Charters Reform Unions

Yes, Warren’s Education Plan Would Do Harm To Many Families

Elizabeth Warren is the candidate with “a plan for everything,” including public education. There are some good ideas in there—such as ending zero-tolerance discipline policies and $100 billion in “Excellence Grants” for any public school (including charter schools, believe it or not.) 

But tucked away at the end is a poison pill under the subtitle: “Combating the Privatization and Corruption of Our Public Schools.” Sounds ominous, but is it accurate? 

Not even close. Some of the union-approved talking points found include:

  • “Charters … strain the resources of school districts and leave students behind, primarily students of color.”
    Does Warren realize more than 60 percent of charter students are students of color? And that study after study finds that these students fare better in charter schools than kids who look like them in traditional public schools? Pssst, including the state she represents in the Senate, where “charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes.”
  • “Ban on for-profit charter schools.”
    First of all, the federal government can’t do this, as charter laws are written by states. Also, only 12 percent of charters are for-profit, and exist only in Wisconsin, California, Michigan and Arizona. This is a favorite red herring of hacks like union shill Peter Greene, intended to mislead the public into thinking that charters are somehow “stealing” public dollars.
  • “Ban self-dealing in nonprofit schools to prevent funneling resources to service providers.”
    This is rich. Yes, there are flagrant cases of charter schools funneling money to for-profit service companies to enrich their leaders. But this problem is hardly unique to charters. Traditional districts and schools are and have always been rife with financial fraud. This is an accountability and oversight problem that curbing charter growth does nothing to prevent. In reality, charters are as good as the laws which create them. Just look at Massachusetts, where Warren praised her home state’s charter laws as “successful, thoughtful, and innovative.”

Parents of Color See Through It

In response, dozens of parents of color called out Warren’s pandering plan and demanded she do better by families who’ve been left out and behind by the very school districts she verbally praises but personally avoided for her son. More recently, she told the NEA that: “If you think your public school is not working, then go help your public school. Go help get more resources for it.”

Many of these parents specifically select charter schools because of generational deprivation at the hands of school districts. For those who can’t afford private schools, there are few other options. Yet, in attacking what little opportunity public education affords these parents, Warren persists.

Naturally, the union-funded status quo defense apparatus sprung into action, calling the parents’ motives and intelligence into question. Worse yet, some on Twitter claimed the fuss was much ado about nothing and the parents “incoherent”:

Rachel Cohen’s since-deleted tweet.

When Warren writes, “as President, I would eliminate this [federal] charter school program and end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools,” this is an imminent threat to families with limited education options. This is a direct threat to what many families consider a lifeline for their children.

No, parents like Warren and Diane Ravitch aren’t concerned about losing charter schools as an option (or relegating them to the same bureaucratic backwater that plagues districts), because they simply send their kids to private schools or (gasp) the ultimate bastion of privilege and segregation in public education: magnet schools.

If only Warren spoke about the entrenched interests of the education blob as she did on a recent NYT podcast about the financial sector:

I just didn’t care about the banks and the big donors. If you thought I was wrong in what families needed, tell me. But nobody ever did. You know what everybody said to me? It’s a great idea, but don’t even try to do it because the banks call the shots—the big money calls the shots. And they’re gonna keep this from getting done.

Replace “banks and donors” with “union leaders and bloated district bureaucrats” and she’s spot on.

Don’t be rope-a-doped by salacious union-talking points disguised as serious public policy. Much of Warren’s plan is driven from a tremendous point of privilege. She shouldn’t be surprised when parents who don’t buy the charades check her and insist on a refresh to her plan that takes into account their lived experiences.


“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.


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:


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.


When Will Portland’s Teachers Union Stop Protecting The Worst Of The Worst?

Investigators hired by the Portland Public Schools board released a damning 320-page report last week detailing how the district repeatedly failed to address allegations of serious sexual misconduct against Mitch Whitehurst, a former Portland Public Schools teacher who retired in 2015 after 32 years with the school system.

Whitehurst’s misdeeds – and the district’s complacency in dealing with them – eventually came to light through an in-depth series of articles published by The Oregonian in 2017. Shortly thereafter, the school board brought in a team of independent investigators to provide a full accounting of the facts in the case and develop recommendations to address problems surfaced during the course of their investigation. The report issued last week is a detailed summary of what those investigators uncovered over the past nine months.

Mitch Whitehurst may have preyed on dozens of students during his 32-year career with Portland Public Schools.

They found that questions about Whitehurst’s conduct were raised almost immediately after he was first hired by the district in 1982 and continued over the next three decades, as several students and parents complained to school administrators about his inappropriate behavior (which, it turns out, included having sex with several students).

Yet time and again, the district did nothing. Each time allegations were raised, officials either dismissed the accusations as rumor or chalked up the incidents as a one-time lapse in judgment. It was only after Whitehurst touched a fellow faculty member at school – and Portland Police got involved – did anyone take action against him.

After officials at the state licensing agency caught wind of the police investigation, they launched an investigation of their own. As his history of sexual misconduct came to light, Whitehurst voluntarily surrendered his teachers license, but not before the Portland Association of Teachers negotiated a generous early retirement package for him, which included an agreement that the district would not disclose the reasons for his departure.

Logo of the Portland Association of Teachers.

But the Portland Association of Teachers’ culpability in the Whitehurst scandal doesn’t end there. The investigators found that the union’s policies allowed Whitehurst to prey on students for so long. One such policy, enshrined in the union’s collective bargaining agreement, requires the district to purge disciplinary records from the personnel files of teachers every three years. This made it nearly impossible for school officials to establish that Whitehurst had a history of serial sexual misconduct with students.

During his career with Portland Public Schools, Whitehurst transferred schools a half-dozen times. “As he moved from school to school, very little institutional knowledge of his inappropriate behavior followed him,” the report notes, pointing to the frequent purging of records. “His pattern of sexual conduct with students went mostly undetected. And when incidents were reported, the District gave Mr. Whitehurst the benefit of the doubt.”

Investigators also found that the union’s aggressive tactics have created an atmosphere in which school administrators are reluctant to take disciplinary action against teachers like Whitehurst.

“Some administrators expressed a fear of retaliation by the union and its members,” the investigators stated in their report. “Other administrators voiced fatigue from trying to manage an educator using the formal disciplinary process only historically to have HR, in-house legal counsel, or the Board push back on the reprimand and contend the offending behavior should not result in discipline or termination.”

To add insult to injury, Portland Association of Teachers officials refused to cooperate with the school board’s investigation and PAT president Suzanne Cohen has told reporters at The Oregonian, who broke the Whitehurst story, that she will never give an interview on the subject.

Portland Association of Teachers president Suzanne Cohen refused to cooperate with the investigation and won’t give interviews on the Whitehurst case.

Nevertheless, the release of the Whitehurst investigation report has resulted in calls for the school board to revisit many of the policies in their contract with the teachers union. For its part, the Portland Association of Teachers publicly made a vague pledge to work with the district to protect students from sexual abuse moving forward. However, PAT president Suzanne Cohen has downplayed the significance of the report and signaled to members that the union is not planning on making substantial changes to the contract.

“The problem in PPS isn’t the PAT contract, and the problem isn’t the quality of the PAT members,” Cohen wrote in a letter to members last Friday. “The problem is that PPS has allowed a culture of irresponsibility and dysfunction to flourish among its administrative ranks. The constant acceptance by PPS of administrators who cannot follow the simplest contractual requirements related to evaluation, discipline, safety, and a myriad of other issues reinforces what we have been claiming for years and has harmed students and educators.”

In short, the Portland Association of Teachers refuses to accept any responsibility for creating an environment in which its members have been able to engage in sexual misconduct with students. It’s also clear that they believe that protecting teachers should take precedence over protecting children from sexual abuse.

Unless parents and community members demand that substantive steps are taken to revise the contract, the Portland Association of Teachers will continue pay lip service to student safety, while protecting the worst of the worst.

Read the investigators’ report on the Whitehurst case:


David Sirota Joins Union-controlled Capital & Main

Capital & Main, a Los Angeles-based non-profit media outlet controlled by a group of labor unions –  including the California Teachers Association and California School Employees Association – has hired David Sirota to lead a new national investigative desk that the organization is launching this summer.

In many ways, the Sirota-Capital & Main marriage is a perfect fit. As I revealed in a post last fall, Capital & Main is essentially a front for organized labor trying to pass itself off as a legitimate news outlet. Their board is packed with representatives from CTA, CSEA, SEIU, as well other union-funded groups. Capital & Main has also received significant funding from unions, including the California Federation of Teachers.

Some of the unions represented on Capital & Main’s board of directors.

Nevertheless, Capital & Main has consistently failed to disclose their close ties to labor in their reporting, which almost invariably promotes the unions’ talking points. Their education coverage, in particular, has been completely one-sided with incessant attacks on charter schools and other education reforms.

Soon after I published my piece bringing attention to their transparency problems, Capital & Main briefly appended disclosures to their articles, acknowledging that “several of the unions cited or quoted in this series are financial contributors to Capital & Main.” However, those disclosures have since either disappeared or have been tucked away within their stories.

As for Sirota, while he presents himself as a investigative journalist, he has instead built a reputation as the enfant terrible of the populist left, someone more interested in bomb-throwing than getting his story right. For example, he once praised Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez for bringing about an “economic miracle” in that country, a claim that would no doubt elicit cynical laughter from those now living in the dystopian nightmare that is Venezuela. He also incessantly attacked Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign, while failing to acknowledge his past ties to her primary challenger, Bernie Sanders.

Although these sort of stories play well with the Democracy Now! crowd, his bombastic approach has drawn criticism from mainstream journalism. FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver has accused Sirota of “playing fast and loose with the truth” and has called his arguments “self-righteous, accusatory, and oversimplistic.” Meanwhile, Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth and contributor to The Upshot at the New York Times, has said Sirota’s “rhetoric makes Bill O’Reilly look subtle.”

Earlier this year, Sirota resigned from his post at the International Business Times, where he had served as a senior writer for the past four years. Before his move to IBT, he was a staff writer at PandoDaily, until he was abruptly fired in 2014 at the behest of the news site’s investors.

In January, it was announced that Sirota had been tapped to lead Shareblue Media, an initiative launched by long-time Democratic operative David Brock, which he promised would be “the left’s answer to Breitbart.” But two weeks later, Sirota suddenly backed out of the ShareBlue job after apparently disagreeing with Brock over the editorial direction of the site.

Given his past, perhaps it would have been wiser for Capital & Main to hold off on their hiring announcement until Sirota was officially on the job.

Post-script: 4/16/18

My friend Michael Vaughn reached out on Twitter to share this gem of an article from 2011, when Sirota’s wife mounted an unsuccessful bid for a seat on Denver’s school board. The piece recounts how Sirota ejected a journalist from his wife’s election night party because the reporter worked for Education News Colorado (now known as Chalkbeat), which Sirota claimed was “not a real news organization.” Sirota later defended his action, explaining that Education News Colorado was “a propaganda website with a vested interest in trying to skew media coverage.”

Read the whole ironic story by clicking the link below:

David Sirota bars Education News Colorado reporter from Emily Sirota on election night

Update about the Jimenez-Draper Carson race below. By now, you’ve heard that Anne Rowe and Allegra “Happy” Haynes won seats on the Denver Public Schools board, and that incumbent Arturo Jimenez narrowly claimed victory over reformer Jennifer Draper Carson. As for Rowe opponent Emily Sirota, you won’t read her reaction…


J-Day: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Janus v. AFSCME

This morning, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could have a major impact on the the nation’s public sector unions, including the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association.

The core question in the case is whether public employees covered by collective bargaining agreements can be required to pay “agency fees” to a union that they refuse to join. The petitioners argue that mandatory agency fee laws, currently on the books in 21 states, violate the First Amendment rights of non-member public employees who are compelled to support unions even though they disagree with their political positions.

Screenshot from Education Next

It’s a nearly identical argument to the one made by plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case heard by the Supreme Court in 2016, which resulted in a rare 4-4 split decision following the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia halfway through the term. The split decision meant that a lower court’s ruling against Friedrichs was upheld, mandatory agency fee laws survived, and public sector unions dodged a bullet.

But court observers believe that the unions won’t be as lucky this time around. It is widely expected that Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was appointed to replace Scalia on the bench last year, will join the court’s conservative majority to strike down mandatory agency laws in the current case.

Justice Neil Gorsuch will likely provide the crucial fifth vote needed to strike down mandatory agency fee laws in Janus v. AFSCME.

Nevertheless, Gorsuch gave little indication of where he stood on the issues when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME this morning. He remained silent throughout the hearing, even as his colleagues aggressively questioned attorneys on both sides of the case.

The court’s liberal members, particularly Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor, questioned how mandatory agency fees were different from compulsory bar association payments or student activities fees at colleges. Meanwhile, Justice Alito, one of the most conservative voices on the court, hammered attorneys for the respondents with questions on First Amendment protections.

“When I read your brief I saw something I thought I would never see in a brief filed by public employee union, and that is the argument that the original meaning of the Constitution is that public employees have no free speech rights,” Alito said to David C. Frederick, who represents AFSCME in the case. “Where do you want us to go with that?”

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has often emerged as the swing vote on the court, made it clear he sided with Janus.

But perhaps the most eye-opening comments this morning came from Justice Kennedy, who has emerged as the crucial swing vote in several high-profile Supreme Court cases over the past decade. Kennedy made it clear he believed mandatory agency fee laws were unconstitutional and at one point brusquely told Illinois Solicitor General David L. Franklin, lead attorney for the respondents: “It seems to me that your argument doesn’t have much weight.”

We’ll have to wait to see how where the other Justices land, as the court won’t issue its decision until later this spring. In the meantime, you can read the transcript from from today’s arguments below, or read my previous piece on Janus v. AFSCME, which includes more background on the case, by clicking HERE.

Read the official Supreme Court transcript of the oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME:

Janus v AFSCME Oral Argument (Text)


NJEA Shows Phil Murphy Who’s Boss: The Short Tenureship of Paula White

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from my friend and colleague, Laura Waters. It originally appeared on her blog, NJ Left Behind, where she writes about education reform policy and politics in the Garden State and New York. You can follow her on Twitter at @njleftbehind.

Late yesterday Star-Ledger editor Tom Moran had a scoop: Governor Phil Murphy abruptly rescinded the appointment of Assistant Commissioner of Education Paula White a week after the State Board of Education had unanimously confirmed her as Acting Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet’s right-hand woman.

The question is “why.” Moran’s answer is that, while White’s credentials are impeccable — an M.A. from Columbia Teachers College in Educational Leadership, eight years teaching  low-income students of color in Atlanta, Chief Turnaround Officer for the New Jersey Department of Education, a board member of Programs for Parents, a member of the New Jersey Council for Young Children — she has an Achilles’ heel, a fatal flaw.

What could that be?

Here’s Moran:

“White’s offense is that she worked for 18 months as state director of Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that clashes with the NJEA. The group’s views line up almost precisely with President Obama’s — in support of strong tenure reform, a careful expansion of good charter schools in struggling districts, and national standards linked to tests. The NJEA opposes all of that.

“So, ask yourself: Is Obama’s education agenda so toxic, so extreme, that White’s 18 months advocating it should be a disqualifier? In effect, that is what Murphy is saying.

“Dig deeper, and this goes way beyond the disgraceful treatment of Paula White. Murphy’s allegiance to the NJEA is his blind spot and could cripple his governorship.”

If Gov. Murphy fired Paula White because NJEA leaders told him to — when asked, the Governor’s office “would neither confirm nor deny” —  then New Jersey has problems that go beyond the ousting of an eminently-qualified educational leader hand-selected by Repollet. (She worked with him in Asbury Park). What else will Murphy’s allegiance to NJEA provoke him to do? After all, he may feels like he owes them big-time.

Why? During the campaign he promised the union that he’d get rid of PARCC on “Day One”; he promised he’d fully fund pensions; he promised he’d fully fund a broken school funding formula.

But the truth is that he can’t keep those promises. (See here.) And so, perhaps, when NJEA leaders objected to the selection of Paula White because of her association with DFER, Murphy, who had breached his contract with them, made a promise he could keep, even though that decision makes Repollet look far removed from the loop of state educational leadership, makes Murphy look like Pavlov’s dog when confronted with a whiff of dissension from his patron, and makes NJEA look like Pavlov himself, a metamorphosis it may welcome after a humiliating defeat of the $5 million campaign to unseat Senate President Steve Sweeney by replacing him with a Trump-supporting climate-change-denying immigration-foe.

“The whole thing is strange,” says Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chairwoman of the Education Committee. “You offer a highly qualified individual a position, she gets the unanimous support of the state board, is introduced to her staff, and later the same day she gets the job rescinded. From the outside, it looks suspect.”

Strange, indeed. On the other hand, we know who’s wearing the pants in N.J.’s public education arena. And it’s not the Governor or the Commissioner. It’s a special interest group created and managed to protect adult jobs. Murphy’s subservience to lobbyists bodes poorly for New Jersey schoolchildren. I hope he gets his pants back.