Local politicians and the C.T.A. continue to hold students hostage in the battle for influence over education funding in the California state budget. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Kids don’t vote. They are the silent constituency. Why should they care about what is best for kids. Politicians who are more interested in funding the "Silver Bullet" Train (more like the "Money Pit" Train) from LA to SF than trying to keep class sizes from careening beyond 40 kids in a classroom. At this point, it is all about proper minimum funding levels for public education. The C.T.A.is more keen to aggressively oppose pension reform, teacher evaluation reform, and any kind of reform that would help keep the most qualified educators in the classrooms as determined by performance (not longevity). They are less interested in doing what is best for kids--ensuring highly qualified educators in every classroom. Albert Shanker, the former iconic head of the American Federation of Teachers, was once quoted as saying, "When school children start paying union dues, that is when I will start representing the interests of school children." Sounds like an accurate representation of the C.T.A. today. Unfortunately, it is not 1980. It is now 2011. Teachers and their students deserve to be treated much better than this.
Did you know that in the last ten years, the C.T.A. spent almost $40 MILLION DOLLARS to influence California politicians? Did you know that the C.T.A. spends more on lobbying than Big Oil? Over the last ten years, the C.T.A. has spent more on lobbying and influencing politicians than any other special interest group. Since 2001, the C.T.A. has spent more than $200 MILLION DOLLARS on political action--more than any other special interest group! When the California Teachers Association spends more to influence state politicians than all other lobbying groups, it begs the question if the union leadership is more interested in protecting their own power base than actually ensuring the highest quality educators in the classroom. This is clearly about Union Leadership abusing power--both children and their teachers are victims of this kind of representation.
Saturday’s Wall Street Journal column from Allysia Finley opined on the battle being waged in California to protect education spending in the upcoming state budget. The almighty California Teacher Association proclaimed this past week a “State of Emergency” for California public education. Finley’s column suggests that while education spending and student-teacher ratio have remained steady for the past seven years, the real problem is that tax dollars are being diverted for teachers’ benefits.
As someone who has spent the last few years watching funding from the state drop each year, I can tell you that public schools in California have not seen per pupil spending this low (in real dollars) for more than eight years. As an example, per pupil spending from federal and state funds at San Carlos Charter Learning Center is budgeted for $5,481 for the 11-12 fiscal year. When you compare our spending to the state average in Massachusetts which is more than $13,000 per student, and you can see why schools in California are hurting for additional funds.
I do agree with Ms. Finley that the real issue has more to do with how school systems choose to spend their money and the process by which public education is funded in California. Los Angeles Unified School District spends almost $14,000 per student (the highest in the state), yet only 40% of that amount is spent on teacher salaries and benefits. Oakland Unified spends almost $13,000 per student yet only 35% on teacher salaries and benefits. Compare that to both San Carlos School District and San Carlos Charter Learning Center that both spend close to 80% each on teacher salaries and benefits. Where is all the money going in Oakland and LA? It is a question for which their leadership needs accountability.
Even though I am a public employee, I still have an inherent distrust of government (which is why I choose to work for a charter school and not a school district). Government rarely gets things right. The Massachusetts Health Care Program, NCLB, and the political polarization of the California State Legislature are a few glaring examples of how government gets things so very wrong. Also, I think the people it draws to serve in government can be the real roadblocks to progress (current state legislature, for example).
Unfortunately, there are people who run for office who seem more interested in furthering their own careers than actually working for the common good. At the local level, for example, it is most disappointing when people choose to run for local school boards in order to “launch” themselves to a higher public office. Their commitment to school governance is skewed by their political ambitions. People should run for school board, not to further their own political aspirations, but to support our kids and our community.
California’s complex education funding plan to equalize spending across the state clearly has not worked. There are still locations like Sausalito that spend almost $30,000 per student, while communities like Redwood City barely get more than $5,000 per child. Allow communities to retake local control of their public education dollars. Let’s get politicians out of the mix and find a way to bypass Sacramento as much as possible so that they cannot divert money for schools for their pet projects. Allow school boards to make the critical decisions about how best to spend their money on their kids. It is clear that both politicians and the C.T.A. do not hold children in high regard. Kids don’t vote. Why should they care?