CTA’s president-elect blesses budget

The incoming president of the California Teachers Association said Tuesday that he likes Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised state budget and expressed confidence that the four Republican legislators needed to pass $9 billion in tax extensions would vote for them.

“We believe that this is the best possible budget for us right now,” CTA Vice President Dean Vogel said at a forum on the budget sponsored by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation in San Jose. “We believe the potential for four votes is better today than a few weeks ago.”

But Vogel, who assumes the presidency next month, also warned against placing the tax extensions on the ballot in November or earlier, as Brown has implied that he favors. Under that scenario, the Legislature would vote to extend the temporary tax increases – the sales tax, the vehicle license fee, and the personal income tax (which would be suspended next year, then resumed) – for four months, until voters could decide whether to continue them further. But districts building their budgets this year would be left holding the bag if the taxes were then defeated.

“To start the year with one expectation and then change it, you disrupt everything,” Vogel said. “That’s why we’re concerned about a November election.” Brown wants to keep his pledge to voters that as governor he would not do a tax extension without their consent, “but at the same time we have a responsibility to these kids.”

County superintendents must sign off on districts’ budgets, and Santa Clara County Superintendent Chuck Weis said  the prudent approach at this point would be not to build in the tax increase. That would mean assuming a cut of $2.1 billion in Proposition 98 funding – about $350 per student, or about 5 percent. (Update: Weis’ opening remarks can be viewed here.)

The CTA wants the Legislature to approve the tax extensions on their own, without turning to voters, but that’s unlikely to happen, so the union’s fallback is to put it on the November 2012 ballot. That would require Republicans to approve extending taxes 18 months before a vote. A compromise might be a June 2012 ballot, which would at least allow schools to build a full year’s budget with revenues intact.

Challenge of explaining deferrals

Brown’s budget raises Proposition 98 funding by $3 billion, to $52.4 billion. That is both a blessing and a dilemma, because the governor wants to apply the extra money to eliminate $2.5 billion of approximately $10 billion in deferrals – late payments owed to districts one year but paid the following fiscal year. Brown is proposing essentially to wipe a portion of the debt off the books, forcing districts to borrow less money while improving their financial stability and credit ratings.

Tony Garcia, superintendent of the Oak Grove School District in San Jose, explained the challenge. Hours after Brown’s budget was released, at a regular monthly meeting, three union presidents asked about getting more money for health benefits. “As superintendents, we need to communicate that (eliminating) a deferral is not new money. We’re getting what’s owed to us, not new money.”

Weis said that this budget would just begin the task of digging districts out of the hole that the recession put them in. The state owes schools about $13 billion: $10 billion from underfunding Proposition 98 during the past several years (an obligation known as the Prop 98 maintenance factor), and $3 billion from underestimating revenues owed to schools when building budgets at the start of the fiscal year, known as “settle-up costs.” The combination equals a 20 percent deficit in funding that must be repaid over time. “Don’t be fooled by the May revision,” Weis said. “We are not fully whole, and our funding system hasn’t been changed to make it work.”

Marshall “Mike” Smith, former education program director for the Hewlett Foundation and until recently a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, cited the impact of unstable funding in Los Angeles Unified. “Class sizes are  bumping up against fire laws; they’ve cut back 75 percent of their administration; there’s been an erosion and a loss of the intellectual infrastructure,” he said. “I believe a lot in stability. You can do a lot even if you’re not well resourced if you know you have a stable funding base.”

Burton Goldfield, CEO of TriNet, a human resources outsourcing company with 20,000 employees in California, said that he supports the tax extension for schools, but it’s essential to begin a bigger discussion on education. TriNet is on a hiring tear but cannot fill the jobs in California. “We need to get the dialogue going past the budget issue to say what is the end goal. Is it trying to get high school graduates into jobs?

“We need metrics. If we can do that, you will get a lot of industry people to come to the table.”

Weis noted that 40 years ago, Californians spent 5.4 percent of their personal incomes on education; that has plunged to 3.6 percent. “So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What level of education do we want and how do we go about funding that? We know what we expect of our kids, and yet we continue to cut our funding,” he said. “This is no way to run the most important business in California” – preparing the kids in California for the future.

CTA outspending ACSA in race

Update: Thanks to reader Eric Premack, who points out that charter booster and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings did report contributing $400,000 on Oct. 20 as an independent expenditure on behalf of Larry Aceves.

In the surrogate battle in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, behemoth California Teachers Assn. has spent $3.4 million this year on behalf of its chosen one, Assembly member Tom Torlakson. This is more than double what the smaller Association of California School Administrators has spent promoting its favorite son, retired superintendent Larry Aceves of San Jose. In late September, CTA reported having spent $1.5 million on radio ads for Torlakson.

So far this October, it’s been different. Keeping its powder dry, ACSA raised $604,000 and spent $639,000 from Oct. 1-16 in independent expenditures, on radio ads and slate mailers pushing Aceves’ candidacy, according to the latest  campaign finance reports. Since Jan. 1, ACSA reported spending $1.5 million for Aceves. CTA added $200,000 to its independent campaign and spent only $102,000 in October.

But heading down the stretch, CTA has $296,000 left in its campaign chest for Torlakson, while ACSA had only $5,750 as of the end of the latest reporting period, Oct. 16.

Torlakson also got help from the California Federation of Teachers, the smaller of the two teachers unions, which reported spending $180,000 on mailers in late September. (It spent $132,000 on mailers in the primary.) And two American Indian tribes, the Mission and the Chumash, reported spending $233,000 in the past two months on TV ads and mailers for Torlakson.

Independent expenditures have dwarfed  the candidates’ own campaigns. Aceves has raised only $166,000 since Jan. 1, including $37,000 in October. He spent $14,600 in October, leaving him $56,000 in the bank.

Torlakson has raised $1,056,000 since the start of the year, including $140,000 in October. He spent $88,000 this month, leaving him $327,000  to spend before the Nov. 2 election.

CTA poured money into the June primary, when Torlakson also faced state Sen. Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat who attacked the CTA and crossed it in pushing the state’s Race to the Top legislation this year.  Pro-charter school EdVoice, backed by philanthropists Eli Broad and Reed Hastings, spent $1.5 million promoting her candidacy. But, in a surprise finish in June, she came in third, narrowly behind Torlakson and Aceves.

Aceves is not nearly as threatening to CTA as Romero; he got along well with his union when he was superintendent of Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, and he is selling himself as someone who can bring factions together (also Torlakson’s theme). So, since June, CTA has been freed to focus its firepower on Meg Whitman. In the latest reporting period, CTA said it spent $3.4 million on the govenrnor’s race, mainly in anti-Whitman TV and radio ads.

EdVoice and the charter school funders have largely sat out the Torlakson-Aceves race, although Aceves recently got $2,500 from John Danner, founder of Rocketship Education, a charter school group in San Jose, and $2,500 from Virginia-based K12, which operates online charters nationwide, including operations in several California counties.

Aceves’ biggest contributors are the Silicon Valley power couple Jim and Becky Morgan (the latter a state senator from 1984 – 1993), who together have contributed $16,500 since Jan. 1.

Torlakson has gotten tens of thousands in donations from a bunch of unions, including those representing nurses, iron workers, peace officers, carpenters, and service workers.

QEIA’s early promise (and its faults)

The California Teachers Association is citing positive early results from an eight-year program to improve some of the state’s lowest performing schools. But the $3 billion Quality Education Investment Act, which the union pushed to create, is an expensive reform that combines smaller classes and other measures. Assuming QEIA does prove effective, it won’t easy to determine why.

The California Teachers Association has issued early data pointing to positive results from an eight-year, $3 billion program for low-performing schools that the union fought hard to create and is fighting equally hard to preserve. Just last week – four months into the fiscal year and after some dragged-out battles – the Assembly passed a bill securing full funding for another year.

I have been a skeptic of the program– the Quality Education Investment Act — since it was created in 2006, although I applaud the CTA for going to the mat on behalf of low-income schools. I have had two problems with QEIA:

  • It  benefited only a third of the approximately 1,500 schools in the bottom two deciles of Academic Performance Index (API) scores.
  • It also committed the bulk of the money to class-size reduction, even though smaller classes, while popular with teachers and parents, is the most expensive school reform, with largely unproven results. The CTA disagrees with most researchers on this key point and cites studies showing gains from smaller classes. Continue reading “QEIA’s early promise (and its faults)”