Why Is NBC Taking Sides In The Public Education Debate?

Last week, NBC announced it will host a nationally-televised forum for Democratic presidential candidates on December 14th that will focus exclusively on public education issues.

NBC’s Public Education Forum 2020, which is being held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in downtown Pittsburgh, will be moderated by MSNBC Live host Ali Velshi and NBC News education correspondent Rehema Ellis.

A string of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are scheduled to attend the event, including Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Michael Bennet, and Tom Steyer.

Nevertheless, this won’t be your typical presidential campaign town hall. That’s because NBC is organizing the forum in collaboration with the American Federation of TeachersNational Education Association, and a handful of organizations that the two unions fund. Plus, the event is closed to the general public and press access has been strictly limited.

As a result, those tuning into the forum shouldn’t expect to see a balanced discussion of the myriad challenges facing America’s public schools. Instead, the format of the event suggests that AFT and NEA are using the forum to litmus test Democratic presidential hopefuls on issues like charters, testing, and accountability. Although Velshi and Ellis are serving as moderators, the candidates will be answering questions posed by a select group of teachers, education activists, and community members.

Something tells me they won’t be framing their queries in a way that puts education reforms in a positive light.

The big question is why NBC agreed to participate in – and lend legitimacy to – what is clearly a PR stunt cooked-up by two of the most powerful special interest groups in Democratic politics. Perhaps network executives were fooled into believing that the organizations behind the event represent a diverse cross-section of constituencies and viewpoints, a perception those groups have been trying to create in the media. For example, a recent article (without a byline) in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette claimed the various organizations involved have “different needs” and “often disagree on issues.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the groups have substantial financial ties to AFT and NEA and nearly all sing the same tune when it comes to education.

Although journalists like Rachel Cohen or Ryan Grim are usually quick to point out the funders behind education groups, they have yet to bring attention to the fact that AFT and NEA are bankrolling this coalition. Therefore, I’ve taken upon myself to flesh out the financial and organizational ties between the unions and the groups involved in the upcoming forum below…

Alliance for Educational Justice

The first thing to know about the Alliance for Educational Justice is that doesn’t actually exist, at least in a legal sense.

AEJ is not registered as a non-profit (or for-profit) organization, it has no physical address, and it doesn’t even have its own website. It only has a Facebook page and a Twitter account, both of which churn out a steady stream of anti-charter and anti-reform posts.

Tax filings indicate that AEJ is actually an advocacy campaign launched by the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland, an organization that has received financial support from AFT and other union-funded groups.

Center for Popular Democracy Action

The Center for Popular Democracy is a Brooklyn-based advocacy organization that works hand-in-glove with national labor unions, including AFT and NEA, to advance their agendas in states and communities across the country. They do this by organizing and underwriting a network of state and local “grassroots” activist groups, which now includes 61 organizations in 33 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

As of November, annual filings with the U.S. Department of Labor showed that the Center for Popular Democracy (and its sister 501(c)(4), Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund) have received nearly $4.52 million in funding from AFT and NEA since F.Y. 2013.

AFT president Randi Weingarten previously served on CPD’s board of directors, but now serves on the organization’s Strategic Advisory Council, along with representatives from the AFL-CIO, NEA, SEIU, and the Working Families Party.

Journey for Justice Alliance

Like AEJ, the Journey for Justice Alliance isn’t an actual organization, but an advocacy campaign run under auspices of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization in Chicago. Jitu Brown, who claims to be Journey for Justice’s executive director, is in fact an employee of KOCO.

AFT, NEA, and the Chicago Teachers Union have given the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization a combined total of $653,000 since F.Y. 2013. KOCO also gets significant financial support from the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, including $320,000 between F.Y. 2015 and F.Y. 2018.


A lot of ink has been spilled about the NAACP’s controversial call for a moratorium on charter schools, so instead of explaining their (hypocritical, illogical) positions on education issues, I’ll simply refer you to this piece from my friend Chris Stewart, which paints a damning picture of the NAACP’s charter school betrayal.

The NAACP has ties with the teachers unions that stretch back decades and the organization has long benefitted from their financial support. According to annual filings from the U.S. Department of Labor, AFT and NEA have contributed more than $1,400,000 to the NAACP and its affiliates since 2012.

Network for Public Education Action

The Network for Public Education is an anti-education reform organization founded by Diane Ravitch, Anthony Cody, and Carol Burris in 2014. NPE opposes standardized testing, charter schools, accountability, and teacher evaluations, while promoting a cult of personality around Ravitch and peddling her books.

Tax filings show that the Network for Public Education has received $340,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, which has $53 million in assets and is directly controlled by CTU. In addition, AFT and NEA have steered an additional $95,000 to NPE since 2015.

Schott Foundation for Public Education

The Schott Foundation for Public Education works in lockstep with AFT and NEA on three key areas. First, it provides grants to a network of anti-reform non-profits – from small local groups to national organizations like Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education. Second, as I noted in a 2017 op-ed in The 74, Schott organizes and underwrites trainings for its nationwide network of grantees, many of which focus on organizing and communications strategy. Finally, Schott engages in policy development and has published dozens of reports opposing charters, accountability, and standardized testing.

According to U.S. Department of Labor disclosures, Schott has received more than $1.3 million from the national teachers unions in the past five years, primarily from AFT. In fact, I recently wrote a blog post that revealed that Schott’s 501(c)(4), the Opportunity to Learn Action Fund, essentially served as a conduit for union money. Not only did ninety-nine percent of OTL’s revenue come directly from AFT and NEA, but it was used to underwrite several of the unions’ pet projects, including the anti-reform documentary “Backpack Full of Cash,” narrated by Matt Damon.

Voto Latino

Voto Latino is a nonprofit civic media organization that seeks to increase the involvement of Hispanic and Latinx citizens to become involved in the political process through voting and activism. Voto Latino is probably the least partisan group involved in the upcoming forum and hasn’t taken a strong position on education issues. It was founded in 2004 by the actress Rosario Dawson, who happens to be the girlfriend of Sen. Cory Booker, a rare pro-charter voice in the field of Democratic presidential candidates.

Still, Voto Latino has received at least $110,000 from NEA and $117,000 from the AFL-CIO.


Explaining Elizabeth Warren’s Charter School Hypocrisy In Nine Tweets

On Thursday, the National Education Association released a video of an interview with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, in which she was asked about her position on charter schools. In her answer, Warren rejected the idea that charter schools are much-needed options for families (particularly low-income families of color) who have been failed by their traditional public school systems.

Instead, perhaps channeling the plutocrats she so often rails against in campaign speeches, Warren insisted that those parents should essentially pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

“If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school,” Warren said, ignoring the fact that charter schools are public schools. “Go help get more resources for it. Volunteer at your public schools. Help get the teachers and school bus drivers and cafeteria workers and the custodial staff and the support staff, help get them some support so they can do the work that needs to be done.”

As might be expected, charter supporters are up-in-arms over Warren’s comments, which come on the heels of a widely-publicized protest by black and Latino charter school parents at one of her campaign events in Atlanta two weeks ago.

Warren met privately with the protesters after the event and promised to reconsider the anti-charter positions outlined in her education plan. She also told the assembled parents that her children had attended public schools, which wasn’t actually true, as her campaign admitted in a statement following the meeting.

While her daughter spent most of her K-12 career in public schools, Warren sent her son to an elite prep school outside Philadelphia, as I explained in a thread I posted on Twitter and have included below…


“Bargaining For Common Good” Takes A Backseat To Naked Self-Interest

A few years ago, the St. Paul Federation of Educators was boasting about how it was “bargaining for the common good” by using contract negotiations to advocate for policies that benefitted not only teachers, but parents and community stakeholders.

As then-SPFE president (and current Minnesota Commissioner of Education) Mary Cathryn Ricker explained in a piece for Dissent, the aim of “bargaining for the common good” was to show that the union sought “to improve our teaching and our schools, and not simply file grievances and try to protect our wages and benefits.”

SPFE’s approach was lauded in union-friendly media outlets like The American Prospect and was soon imitated by other teachers unions across the country.

Before her appointment as Minnesota’s Commissioner of Education, Mary Cathryn Ricker led the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.

However, recent events suggest that SPFE has dropped the “bargaining for the common good” schtick in exchange for a new mantra: “Every man for himself.”

Earlier this month, SPFE announced it was unilaterally pulling out of the district’s health insurance plan to join the state-managed Public Employees Insurance Program.

The union’s decision to leave halfway through the district’s two-year contract with HealthPartners means that St. Paul Public Schools will have to pay a $4 million early termination fee to the company.

Ironically, SPFE spent the better part of the past year decrying school funding cuts and protesting corporate tax breaks, which the union claimed had left St. Paul Public Schools chronically underfunded. SFPE was also the driving force behind a tax levy referendum last November that would raise an additional $20 million in annual revenue for schools.

SPFE spent the better part of last year campaigning against corporate tax breaks and urging voters to approve a new tax levy for schools.

“We have enough money in our state to fully fund public schools,” SPFE president Nick Faber told NEA Today at the time. “We just have to have the courage and the will to bring it back to our students.”

To their credit, St. Paul voters stepped up and approved the tax levy by a 2-to-1 margin. Yet now SPFE has the audacity to turn around and throw a $4 million chunk of that new revenue right out the window.

Even worse, SPFE’s decision to pull out of the HealthPartners contract a year early means that the 1500 district employees who remain covered under the plan (a group that includes some of the lowest-paid workers in St. Paul Public Schools) will see their premiums increase by 22 percent next year.

So much for worker solidarity.

SPFE’s willingness to squander taxpayer money and screw over their colleagues makes clear that all of their talk about the “common good” is little more than empty rhetoric. Don’t believe the hype.


WTU Turns To Politician With A History of Anti-Semitism In Bid To Upend Evals

The Council of the District of Columbia will consider legislation that could lead to the dismantling of IMPACT, the teacher evaluation system that has been used by D.C. Public Schools for the past decade.

The bill, which was drafted by the Washington Teachers Union and introduced by Councilman Trayon White last week, would make evaluations part of the collective bargaining process, meaning that teachers could only be assessed on criteria agreed upon by both DCPS and WTU.

IMPACT was introduced during the tenure of former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

WTU has been trying replace IMPACT ever since it was introduced by former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee. While union leaders like WTU president Elizabeth Davis insist the evaluation system “has had a negative impact on students, teachers and principals,” research from the University of Virginia has shown that IMPACT not only improved teacher quality, but raised student achievement.

In any case, what’s surprising about the proposed legislation is not that WTU is pushing it, but that they would ally themselves with Trayon White in an effort to get it passed. After all, most progressive organizations would strenuously avoid having anything to do with White, who has been involved in several anti-Semitic incidents during his tenure on the D.C. Council.

In March 2018, White drew widespread condemnation for a video he posted on Facebook in which he asserted that a D.C. snowstorm was the result of climate manipulation by the Rothschilds, a Jewish banking family that has historically been the focus of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In the video, White proclaims:

“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. We a resilient city. And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”

A few days later, another video surfaced of a February 2018 meeting in which White asserted that the Rothschilds control the government. In the recording, top D.C. leaders sit stunned and perplexed while White says:

“There’s this whole concept with the Rothschilds — who control the World Bank, as we all know — infusing dollars into major cities. They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities.”

In response to the uproar over his comments, the 34 year-old councilman apologized, insisting that he didn’t realize his comments were anti-Semitic, and promised to make amends with the Jewish community. Instead, he further insulted the community by ducking out of a 90-minute tour of the Holocaust Memorial Museum that was organized by local Jewish leaders. It subsequently emerged that White used constituent services funds to give a $500 donation to support an event hosted by Louis Farrakhan, at which the Nation of Islam leader proclaimed, “powerful Jews are my enemy.”

At a time when powerful politicians are stoking the flames of intolerance and racism, the Washington Teachers Union should be speaking out against White, not enthusiastically embracing him.

I guess when it comes to the pursuit of the union’s interests, anything goes.


The Network for Public Education’s (Union-funded) Friends

The self-described mission of the Network for Public Education, the anti-education reform organization founded by Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris, centers on “building alliances with grassroots groups across the nation” that oppose all the usual boogeymen: standardized testing, charter schools, school and district accountability, teacher evaluation, etc.

Who exactly are the groups in NPE’s coalition? To find out, I took a look at the national organizations listed in their May 2019 Grassroots Education Newsletter.

As I illustrate in the graphic below (click it to get a closer look), nearly all of the organizations highlighted in the newsletter have received funding from either the American Federation of Teachers and/or National Education Association, according to the unions’ annual financial disclosures to the U.S. Department of Labor.

NPE’s national “grassroots organizing” partners primarily consist of groups that receive teachers union funding.

Taken together, the national organizing partners listed in NPE’s newsletter have received over $2.36 million from AFT and NEA since 2013.

So much for being “grassroots” organizations.

At the same time, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these groups have financial ties to the teachers unions since NPE feeds from the same trough. Tax filings show that the Network for Public Education has received $340,000 from the Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, which has $53 million in assets and is directly controlled by CTU. Plus, AFT and NEA have steered an additional $95,000 to NPE since 2015.

In other words, in spite of NPE’s insistence otherwise, it’s little more than a front for the teachers unions.

What a joke.

UTLA’s (Not-So-Great) Victory

Tens of thousands of teachers in Los Angeles returned to their classrooms yesterday following a six-day strike that disrupted the lives of over 467,000 students and cost the L.A. Unified School District over $151 million in lost revenue.

Tuesday morning, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, flanked by LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner and United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl, announced that a tentative agreement had been reached on a new contract. Within a matter of hours, UTLA officials had hastily organized a vote to ratify the document, which was eventually approved by a supermajority of the union’s members.

But before a single ballot was cast, union leaders were out in force portraying the strike as a huge victory. Caputo-Pearl told a crowd of supporters outside Los Angeles City Hall: “It is very rare that you go to the bargaining table with as many demands as we had and you win almost every single one of them.” Meanwhile, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten described the strike as a “paradigm shift” in an interview with the New York Times, and maintained, “The elite types who use charters as a force for competition will see this as a big blow.”

From the moment a tentative agreement was announced, UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl has been spinning it as a great victory.

As might be expected, a chorus of friends in the media jumped in to assist with the spin-doctoring, such as the laughably biased folks at Jacobin who insisted that “strikers were able to wrest major concessions from a billionaire superintendent intent on privatizing the district.” Capital & Main, a union-funded and controlled media outlet that masquerades as a legitimate news site, declared Caputo-Pearl and UTLA as the “big winners” in their standoff with the school district. Likewise, The Nation carried a piece from self-described “journalist” Sarah Jaffe, which included cringe-inducing lines like, “The look on UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl’s face as he announced the contents of the agreement was that of a man who knows his side has won.”

UTLA leaders over-promised & under-delivered

Yet as the details of the tentative contract agreement began trickling out, there was plenty of grumbling among rank-and-file members who felt that UTLA’s leadership had over-promised and under-delivered. As one commenter on the union’s Facebook page sarcastically joked, “Los Angeles emergency rooms are filling up with teachers who have knife wounds in their backs. News at 11.”

They have reason to be angry. Back in 2016, UTLA’s leadership raised dues by a nearly a third (an increase, on average, of about $1000 annually), insisting they needed the additional funds to bring the fight to their enemies. Instead, the union produced little in return. The very next year, a pro-reform majority was elected to LAUSD’s school board after an expensive campaign. They then went on to hire a reform-minded superintendent, Austin Beutner, to lead the district.

As the rank-and-file’s frustrations rose over their union’s inability to produce results, UTLA leaders kept promising they would exact major concessions from the district in a strike. But a closer look at the central elements of the new LAUSD/UTLA contract suggests that last week’s strike didn’t achieve very much:

  • MONEY: Although UTLA demanded a 6.5% raise for teachers, the contract provides them with a raise of only 6% (with 3% retroactive to 2017-18 and the other 3% retroactive to July 2018), which is exactly what LAUSD was offering before the strike. In fact, a state-appointed mediator had urged the union to accept this very same offer five weeks ago.

  • CHARTERS: As teachers headed for the picket lines last week, UTLA framed the strike as a fight against charter schools, which the union blames for the district’s dire financial straits, insisting that they drain resources from traditional public schools. UTLA’s leadership rallied its members around their call for a moratorium on new charter schools, but the new contract reveals they all but folded on this demand. While it allows the union to appoint a co-location coordinator at sites where charter schools share a campus with traditional public schools, they will only be able to advise – not veto – the charter co-location process. Supt. Beutner also agreed to put forward a non-binding resolution calling for a charter school cap for vote at the next LAUSD school board meeting, even though it will undoubtedly be defeated by the board, meaning it’s nothing more than window dressing.

  • CLASS SIZE/SUPPORT STAFF: UTLA did gain some ground on its demands for smaller class sizes and additional support staff, such as nurses, counselors, and librarians. The district agreed to reduce class sizes by about four students over the next three years and hire 300 nurses, 82 librarians, and 77 counselors by 2022. Yet as the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial, LAUSD had already offered to add approximately 1,300 teaching and support positions before the strike began, so it’s questionable how much the union actually gained from the walkout.

  • STANDARDIZED TESTING: While the union demanded a reduction in the number of standardized tests administered in the district, the contract essentially allows UTLA to save face by creating a joint LAUSD-UTLA task force to develop recommendations around how to reduce testing by up to 50%. However, it doesn’t mandate that the school board actually adopt those recommendations.

  • MISCELLANEOUS: No teachers union contract would be complete without an endorsement of the community school model. After all, AFT and NEA have been promoting community schools as an alternative to charters for years, in spite of the fact that there’s little evidence the approach works and previous community school efforts (most notably in New York) have been a bust. Nevertheless, LAUSD threw UTLA a bone on this issue, promising to give 30 district schools an additional $350,000 over the next two years to adopt the model. In reality, this is little more than a symbolic gesture, since it would require far more money to transform these campuses into actual community schools.

Alex Caputo-Pearl leads striking teachers through downtown Los Angeles.

So what did Los Angeles teachers get for their extra $1000 in dues, as well as the thousands they individually forfeited as a result of their six-day strike? Not much. As long-time teachers union analyst Mike Antonucci noted in a recent op-ed in The Seventy-Four, “Had this exact tentative agreement been offered two weeks ago, the union would have rejected it.”

In short, if UTLA considers their strike a great victory, it’s hard to imagine what defeat looks like.

Read the new LAUSD/UTLA Contract:


Does The Guardian Really Consider This Journalism?

If you’re seeking balanced, nuanced reporting on U.S. education issues from professional journalists, you won’t find it in the pages of The Guardian these days.

Even a cursory review of their recent output makes clear that the bulk of their education coverage is at best amateurish and at worst laughably biased, and largely comes from freelancers who apparently get little guidance or pushback from the Guardian’s editors.

Case-in-point: The paper’s most recent article on the looming threat of a strike by the United Teachers of Los Angeles, “‘There’s no paper in the classroom’: Why Los Angeles teachers are moving toward a strike,” written by freelance journalist Michael Sainato.

To put it bluntly, it reads as if Sainato drafted his story around a set of talking points he received from UTLA’s public relations team, who were also good enough to provide him with a list of folks he should interview.

Freelance journalist Michael Sainato wrote the Guardian’s recent piece on the looming UTLA strike.

According to Sainato’s skewed portrayal of the situation, the district isn’t hurtling towards a shutdown due to the the political ambitions of UTLA’s leaders, or the unreasonable and fiscally irresponsible demands they’ve made in contract negotiations with L.A. Unified officials. Instead, he gives readers the impression that UTLA’s impending strike is part of a broader wave of teacher activism sweeping the country, while placing the blame squarely on the teachers unions’ perennial boogeymen: underfunding of schools, overcrowded classrooms, standardized testing, and of course, charter schools.

It’s an easy case to make, especially since every single person he quotes in the piece is in lockstep with the teachers unions. However, what he fails to disclose in his reporting is that nearly all of the individuals quoted are actually officials in either UTLA or groups with close organizational and financial ties to the union.

All four teachers (for reference, there are nearly 27,000 teachers in LAUSD) who appear in the article – Elgin Scott, Julie Van WinkleVictoria Casas, and Matthew Kogan – are members of UTLA’s board of directors. Kogan also serves as a vice-president with UTLA’s state affiliate, the California Federation of Teachers.

UTLA board members Elgin Scott, Julie Van Winkle, Victoria Casas, and Matthew Kogan.

In spite of their positions in the union hierarchy, none of the four are able to make a compelling case for why UTLA needs to disrupt the education of LAUSD’s 735,000 467,000 students by walking out. Victoria Casas, for example, wants UTLA to force the district to scale back its standardized testing requirements, citing the Dibels assessments that she has to administer to her elementary schoolers three times a year. Yet it only takes about three minutes to administer the Dibels per child, which would probably amount to less time than she will spend handing out candy to her class over the coming week.

The article also quotes Rudy Gonsalves, described as the director of Reclaim Our Schools L.A., who says that the $11,000 LAUSD spends on each student every year is “way below the national average” and “significantly below what we need for a student to succeed in a traditional school.”

Yet once again, Sainato fails to correct some misinformation. First of all, the district spends approximately $16,000 per pupil, which far exceeds the national average of $11,642 in 2017, according to the latest figures from the National Education Association’s annual Rankings and Estimates Report.

Moreover, Rudy Gonsalves can’t be the director of Reclaim Our Schools L.A., since no such organization exists. Much like the national Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, ROS-LA is nothing more than an advocacy campaign backed and largely funded by the teachers unions. In reality, Gonsalves works for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, or LAANE. As I’ve reported elsewhere, LAANE receives funding from several teachers unions and the California Teachers Association holds a seat on its board of directors.

Screenshot from LAANE’s website.

While Sainato could be forgiven for missing things like Gonsalves’ ties to LAANE, it’s much harder to explain away his omission of so many other central elements of this story. There isn’t a single sentence in his entire 1,500-word article about the LAUSD’s dire financial situation, which L.A. County officials have warned could soon bankrupt the district. He makes a point of mentioning LAUSD Supt. Austin Buetner’s previous career in finance, but says nary a peep about the skyrocketing costs of the exceedingly generous healthcare benefits mandated by UTLA’s contract. He repeats the hackneyed claims of UTLA leaders who accuse LAUSD officials of being in the pocket of rich privatizers, but fails to raise the awkward question of whether it’s appropriate for the teachers union to sidestep the democratic process by pursuing policy objectives through closed-door contract negotiations.

When taken together, it’s hard to make case that the Guardian’s latest piece on the showdown in Los Angeles meets the journalistic rigor that you would expect from a legendary 197 year-old newspaper, and honestly, that’s pretty sad.


Why Is The California Teachers Association Backing This Low-Rent Idea?

A group of supposedly “progressive” organizations in California, including the California Teachers Association and the union-funded Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, are backing a voter initiative this November that would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 23-year old state law that sets strict limits on local rent control laws.

It’s the centerpiece of an effort to address the state’s affordable housing crisis, which has left low and middle-income Californians priced out of big cities like San Francisco, where the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment reached $3,490 last month. In fact, five of the ten most expensive rental markets in the country are now in California (San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego) and nearly 1.7 million families across the state currently spend more than half of their monthly income on rent.

Median one-bedroom rental prices in San Francisco as of June 2018 (graphic from

Repealing the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act would likely result in a flood of new rent control ordinances across the state. According to Marketplace, a dozen cities in California already have plans in place for new rent control measures if the initiative is approved by voters this fall.

Proponents of the initiative claim that expanding rent control will rein in “out-of-control housing costs, driven by corporate landlords and big real estate” and “protect all families from rent gouging.” For its part, CTA argues that reinstating rent control will alleviate a housing crisis that has exacerbated a (supposed) statewide teacher shortage.

“We’re facing a severe teacher shortage in California, and one of the main issues is affordable housing — for teachers being able to live in the communities where they teach,” CTA president Eric Heins said in a recent interview with Politico. “When I lived in San Francisco, the only way I was able to afford to live there was with a rent-controlled apartment.”

While California certainly needs to take decisive steps to address its shortage of affordable housing, it is well-established that expanding rent control is the last thing the state should do. There is broad consensus among economists – from across the political spectrum – that rent control measures, no matter how well-intended, end up doing more harm than good.

“Rent control is among the best-understood issues in all of economics, and – among economists, anyway – one of the least controversial,” Paul Krugman explained in an essay in the New York Times. “Almost every freshman-level textbook contains a case study on rent control, using its known adverse side effects to illustrate the principles of supply and demand.”

Every college student who takes Econ 101 will encounter a graph like this. S = supply, D = demand, E = equilibrium price (graphic from OpenStaxCollege).

Price controls end up shrinking the overall supply of rental housing. Facing a decline in revenues, some landlords will opt to turn their apartments into condominiums, sell them, and invest their money elsewhere. At the same time, real estate developers have less of an financial incentive to build new rental housing that would offset those losses.

The decline in supply is compounded by the fact that tenants living in rent-controlled apartments are more likely to stay put because the bargain they’re getting on rent is just too good to give up. A recent study from a trio of Stanford economists found that San Francisco’s current (limited) rent control regime “increased the probability a renter stayed at their address by close to 20 percent.” This effectively locks up a chunk of existing rental stock, further shrinking the pool of available apartments.

Supporters of the rent control initiative marched in Sacramento in April.

So while proponents may insist that rent control will help working families, don’t believe the hype. Ironically, rent control is more likely to benefit the young tech bro who makes six-figures and already has an apartment in the Mission District than the single mother of three who has to commute to work from Fremont every day because she can’t afford a place in the city.

All of this begs the question of why the California Teachers Association is spending its money and leveraging its political clout to back an initiative that will actually make the state’s affordable housing worse. As with many things CTA does, fact and reason doesn’t seem to be part of their equation.


A Dubious Distinction, But Well-Deserved

Education media watchdog Alexander Russo released his annual roundup of the “Worst Education Journalism” yesterday and once again the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss landed at the top of the “Worst Journalist” list.

This dubious distinction is well-deserved, as Strauss jettisoned her journalistic principles years ago when she effectively turned her column, “The Answer Sheet,” into a high-profile (and high-traffic) platform for a rotating cast of education reform opponents.

Alexander Russo

Although the Post tags her pieces as “Analysis” (as opposed to straight journalism), which the paper defines as an “interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data, as well as anticipating how events might unfold based on past events,” readers will find little actual analysis in her work. Instead, Strauss essentially republishes the work of others, who all happen to share the same anti-reform outlook, while adding an often flattering introduction of the author, which in many cases appears to be cut-and-paste, as seen below.

[metaslider id=”1190″]

“What she’s doing — stealing bylines that should rightly go to her contributors, essentially  — is simply wrong to me, even if her contributors give her permission to post their work,” Russo said in explaining why he once again singled out Strauss on his dishonor roll. “Her page is also lazy. Instead of helping readers sort through complicated issues or giving us an unsparing analysis of both sides, she’s pandering to her readers’ baser urges.”

That last point is really the crux of the problem with Strauss’ output at the Washington Post: it is completely one-sided. Instead of presenting readers with views from both sides of the education debate, Strauss turns to the same anti-charter/testing/accountability folks again and again to share their views.

For example, Strauss has published (and/or extensively quoted) pieces from Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Educationtwenty times since January 2017.

During the same period, Strauss has published or extensively quoted works from the National Education Policy Center twelve times.

The same goes for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (a.k.a., Fairtest), whose work has made a dozen appearances in the pages of the Answer Sheet over the past eighteen months.

All of these groups receive funding from the teachers unions (in the case of the National Education Policy Center, we’re talking millions), a fact that you won’t find disclosed in their essays or Strauss’ introductions. Meanwhile, contrasting views from pro-reform voices are nowhere to be seen.

In short, Valerie Strauss has given education reform opponents one a hell of a soapbox from which to broadcast their propaganda, but she’s left her readers with a distorted view of education policy issues. It’s hard to see how that aligns with the mission of the Washington Post – whose motto is “Democracy dies in darkness” – but as Russo has noted in the past, those in charge at the paper don’t seem very concerned.

Perhaps it’s because reformers haven’t made enough of a stink about it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series of periodic posts looking at the anti-reform propaganda published by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post.