf of Garcia during the month of March before the runoff. [This doesn’t include any spending out of the union’s main coffers or outside spending by its Solidarity Fund 527 operation.]

How big was AFT’s spend against Emanuel? To put this in context, AFT spent $169,703.20 more on Garcia’s losing campaign than it did on helping Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf oust predecessor Tom Corbett last November, and $33,253.20 more than it did on every campaign it subsidized in California (including Supt. Tom Torlakson’s victory over reformer Marshall Tuck). Unlike in Chicago, AFT’s victories in the Keystone and Golden states ensure the union’s efforts to preserve the array of policies and practices that are at the heart of its influence within those locales as well as the nation as a whole. And for less money and public effort to boot.

When all the spending is put together, CTU, AFT, and the national union’s other affiliates spent a massive $1.4 million to back Garcia’s challenge against Emanuel. For all that money, they collectively garnered support from a mere two out of every five voters for their agenda. Because Emanuel no longer needs to fear threats by CTU and AFT, he can now pursue a more-aggressive reform agenda, likely for as long as he chooses to be Chicago mayor. Given the presence of reform-oriented Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner as well as a legislature that will usually do what Chicago’s mayor demands, and CTU (along with AFT and its Illini affiliate) have lost even more clout than necessary.

In the process, Lewis is now on the defensive. As Dropout Nation noted earlier this month, she now has to choose between continuing the union’s hardcore traditionalist stance that merely empowers Emanuel or take a more accomodationist that will alienate her and CTU from its base of supporters. Landing between rocks and hard places is what happens when a teachers’ union boss stokes the ire of its most-hardcore activists without achieving any tangible results. One can expect Lewis to eventually get the business end of this wrath among CTU activists against systemic reform.

As for AFT? Given the high cost of defeat, you can expect the union’s crafty president, Randi Weingarten, to turn back to the only-slightly-more-successful triangulation strategy she pushed until Lewis’ emergence as the darling of hardcore traditionalists. After all, Lewis’ hardcore traditionalist strategy has largely proven to be a failure everywhere it has been applied; it wasn’t even much of a factor in AFT’s success in Pennsylvania, where Wolf took advantage of predecessor Corbett’s widespread unpopularity and lackluster tenure as the Keystone State’s top executive. While Weingarten will continue to play a little bit to the passions of hardcore traditionalists, she will quietly go back to embracing watered-down versions of systemic reform efforts because it is the only approach that will likely keep the union from losing more influence.

More money alone doesn’t equal better results. This is true in American public education as a whole. And as seen this month in Chicago, it is even more so when it comes to efforts by AFT and NEA to oppose systemic reform.

 

 

April 20, 2015 standard

One lesson of politics: Congratulations become condolences. This is something Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel already knows. Beating Jesus (Chuy) Garcia earlier this month to win a second term as chief executive of the Second City’s government now means having to deal with new woes. This includes the fallout from last week’s revelation that Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett (now on leave) is under investigation allegedly awarded a $20 million no-bid contract to her former employer, SUPES Academy.

But the biggest challenge facing Emanuel is figuring out how to deal with decades of mismanagement of its collection of pensions by predecessor Richard M. Daley and by public-sector unions who control the boards that oversee them. This includes addressing the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, a virtual subsidiary of the American Federation of Teachers’ Chicago Teachers Union, which continues to offer less-than-honest data on its woeful fiscal condition.

The pension officially reports a shortfall of $9.5 billion for 2013-2014, a slight decline from the $9.6 billion reported in the previous year. This can be attributed to stronger-than-expected gains in the financial markets, along with a 52.7 percent year-to-year decline in the number of retirees added to the rolls.

But as Dropout Nation readers already know, those numbers do not reflect reality. For one, thanks to an actuarial trick called smoothing, which requires losses and gains to be phased in over five years instead of immediately as they should be, CTPF isn’t reporting its true financial position. In this case, the pension is failing to report $770 million in investment gains over the past few years; when added to the officially-reported numbers, the underfunding would decline to $8.7 billion.

The other reason why the officially-reported numbers don’t reflect reality? The overly-inflated assumed investment rate of return of 7.75 percent. The value of the Chicago teachers’ pension’s assets declined by eight percent on an actuarial basis between 2009-2010 and 2013-2014, and increased by only 20.9 percent (or 4.17 percent a year) on a market value basis within that period. Overly-inflated assumed rates of return are problematic because pensions can report insolvencies as being lower than they actually are during both good times and bad, which means that politicians can’t engage in honest, fiscally-sensible problem-solving of their virtual insolvencies.

To get to the heart of the matter, Dropout Nation utilizes a version of a technique developed by Moody’s Investors Service, which assumes a more-realistic 5.5 percent rate of a return. [Moody’s bases its rate of return on the Citibank Pension Liability Index, which is based on the yield for AA-rated corporate bonds.]

Let’s start with the officially-reported liability: Based on the calculation, CTPF is underfunded to the tune of $12.3 billion, or 30 percent more than officially reported. The good news is that the underfunding is 1.6 percent lower than the $12.5 billion shortfall DN determined last year. But even with this slight decline, taxpayers would have to contribute an additional $722.9 million a year over the next 17 years in order to address the shortfall; this is 123 percent more than the $585 million the city contributed in 2013-2014.

[Pension costs accounted for 10.5 percent of the $5.6 billion spent in 2013-2014 by Chicago Public Schools, whose budget is technically separate from the $8.7 billion spent by the rest of the Second City’s government; an additional $722.9 million in contributions that year would have increased the percentage of district spending devoted to pensions to 23.4 percent. If the budgets for both the schools were together on one ledger — adding up to $14.3 billion for 2013-2014 — the teachers’ pension contributions would have accounted for 4.1 percent of the overall budget; the additional contributions would have increased the percentage of expenditures dedicated to the pension to 9.1 percent. In fact, the contributions made to CTPF in 2013-2014 are greater than the $478.3 million contributed by the city to its other pensions put together.]

But what if we use $8.7 billion, which is lower than the officially-reported shortfall thanks to the inclusion of unreported gains? Based on Dropout Nation‘s calculations, CTPF is underfunded to the tune of $11.3 billion, which is 30 percent higher than the $8.7 billion number and 19 percent more than the officially-reported liability. Based on a 17-year amortization schedule, taxpayers would have to contribute an additional $664 million to the pension, also more than double what they put into the pension last fiscal year.

None of this, by the way, includes the unfunded retired teacher healthcare obligations that CTPF bears on behalf of the city. The good news is that pension assumes a more-realistic 4.5 percent rage of return on the investments dedicated to covering those costs. Even better, the unfunded actuarial accrued obligation of $1.9 billion in 2013-2014 is 19 percent lower than the previous fiscal year. But when added on top of the pension insolvency, Emanuel must ultimately address insolvency of between $13.2 billion and $14.2 billion. This is a tall order, especially given the liabilities of the city’s other pensions.

Given that Chicago skipped out on contributions to CTPF over the previous 18 years thanks to an Illinois law allowing it to do so, no one can feel sorry for the city government on this front. It should have been doing the responsible thing and making those payments. But it isn’t just the fault of the city alone. The AFT’s Second City local, which controls the majority of seats on the pension, has also aided in the pension’s mismanagement. Between years of silence over the failure of Daley and other politicians to properly contribute to the pension, to allowing it to use overly inflated rates of return, CTU has done as much as city officials to poorly serve teachers, taxpayers, and children.

For the pension, it won’t get better anytime soon. Fewer Baby Boomers in the Chicago district’s classrooms retired in 2013-2014 than in previous years. Still, the pension can expect 1,550 teachers to retire every year (based on data for the previous 10 years). With each retiree collecting an average annual annuity of $45,792, CTPF can expect to add at least an additional $71 million a year in additional annuity payments, exacerbating its insolvency. In fact, new retirees in 2013-2014 received an initial average annual annuity of $70,539.89, 54 percent more than the average.

Another factor lies with the lawsuit filed by AFT’s Illinois affiliate and other public-sector unions to stop the modest pension reforms implemented by the Prairie State last year as part of Senate Bill 1; Emanuel’s own plan to address CTPF’s insolvency (and that of the city’s other pensions) is based on the state’s plan. A state court judge has already halted the implementation of S.B. 1, leading to speculation that the state supreme court will rule the reforto halt the implementation of S.B. 1 and the possibility that the state supreme court will rule the measures unconstitutional, Emanuel has little room to maneuver. Certainly the city could address the pension insolvencies by filing for bankruptcy, something that Detroit did with great success over the last two years. But no politician wants to make such a drastic move unless it is unavoidable.

Then there’s the traditional district’s fiscal woes aside from the pension. As the Chicago Sun-Times noted on Saturday, a downgrade in CPS’s credit rating may force it to pay off $228 million in interest rate swaps. Given that the district has already seen its cash on hand decline by 79 percent (from $1.1 billion to $227 million) within the last year, and that it is struggling mightily with pension payments, any pension reform plan will have to involve tapping the coffers of the main city government. With the other pensions also in trouble, Emanuel has a massive problem on his hands.

No matter what happens with S.B. 1 or with CPS’ financial position, Emanuel will have to take numerous steps to address the CTPF’s financial straits for the long haul. Making full contributions is a key part of the solution. So is addressing the governance of CTPF itself; this includes convincing legislators in Springfield to significantly reduce the eight seats controlled by CTU, and effectively giving the mayor full control of the teachers pension (along with the city’s other retirement funds). Restricting increases in cost-of-living adjustments (a key reason for increases in the pension’s virtual insolvency) is also critical.

As Dropout Nation advised last year, Emanuel’s pension reform plan must both restrict increases in cost-of-living adjustments (a reason for increasing insolvency) and also allow younger teachers to reap the full rewards of their work. so that they can reap the full rewards of their work. This would feature a defined-contribution account toward which teachers can contribute as much of their income to retirement as they see fit (with a five percent match from the city), as well as a cash-balanced plan that guarantees an annual savings rate. Such a move, by the way, would also help the pension (and ultimately, taxpayers) by reducing the number of new annuitants that will add to its insolvency.

But the first and most-important step lies with getting accurate numbers on the level of CTPF’s shortfall. Emanuel should lean hard on the pension to downwardly revise its assumed rate of return in order to get a more-realistic assessment of the pension’s woes. He must also lobby state legislators to end smoothing techniques that further obscure the pension’s true financial condition. These two key steps will ultimately help Emanuel level honestly with Second City taxpayers about what needs to be done to get the pension and the municipality on the path to solvency. And if he succeeds, will mark his second term as a well-earned success.

April 8, 2015 standard

There are reformers who are going to argue that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s victory in tonight’s runoff election for a second term is an absolute mandate for his entire agenda. Not so fast. Any situation in which an incumbent mayor wins less than 50 percent of the vote in an official election and worse, forced into a runoff, makes such a statement pure hogwash. This isn’t to say that there aren’t Second City voters supporters who back the systemic reform efforts Emanuel and predecessor Richard M. Daley have overseen for three decades. But given that the mayor is responsible for far more than public education — and in light of dissatisfaction over Emanuel’s and Daley’s efforts on that as well as other quality-of-life issues — Emanuel can’t claim a mandate. [Not that mandates exist the way ideologues, partisans, and pundits ever think.]

At the same time, traditionalists and teachers’ union bosses, along with their allies among progressives, are forced to admit this reality: That their campaign to halt the path of systemic reform — and force centrist Democrats to adopt their agenda — has all turned out for naught. Especially for the American Federation of Teachers and its Chicago Teachers Union, which (along with other AFT locals) have spent $1.2 million during this election to unseat Emanuel, this defeat should prompt plenty of soul searching about their embrace of failed policies and practices that voters have soundly rejected.

As your editor predicted on Friday, AFT declined to throw more money at Cook County Commissioner Jesus (Chuy) Garcia’s campaign to unseat Emanuel once the latest round of polls showed him trailing the mayor by as much as 28 percentage points. Even as its Second City local desperately issued press releases — including a particularly sleazy flack piece attempting to link Emanuel’s reform efforts to the guilty verdicts against 11 teachers and school leaders involved in the Atlanta test-cheating scandal — AFT refused to infuse Garcia’s campaign with more cash and didn’t do any public relations on his behalf. By Tuesday morning, it was clear that AFT was wiping its hands of the debacle, leaving CTU (along with the Service Employees International Union and its affiliates) with the job of cleaning up the mess.

Ultimately, Emanuel won by 11.4 percentage point margin. AFT President Randi Weingarten attempted a positive spin on the failed effort up by proclaiming that the runoff sent a message that Emanuel’s “education policies have to change.” But when you look closely at Emanuel’s victory, the message for reformers and traditionalists is far different than what Weingarten and her allies want to claim it to be.

As I have noted, Emanuel didn’t win an overall mandate. Certainly crime has declined under Emanuel’s watch. But Chicago’s homicide rate remains three times higher than that of New York City, while its police department’s tactics (including mislabeling of homicides as anything but and alleged torture of suspects done at a warehouse on the city’s West Side) have been generally ineffective in addressing violence in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. If Emanuel had done a better job on the crime front (and had less of an Adrian Fenty-ish demeanor to boot), he wouldn’t have ended up in a runoff in the first place.

But at the same time, the majority of Second City voters clearly showed that they were satisfied with Emanuel on other fronts. This includes his battle with public-sector unions over addressing Chicago’s massive defined-benefit pension insolvencies. Public-sector unions, especially CTU, along with the Service Employees International Union and the city’s police union, thought they could use class warfare rhetoric to win voters over to their side. But as it turned out, voters realize that the city faces a fiscal crisis — including a teachers’ pension busted to the tune of $12.3 billion (based on a preliminary Dropout Nation analysis that will be published on Friday) — that cannot be addressed by continuing the status quo. On this front, Emanuel’s pugnaciousness serves him well, especially compared to Garcia’s position as the standardbearer for public-sector unions.

As for Emanuel’s school reform efforts: Voters made clear that they should continue apace. This became clear late last month, when a Chicago Tribune poll revealed that likely voters sided with Emanuel’s efforts over those proposed by Garcia by as much as 14 percentage points.

Certainly there is plenty of divide over Emanuel’s approach and ire over his move two years ago to shut down 47 half-empty traditional district schools. As Dropout Nation noted last November, Emanuel should be even more aggressive on the reform front, especially in passing a Parent Trigger law allowing families to take over failing district schools. But voters have a hard time arguing with improved student achievement. Given that the city’s high school graduation rate increasing from 39 percent to 66 percent between 2005 and 2013, and the percentage of Second City fourth-graders reading Below Basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress declined from 60 percent to 49 percent within the last decade, the reforms Emanuel (and before him, Daley) have undertaken are helping more kids. Add in the evidence that the school closings have actually helped more kids get into better-performing schools, and it is hard to argue that the reform efforts aren’t working.

This isn’t to say that Chicago doesn’t have more to do to improve its traditional district. Emanuel should immediately order his schools czar, Barbara Byrd Bennett, to put additional focus on improving achievement for the city’s young black men; the failure of the district on this front is simply unacceptable. Emanuel should also continue the city’s efforts to reduce overuse of harsh school discipline, which would keep more Second City kids off the path to poverty and prison.  — will help even more kids succeed. As a study released last month by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research has shown, reducing out-of-school suspensions along with over reforms can lead to schools actually being safer; if anything, overuse of suspensions is clearly tied to low student achievement resulting from laggard teaching and curricula.

AFT’s Chicago local boss Karen Lewis spent four years battling Rahm Emanuel’s reforms. Now she must figure out how to deal with her union’s big loss.

The success of Emanuel’s and Daley’s reforms even extend to the expansion of public charter schools, which now serve 15.2 percent of Chicago’s school-aged children. As a study released last month by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes has shown, poor kids attending Second City charters gained 35 additional days of learning in reading over peers in the traditional district’s schools.

This isn’t exactly unqualified success; as CREDO also shows, Chicago’s charters have to do better in improving achievement on other fronts. The fraud scandal that has engulfed the UNO chain of charter schools is a clear sign that Emanuel must overhaul how the district authorizes and oversees charters; in fact, given that Chicago city government has a conflict of interest on this front, Illinois state officials should end the city’s status as an authorizer and put that role into the hands of either the University of Chicago or another outfit. But the study bears out evidence in other studies — including Rand Corp.’s 2010 study of charters in Chicago and other locals — that expanding choice is helping more Second City kids succeed in school and in life.

In the face of all this evidence, there was no way Garcia could convince voters that his sparsely-detailed proposals on education would work better. Garcia couldn’t even prove that he would act in the best interests of Chicago’s children and families. After all, he proved through word and deed that he would only do the bidding of CTU and the national AFT; given that his bid for the mayoralty wouldn’t have happened without CTU’s early and enthusiastic endorsement (over the opposition of hardcore traditionalists who preferred Ald. Bob Fioretti for the challenger’s spot), there was no way Garcia could distance himself from the union. By be so wedded to CTU’s agenda (as well as that of other public-sector unions), Garcia proved to voters (with the help of Emanuel’s ad blitz) that he was bought by the union for a few shekels.

But Garcia isn’t the only one who lost this election. As Dropout Nation noted last week, Emanuel ‘s victory is also an embarrassing defeat for CTU and its ailing president, Karen Lewis. After spending four years challenging Emanuel’s reforms, and arguing alongside hardcore traditionalists that it was better to go radical than to embrace the triangulation previously championed by Weingarten, CTU and Lewis could do little better than garner support for its agenda from two out of every five voters in both the general election and the runoff. That CTU couldn’t even muster much support from poor and minority communities — especially black voters — is especially telling.

Because Emanuel has won this tough fight, he will now be politically invincible. Not only will the mayor remain in office for another four years, he can choose to remain in office as long as he wants the same way Daley pere (and his legendary father) were able. Without an ally in the top job, Lewis finds herself in a tough spot. Continuing her hardcore traditionalist approach will not win her any more victories; in fact, it will merely give Emanuel an even freer hand to do as he please on the education front. But if Lewis embraces the go-along approach taken by Weingarten for most of her career in the AFT, she will end up getting the business end of the hardcore traditionalist ire she has fanned since becoming the union’s boss four years ago.

But none of this should be shocking. As I noted two years ago, CTU’s biggest victory — a two-week strike that led Emanuel to back off of some of his reforms — was merely defensive. The deal Emanuel struck with the union still allowed him to increase school days, angering Lewis’ allies; that the strike couldn’t stop the use of student test score growth data in teacher evaluations mandated under state law also made the strike little more than just one overgrown tantrum. For all of CTU’s bluster, it has little support from families who have suffered the most from the failed policies and practices it (along with the national AFT) have long defended.

As for AFT? Emanuel’s victory is also a sobering moment. For all of Weingarten’s bluster last night, even she realizes that the union (along with its traditionalist, progressive, and public-sector union allies) has lost big. AFT local bosses duplicating the approach taken by Lewis in Chicago — and championed by Weingarten to satisfy the hardcore activists within national’s ranks — now know they will not succeed. Centrist Democrats, especially those in big cities, now have evidence that standing strong for school reform (as well as addressing virtually-busted pensions) will not result in political defeat. In short, they no longer have to fear losing the backing of AFT and NEA affiliates who have been the most-prominent players within Democratic Party politics.

The fact that AFT and NEA have done little to cultivate ties to Republicans (who aren’t a presence in most urban communities anyway) means that they (along with their public-sector union brethren) are isolated and, thus, have less influence than they have had in the past. This reality has been clear for some time. But Emanuel’s hard-fought victory adds the proverbial exclamation point. The ramifications of the mayor’s victory will be reflected in next year’s race for the White House; likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton could easily toss a few bones to AFT and NEA and still embrace a strong systemic reform agenda. Given that likely Republican candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin have strong reform bona fides, Hillary will have almost no choice but to do so.

Even worse for AFT is that Emanuel’s victory will continue to raise questions among the rank-and-file as to whether the grand bargain struck with the union long ago is worth the money they are (often) forced to pay. With nearly a million dollars wasted on a political campaign that only resulted in defeat, and with reformers encouraged to continue efforts to overhaul the traditional teacher compensation deals that have made teaching the most-comfortable profession in the public sector, Baby Boomers likely wish they can get those dues back. Younger teachers, who want to elevate the profession, have already raised that question. And if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn its four decade-old Abood decision allowing public-sector unions to compel workers to pay dues regardless of membership status, expect more teachers to flee AFT and NEA ranks.

All in all, Emanuel’s victory is a resounding defeat for AFT and its fellow traditionalists.

 

 

 

April 3, 2015 standard

With Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel comfortably leading in the polls — and gaining the endorsement of a rival previously favored by some traditionalists, Alderman Bob Fioretti — the American Federation of Teachers’ bellicose Second City local is pulling out all the stops to help favored candidate Jesus (Chuy) Garcia make up whatever ground he can.

The Chicago Teachers Union reports to the Illinois State Board of Elections that it spent $110,299.79 on Garcia’s behalf within the last few days. This includes $80,000 on radio spots touting his candidacy and attacking Emanuel produced by Screen Strategies Media of Centreville, Va., as well as $11,940.17 on newspaper advertising put together by Alexandria, Va., campaign firm Mack-Sumner Communications. Screen Strategies Media, by the way, is a key vendor of the national AFT for its lackluster Reclaim the Promise campaign; while Mack-Sumner, a powerhouse that has long worked on behalf of Democrats, has ties to the Service Employees International Union, a key backer of Garcia’s campaign (and likely to Michelle Ringuette, the former SEIU executive who is now Randi Weingarten’s top special mandarin). The AFT local is also putting an additional $6,279 into phone banks as well as for “canvassing” local communities for votes.

None of this spending, by the way, includes the costs CTU is bearing for a rally it is holding Saturday at New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s Westside. That event will certainly feature CTU President Karen Lewis along with a group of AFT vassals that includes Rev. Jesse Jackson (whose Rainbow PUSH Coalition has collected $75,000 in AFT money over the last two years), Rep. Danny Davis (a beneficiary of $45,000 in AFT donations during his congressional career), and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka (who is repaying AFT for its support of his successful campaign last year for the New Jersey city’s top office as well as helping the union in its efforts against the reform efforts of Supt. Cami Anderson).

Certainly this won’t necessarily help Garcia make up what is at least a 16-point gap in the polls against Emanuel. But CTU (along with AFT) can say that it is building a movement that will eventually stop systemic reform efforts. All at the cost of $262,592.79 (including this week’s spend).

Of course, CTU isn’t the only key backer of Garcia’s campaign pouring as much money in as possible to salvage it. SEIU and its affiliates in Chicago, Pennsylvania, California, and Florida has spent $81,629.04 on Garcia’s behalf; the Communications Workers of America and its units have put $65,000 of skin into the game; and MoveOn.org’s political action committee has spent $9,400 this week on billboards for Garcia’s effort. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute (who once wrote a piece in the Huffington Post defending Emanuel after he was appointed to serve as the Obama Administration’s chief of staff) tossed $1,200 into Garcia’s campaign; Zogby, the brother of the famed pollster, is just one of many Arab-Americans (including Iftekhar Shareef, a head of a healthcare supply firm) donating plenty to Garcia’s campaign and against Emanuel, a longtime supporter of Israel.

The big question is how much more will the national AFT kick in on behalf of Garcia? Given that the union has already kicked in $649,503.20 on behalf of Garcia over the last month (and $902,103.20 altogether this election season), there’s no reason to think that the union will stop now. On Wednesday while in Chicago, Weingarten pledged the union’s support for Garcia as part of an announcement of the launch of a partnership with one of its vassals, Kenwood Oakland Neighborhood Organization, and CTU to “reverse the tide of disinvestment and the effects of gentrification” supposedly caused by systemic reform. It will likely be similar to the Reconnecting McDowell public relations effort the union is undertaking in Wisconsin with the help of its state affiliate there.

But with polls from Odgen & Fry, the Chicago Tribune, radio station WVON, and the Chicago Defender showing that Emanuel leads Garcia by as much as 28 percentage points, it may not make sense for AFT or Weingarten to kick good money after bad. Especially when the union is also weighing on Philadelphia’s mayoral race, as well as possibly preparing to launch an ad blitz pushing congressional Democrats to pass a reauthorized version of the No Child Left Behind Act that favors its interests. So there is a good chance that AFT national will sit the rest of this race out.

As a result, this could leave CTU (along with SEIU and others) bearing the consequences of Garcia’s all-but-likely loss next Tuesday. Particularly for Lewis, who, despite her ailing health, likely wants to one day lead the national AFT, Garcia’s loss (and Emanuel’s victory) damages her profile. Sure, she can still claim that she forced an incumbent mayor into a run-off. But given Emanuel’s problems on other fronts, that’s not much of a claim to make. The big payoff comes with Garcia winning the office and knowing that he will do her bidding (as well as that of Weingarten and AFT).

But with Emanuel in office for another four years (and, if he chooses to remain mayor, for as long as he wants), Lewis will find herself adopting the same accommodationist approach Weingarten had to take on when she was head of the AFT’s United Federation of Teachers in New York. This will likely result in Lewis getting the business end of the hardcore traditionalist ire she has fanned since becoming the union’s boss four years ago; she nearly paid that price in 2013.

Meanwhile a Garcia loss will temper the efforts of Lewis’ mini-mes elsewhere. This includes California, where Alex Caputo-Pearl, the boss of AFT’s United Teachers Los Angeles, has been threatening a work stoppage against L.A. Unified if the district doesn’t agree to the union’s demands for an 8.5 percent raise. [The contract dispute between the union and the district is now before a state mediator.] With so much political influence that can be lost because of an election defeat, AFT locals (along with those of the National Education Association) may be more circumspect about mounting election challenges and more-thoughtful about how radical they should be in defending what clout that remains.

Whatever happens on Tuesday, you can expect CTU to expend as much of its resources as possible to make its stand against Emanuel and systemic reform. Even if it doesn’t lead to any success at the ballot box.

March 28, 2015 standard

As you would expect, the American Federation of Teachers isn’t just focused on making sure that Philadelphia’s mayor is one who favors its interests. There’s still the Chicago mayoral run-off, in which the union’s favored candidate, Jesus (Chuy) Garcia faces an uphill fight against incumbent Rahm Emanuel for the top municipal job. With so much at stake for the union and its notoriously-bellicose Second City local — which has spent the past few years campaigning for Emanuel’s ouster — it and its affiliates are spending plenty of cash on Garcia’s behalf.

Even before Garcia managed to help deny Emanuel enough votes to win the mayoral race outright, AFT and its affiliates spent heavily on the Cook County commissioner’s behalf. AFT donated $252,600 to Garcia’s campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The donations make the union the second-biggest donor to Garcia’s campaign after the Service Employees International Union’s Indiana healthcare affiliate, which oversees the union’s healthcare organizing in the Midwest.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union, AFT’s Second City local, poured $52,600 through its political action committee into Garcia’s campaign, while the campaign committee formed by the union’s boss, Karen Lewis, tossed in another $16,000; as you know, Lewis was looking to run against the top job before health problems forced her out of the running. The AFT’s Cook County College Teachers’ unit put another $3,000 into Garcia’s campaign.

But once Garcia managed to win second place against Emanuel for the mayoral runoff, AFT took its efforts up a few notches. Within the last month, AFT has directly and indirectly supported Garcia’s quest to unseat Emanuel to the tune of $649,503.20. This includes a massive $300,000 donation to Garcia’s campaign on March 12, along with another  $349,503.20 spent on get-out-the-vote efforts on the challenger’s behalf.

When the AFT bets heavily on a political campaign, you can expect its affiliates to follow right behind.

The union’s Illinois Federation of Teachers donated $50,000 to Garcia’s campaign, while its political action committee of its North Suburban unit put down another $10,000. Considering that CTU got the ball rolling on AFT’s effort to oust Emanuel, its PAC has spent $73,140 on ads touting Garcia’s candidacy and spent another $26,553 on “door-knocking” activities. Even New York State United Teachers, AFT’s virtually-insolvent state affiliate, got in on the action; it gave $10,000 to Garcia’s campaign on Friday, according to a disclosure by Illinois’ board of elections.

Altogether, AFT and its affiliates have spent $809,196.20 this month on Garcia’s quest for the Second City mayoralty. This, of course, doesn’t include the political spending done directly out of the union’s coffers and funded by teachers through dues and agency fees they are often forced to pay regardless of their desire to do so. This will include spending on so-called representational activities such as member e-mails, which end up being political activities because traditional school districts are government operations. Expect AFT to expend even more resources on Garcia’s behalf over the next 10 days.

For AFT President Randi Weingarten, a Garcia victory would be a rare bit of good news for her and the union.

It is unlikely that the union’s national overlord, Randi Weingarten, will make an appearance with Garcia in Chicago anytime soon. [She did appear with him in D.C. at a fundraising event.] After all, this is Karen Lewis’ territory and she isn’t one to like having someone else bogarting her faux class warfare schtick. But AFT has likely already thrown some cash to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, which has been a steadfast ally of the union’s efforts to halt the three decades of reform efforts undertaken by Emanuel and predecessor Richard M. Daley. Jackson’s crew has already collected $75,000 from the union over the past two years; he will certainly take more money to shill on behalf of the union at the expense of the Second City’s black children.

The Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, a community grassroots outfit that is advocating for the end of mayoral control of the Second City’s traditional district, will also likely get some AFT dollars in exchange for backing Garcia’s bid; it collected $60,000 from the union in 2013-2014, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor. Other organizations on the ground will likely also get some AFT cash in exchange for doing work.

As you expect, AFT isn’t the only public-sector union player supporting Garcia’s campaign. SEIU and its affiliates throughout the nation have poured plenty into the longtime Chicago politician’s campaign since its state unit moved to back him two weeks ago. The National Education Association, which has no presence in the Second City, is also playing its part; the union reported to Illinois election officials that it plunked down $50,000 into Garcia’s campaign, while its state affiliate chipped in another $25,000.

But AFT is by far the biggest backer of Garcia’s campaign — and stands to yield the greatest benefit if he wins. This includes essentially ending the Emanuel-Daley reform efforts as well as likely placing a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, the bane of the union’s existence. As in New York City, AFT and CTU would have a pliant mayor with little constituency who must repay his eternal debt to them.

The benefits extend beyond Chicago (as well as Lewis and Jesse Sharkey, who has been running the union in her stead). For Weingarten, whose efforts to stop reform (including attempts to triangulate reformers) have yielded almost no victories, plenty of political losses, numerous episodes of embarrassment, and ire from hardcore traditionalists upset about dwindling influence, Garcia’s win would allow her to claim some kind of success. It could even dissuade big-city Democrats in the rest of the country from undertaking systemic reform in any aggressive way.

Certainly Lewis would deserve ultimate credit; after all, it was her hardcore defensive of failed policies and practices, which have won her acclaim from fellow-travelers across the country, that led Weingarten to stop her triangulation of reformers. But Weingarten is first and foremost a politician — and a crafty one at that — which means she’ll glom on to Lewis’ hard work.

But will any of AFT’s efforts lead to a Garcia victory? This is unlikely. Certainly he could end up bringing out Latino voters who are undercounted in polling. But Garcia only managed to garner 34 percent of the vote against Emanuel’s 45 percent last month even though the other challengers — most-notably scandal-tarred Alderman Bob Fioretti — were weak and had little support. Back in January, CTU itself released a poll from Democrat pollster Celinda Lake’s eponymous firm (a longtime vendor of AFT) that underestimated Emanuel’s strength on Election Day by seven percentage points. With polling outfit Ogden & Fry showing that Emanuel’s lead has increased from 10 percentage points to 16 over the past two weeks, Garcia’s hopes of victory are slim.

There’s also the reality that the AFT’s own presence in this campaign, along with that of CTU and other public-sector unions, helps Emanuel in casting Garcia as little more than someone who will do its bidding. Given the qualified success of Emanuel’s reform efforts — including a study released in January by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research that shows that 93 percent of kids affected by the shutdown two years ago of 47 half-empty traditional district schools went to better-performing operations — neither Garcia nor AFT can make the case that Emanuel should no longer be the city’s chief executive. Add in the fact that Emanuel’s chief schools boss, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is no Michelle Rhee, and both Garcia and AFT lose a key foil for their mutual benefit campaign.

As I noted earlier this week in The American Spectator, Emanuel could still lose next month. But the mayor is running hard and scared — and that’s almost always bad for the challenger. As it stands now, AFT may have wasted a lot of money for almost no gain.

March 26, 2015 standard

Certainly this past election cycle turned out awfully for the American Federation of Teachers. From Andrew Cuomo’s successful re-election as New York Governor in spite of the unwillingness of the union’s Empire State affiliate to back him, to successful re-election campaigns by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich, and Michigan’s Rick Snyder, most of AFT’s effort to stem the decline of political influence over education policy (along with that of the National Education Association) largely amounted to nothing.

But the nation’s largest teachers’ union did manage to score a major victory in Pennsylvania, where the union and its state affiliate poured $732,400 into Tom Wolf’s successful campaign to unseat Tom Corbett as Keystone State governor. That spend, along with the additional $2 million spent by the AFT in Pennsylvania on behalf of its units there, has yielded significant benefits, especially for the union’s Philadelphia local, which is trying to justify its existence.

This included Wolf’s move earlier this month to shunt aside Bill Green as head of the state-controlled board overseeing Philadelphia’s traditional district weeks after it approved the opening of five new charter schools opposed by the union, as well as the appointment in January of Pedro Rivera, a former mandarin for the AFT’s Philly unit, as the state’s chief school officer.

An even bigger win could come within the next four years if Wolf can convince the Republican-controlled legislature to effectively hand back control of Philly’s district either to an elected school board (which the AFT likely prefers) or, more-likely, into the hands of Philadelphia’s mayor. The latter possibility is one reason why the union, along with its City of Brotherly Love unit, is looking to throw its weight in this year’s race to succeed the termed-out Michael Nutter as mayor.

The latest move by AFT came Wednesday when Forward Philadelphia, an outfit backed by the AFT and some of the progressive groups it has co-opted, launched an ad campaign for Jim Kenney, a city councilman who just recently tossed his hat into the ring for the Democratic mayoral nomination. As in most big cities, winning the Democratic nod essentially secures victory in the general election come November. Kenney has already won the backing of the AFT and its local, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, thanks to taking such stances favorable to its interests such as planning to push for a moratorium on charter school expansion and backing Wolf’s plans to hand off control of the traditional district to an elected school board the union can easily control.

Kenney’s willingness to basically do whatever AFT wants ensures that the union will spend plenty on his behalf. This includes much of the $697,240.05 PFT’s political action committee already has in its coffers as of last year, as well as the dollars the AFT’s state affiliate can deploy. More importantly, there are the vast resources the national AFT will put into Kenney’s campaign. After all, AFT’s 527 operation, the Solidarity Fund, still has $530,037 in its coffers, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which is more than enough to fund a string of ad blitzes; the union’s political action committee also has $2.7 million left after its big spend last year on congressional, state, and local campaigns.

You can also expect AFT to use the dues it often forcibly collects from teachers to support Kenney’s election effort. This will including spending big on hosting events at ritzy hotels such as the Sheraton Downtown (where the union hosted three events to the tune of $142,129 in 2013-2014, according to its filing with the U.S. Department of Labor). Weingarten will also make appearances in the city on behalf of Kenney in the days before Election Day as she did in Michigan and other places last year. [Whether or not her presence will do anything other than turn people off is another story entirely.]

To cover all the bases, AFT will also pour even more money into its vassals on the ground. This includes ACTION United, the so-called grassroots group which collected $49,120 from AFT last fiscal year for serving as an ally of the union’s Philadelphia local in its efforts against the financially-strapped district to keep it from closing half-empty schools and overhaul how it compensates teachers; and Philadelphia Student Union, which picked up $20,000 from the union and whose board includes Anissa Weinraub, a PFT union leader. As seen this week with Philadelphia Forward, you can expect AFT to prop up other progressive groups in order to drum up voters on Kenney’s behalf.

If Kenney manages to win office, AFT could clean up even better than it has from backing Wolf’s campaign. Unlike Nutter, who strongly backed reform efforts undertaken by the traditional district and didn’t oppose state control, Kenney would likely work closely with Wolf on making the union’s goals a reality. Even if the state ends up handing the district over to some form of mayoral control, Kenney will likely be as pliant to the AFT’s demands as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Anything to keep charters, which already serve 30 percent of Philadelphia’s school-aged children, from increasing enrollment (and costing the AFT local those precious union dues).

If the AFT’s Philadelphia local has its way, Kenney would also have help from the candidates it is backing for seats on the city council. This includes Sherrie Cohen, the scion of a political family, and Helen Gym, who has long sparred with reformers in the city (and has won the admiration of once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch); both are running for two of five at-large council seats. Even under a mayoral control scenario, AFT could be in position to work councilmembers to support its local’s aims to neuter systemic reform.

Whether Kenney actually succeed Nutter as Philadelphia Mayor remains an open question. The aspirant finds himself running against Lynn Abraham, the city’s former district attorney, whose tough-on-crime reputation (and nickname of Queen of Death) resonates strongly with citizens tired of Nutter’s failures on this and other aspects of quality of life. Abraham refuses to oppose removing the district from state control and, if anything, would prefer mayoral control over an elected board. [She is also neutral on the matter of expanding charters.]

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today, a poll taken by Abraham’s campaign shows Kenney trailing her by 16 percentage points. Certainly you must take such polls with a hunk of salt; after all, the Democratic primary won’t be held until May. But in a crowded field like this, Abraham’s name recognition makes it difficult for Kenney to win.

There’s also State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, whose strong and valiant efforts on expanding school choice and charters ensures that he will be backed by school reformers and charter school advocates both in and out of the city. In fact, the possibility of Williams winning office — and his declaration that he wants mayoral control for the traditional district — is one reason why AFT is working overtime on Kenney’s behalf.

Williams also has the backing of public- and private-sector unions such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners, and the Transportation Workers Union’s Local 234. While Kenney can claim AFT backing as well as that of the Service Employees International Union’s City of Brotherly Love local, Williams’ support from unions saps much-needed support away from Kenney to the dismay of Weingarten and Philadelphia local boss Jerry Jordan. That Williams is also black — a big issue in one of the nation’s most racially-divided cities (one still recovering from the legacy of the notorious Frank Rizzo) — also hurts Kenney’s chances.

For reformers, who haven’t paid nearly as much attention to the Philadelphia mayoral race as they should, it’s time to pay attention to AFT’s machinations. Especially since the City of Brotherly Love’s children (as well as their parents and other taxpayers) need systemic reform more than ever.

Featured photo: Philadelphia mayoral candidate Jim Kenney (far right behind AFT local boss Jerry Jordan) is a key player in the teachers’ union’s bid to stop systemic reform in the City of Brotherly Love.