Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has placed his name and prestige at the service of reforming California politics. He has personally promoted four initiatives which will have the effect of reducing the influence of special interests in politics and promoting fiscal responsibility. Not surprisingly, the current owners of California’s political system are in an uproar. So much so, that they may be willing to bankrupt themselves to defeat the Governor.
The State Council of the California Teachers Association (CTA) voted in June to levy an additional $60 per year per teacher, for the sole purpose of defeating Arnold’s initiative campaign. According to Carlos Moreno, the CPA who manages the financial operations of the teachers’ union, the CTA took out a $14 million loan, on which they are currently paying interest. They are counting on the income stream from the increase in dues to repay this loan.
Here’s the kicker: they have already spent all of the money they expected to take in from this dues increase, for the next three years. The union has applied for an additional $40 million line of credit. Repaying this money would also require the income from the increased dues.
So what are these ballot initiatives the teachers unions are bankrupting themselves to oppose? Proposition 74 will change the length of the probationary period a teacher must work before being granted tenure. Currently, teachers have a two year probationary period. Proposition 74 would change that to a five year period during which a school district can choose not to rehire a teacher without giving specific reasons. Arnold’s team calls this the “Put the Kids First Act.” The California Teachers Association refers to it as the “Punish the Teachers Act.”
CTA says this measure is unnecessary. “California teachers are not guaranteed a job for life, which means they don’t have tenure.” (I suppose they mean that under some circumstances, school districts can down-size and lay-off teachers.) “All teachers receive after a two-year probationary period is the right to a hearing before they are dismissed.”
What they don’t tell you is how onerous and costly that dismissal process can be. According to the Legislative Analyst, writing in the California Voter Guide: “Regardless of the reason for a dismissal, the dismissal process ... consists of about a dozen stages.” It can take years to dismiss an unsatisfactory teacher, as the CTA surely knows.
Very few Californians have the job security of a tenured teacher. I used to have that kind of security, when I was a tenured professor at George Mason University. The justification for university tenure is that it allows scholars the freedom of inquiry necessary to pursue unconventional or controversial topics in their research. But this academic freedom justification does not apply to elementary and secondary school teachers. They are supposed to be teaching a pretty standardized curriculum to young students in their formative years. Lifetime tenure is a bad idea at the university level: it is an even worse idea at the elementary and secondary level. Extending the probationary period to five years is not the end of the world for a competent teacher. Good teachers surely know of cases where the tenure system protects poorly performing teachers who are an embarrassment to their profession.
Proposition 75 is called “the Paycheck Protection Act.” This act requires the public employee unions to obtain the members’ written consent before using any of their dues money for political purposes. Under current law, the employees must make a written request if they object to their money being spent for political purposes. In other words, this initiative would change the presumption of who decides what happens to the union dues, and who has the burden to obtain permission.
The unions say that without this money, they could not adequately defend their interests. According to the official Voter Guide, “This year, our kids’ schools have been under attack by initiatives paid for by big corporations. Some would permanently cut annual school funding by $4 billion. Prop 75 would limit teachers’ ability to fight such harmful proposals in the future.” Notice that they admit that many of their members would choose to opt-out of contributing their dues for political purposes. This completely undercuts their claim that “members can already withhold their dues.” They can see perfectly well that they will collect less money.
No wonder they are in a panic. The $60 annual dues increase has already been spent. If they lose the paycheck protection measure, they will lose their privileged access to that stream of revenue. The California Teachers Association are engaged in high-stakes gambling with their members’ money.
The CTA and other unions have used this money to create attack ads against the Governor. You can say what you like about the Governator. But the fact is: he is not in politics for the money, the fame or the glamor. He could have all that in Hollywood, without a no-thanks, crappy job in Sacramento. His package of initiatives gives California its best chance for real reform in a generation. We need to seize it.