Susan Bonilla and Joan Buchanan are Democrats who represent adjacent Assembly districts in the affluent East Bay suburbs along the Interstate 680 corridor. Bonilla, a former teacher, and Buchanan, a former school-board member, have both staked out public education as their big issue. However, the two are also potential – even probable – rivals when the region’s state Senate seat opens up in three years. They could even face each other twice under the top-two primary system.

voiceslogoThe two appear to be already vying for support from the education establishment, especially the California Teachers Association, which may explain, at least partially, why both moved highly controversial, CTA-backed bills through the Legislature this year and onto Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Bonilla’s Assembly Bill 484, signed this week, suspends the state’s academic testing program, thereby suspending creation of test-based Academic Performance Index scores for the state’s schools and undercutting the basis for parents to take control of low-performing schools from districts. The CTA and other elements of the education establishment loathe the testing/API process because it holds them publicly accountable and raises the possibility of teachers being graded on the achievements of students, or lack thereof…

Buchanan’s Assembly Bill 375, meanwhile, would make some largely cosmetic changes to the process for firing teachers who abuse children, but could, critics say, make the process even more Byzantine than it is now. The issue was sparked by the case of a sexually abusive teacher in Los Angeles who was essentially paid off, rather than fired. Last year, the Senate passed a bill to make firing such teachers easier, but the CTA killed the bill in the Assembly, saying it would violate teachers’ due process rights, and this year offered AB 375 as a substitute… Both bills demonstrate the immense influence that the teachers union enjoys in the Legislature and the lengths to which ambitious politicians will go to endear themselves to the powerful union.

Sacramento Bee Columnist Dan Walters, pointing out what happens when politicians care only about the influence and dollars they get from affiliates of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers instead of the futures of children. For shame.

When people think of lobbyists, they probably picture men clad in $2,000 suits, glad-handing politicians on behalf of well-heeled business clients. But one of the most powerful lobbyists in the capitol doesn’t represent private industry. The state’s second-largest lobbyist in terms of dollars spent is none other than the California Teachers Association. In the course of a decade, the CTA has spent more than $50 million alone lobbying politicians for legislation aimed at protecting and expanding its interests, usually at students’ and taxpayers’ expense. Few teachers realize, however, that they don’t have to finance the CTA’s political agenda. California may not be a right-to-work state, but most public school teachers have the right to a yearly rebate of $350 to $400 from their union—money that would otherwise line CTA lobbyists’ and political consultants’ pockets.

The ignominious history of the nearly 300,000 strong CTA is well-documented. The powerful union, with its enormous war chest, has managed to stifle any education-reform measure that it thinks will put a dent in its coffers. It has fought against vouchers, charter-school proliferation, and merit pay. At the same time, it fights to keep tenure, seniority, and endless dismissal statutes for incompetent teachers and pedophiles. The CTA’s spending fuels a broader liberal political agenda as well. In addition to spending millions lobbying legislators, the union was the largest donor to the successful Proposition 30 campaign last year, spending $11.4 million on the measure, which raised state income and sales taxes…

Of course, the union would be nothing without the largely coerced “generosity” of its memberships… When an audience member asked Vogel what portion of a teacher’s dues is spent on political activity, he replied that $36 goes to the union’s initiative fund and $8 goes into a political-action committee for candidates. The CTA’s own auditor, however, reports that the union collected $647 from its members in 2012-2013, of which 34.6 percent went to areas— especially politics—unrelated to collective bargaining and other representational functions. (When you add state and local union dues, California teachers pay over $1,000 a year on average.) If you take $44 and multiply it by 300,000 teachers, you get $13.2 million. The CTA’s annual political spending has exceeded $21 million on average since 2000. So Vogel’s dollar figure is well short of the mark.

Republican or conservative teachers are paying the union to support candidates and causes they oppose. For apolitical teachers, the question is why they should pay to support any causes or candidates at all? But teachers can forgo paying the political portion. It bears repeating that several U.S. Supreme Court rulings deny unions the right to force members to subsidize their political agenda. Teachers never hear this message when they join the CTA. They often aren’t aware that “agency-fee payers” (nonunion members) can request a rebate, even though they’re still forced to pay for “chargeable expenses” that are “germane to the union’s representational functions.”

Larry Sand of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, in City Journal, on how one NEA affiliate uses the dues it forces teachers to pay into its coffers by law for purposes contrary to many in the rank-and-file.

… our aspirations for our young people–rich, poor, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever–should be much more ambitious than the minimum wage, food stamps, and a housing voucher. I get the impression from many on the left, however, that they no longer believe in education as the great equalizer or even as a springboard to greater opportunities. They seem to glumly accept that children born into poverty are destined to do poorly in school, and will be lucky to end up in low-skilled jobs as adults. The best we can do for them is to ease their path to high school graduation, and then raise the minimum wage so that their low-skilled jobs will provide greater income–or find other ways to supplement their earnings with government services.

That approach to “poverty fighting” is wrong on at least two counts. First, it’s deeply pessimistic, taking a permanent underclass as a given while giving up on an immense amount of human potential. Second, it’s naĂŻve, both economically and politically. If we raise the minimum wage dramatically, won’t employers replace workers with robots or export the jobs to far-away places? And if taxpayers are asked to support perpetual benefits for a permanent underclass, don’t we think they will eventually rebel?

I take a different view, as do most ed-reformers. Rather than accept a future of low-skill, low-wage work for our impoverished young people, we aspire to build their “human capital”–their knowledge, skills, capabilities, talents, habits, character, however you want to phrase it–so that, among other things, the labor market will one day repay their contributions to society with a wage that far exceeds any minimums… here’s the thing, Deborah: I can’t figure out how to get from here to there except through better schools. Whatever the question, stronger schools seems to be the answer…

Thomas B. Fordham Institute honcho Mike Petrilli, in Education Week, explaining why education is the long-term solution for fighting poverty. This is a point traditionalists don’t want to admit. But the evidence has proven this a long time ago.

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