California ignores parents, empowers reactionaries 

Many states are passing progressive legislation to empower parents and students with choice in education.

California, on the other hand, is considering legislation that ignores the needs of students and makes the most powerful anti-choice force in the state even more powerful.

In the nation’s capital, Congress has revived the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a successful and popular school choice plan that President Barack Obama killed off at the behest of teachers unions, ignoring the protests of low-income parents, most of them black. In Wisconsin, legislators are expanding the Parental Choice Program in Milwaukee, the nation’s oldest. The cap of 22,500 students has been removed and the state boasts 13 new or expanded-choice programs.

Indiana created a voucher program that will allow about half the students in the state to attend independent schools. Indiana also removed a cap on the number of charter schools and allowed all universities to authorize them. Colorado will provide scholarships for independent schools and Maine passed its first law authorizing charter schools. Tennessee and North Carolina eliminated their cap on charters.

Tuition tax credits gained more traction in Oklahoma, Georgia and Florida, a pioneer in that field. Online learning got a boost in Utah. All told, 13 states passed progressive education reforms, leading the Wall Street Journal to proclaim 2011 the year of school choice. Not so in California, which prefers to empower anti-choice reactionaries, led by the California Teachers Association.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is the CTA’s candidate of choice, and faithful to their agenda. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed CTA lobbyist Patricia Rucker to the State Board of Education, and dumped proponents of parental choice, accountability, and charter schools. While Brown was promoting tax extensions to solve the state’s budget woes, the CTA held pro-tax rallies at the state capitol.

The CTA backs AB 114, which protects teachers from layoffs even under adverse budgetary conditions. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg defends the measure, which restricts the authority of local school districts. Teachers unions also back restrictions against online learning, as PRI’s Lance Izumi pointed out in Short-Circuited: The Challenges Facing the Online Learning Revolution in California. And of course the massive union marshals all its power to oppose school choice, even as other states and countries such as Sweden and Canada expand choice, with positive results in student achievement.

California’s K-12 government education monopoly is essentially a jobs program for administrators and union teachers. The CTA has spent millions to elect legislators who will give the union everything it wants, but on one point the CTA and other public employee unions may find some resistance.

As mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown established a charter school, the Oakland Military Institute, furiously opposed by teacher unions. OMI is now outperforming the Oakland Unified School District in most subjects and graduating
90 percent of its students, better than OUSD’s 60 percent. A full 94 percent of OMI students complete all courses required for admission to a state university.

Union-backed bills hostile to charter schools are sure to make their way through the legislature. When one reaches Brown’s desk, parents, students and reformers will be watching.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director of the Pacific Research Institute.

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