Education Matters: The education funding battle —The right fight for the wrong reason
By Marsha Sutton
As teachers’ unions across the state geared up for the “State of Emergency Week of Action” May 9 to 13 to protest state cuts in education funding, Del Mar parent Michael Robertson was fighting a different sort of battle.
Although part of his complaint focused on using school district resources to inappropriately lobby for a political position, the larger issue was how — and why — the California Teachers Association is able to mobilize students, parents and school districts to push lawmakers for more money for education.
Many schools and school districts during the week of May 9 pushed parents to support the CTA union agenda. But does the CTA’s agenda always coincide with what’s best for kids?
As Robertson said, “It’s not about protecting our kids but about protecting employee salaries and benefits.”
Not that long ago, school employee salaries and benefits in the county were about 80 percent of a district’s budget, but that percentage has consistently grown. At the San Diego Unified School District, the largest in the county, employee wages and benefits are said to be a staggering 93 percent of the district’s operating budget.
Clearly, funding to schools has risen over the years, but the money spent on increased compensation packages has not correlated to improved student achievement.
We need more money for education, yes, but we don’t need more money for education so teachers can receive higher salaries and benefits.
Robertson said the CTA “is a union whose sole purpose is to get as much money for their members for as little work as possible. I don’t fault them for their efforts, that’s what they are paid to do; but the school district should not be their mouthpiece.” The CTA, he says, does not represent kids or parents, “regardless of what their literature claims.”
CTA fliers handed out at schools propagated the false impression that the union represents student interests, and parents are being hoodwinked by deceptive rhetoric.The union fights for the rights of its members, and students are not members. Neither are parents.
This doesn’t mean the state should not allocate more funding for education. It should, and legislators need to make public K-12 education a priority. But the money must be funneled directly to programs that benefit students, because ever-higher compensation has not proven to address the chronic problems in our schools.
Attacking seniority rights
The CTA recently sent a notice to its union members alerting them to three proposed bills that “attack teachers directly,” with tips on how to present the bills to their communities to fight passage.
One bill, SB-355, takes on seniority rights by allowing districts the needed flexibility to consider other factors besides years of service when deciding who shall be terminated, including performance evaluations.
But the CTA says SB-355 “would allow administrators to practice favoritism under the guise of ‘keeping the best.’ It would gut one of the most important protections that helps ensure academic freedom and allows students to learn from experienced teachers.”
Then there’s SB-871 which would prohibit salary increases for employees in a school district that reduces its instructional minutes or shortens its school year, which the state has shamefully now allowed districts to do to save money.
The CTA describes this bill as “a full-on attack on collective bargaining and local control.” Even as teachers work fewer days, they still deserve increased teacher compensation? But we hear no objection from the union for fewer school days, when it’s common knowledge that the amount of time students spend in school is directly related to improved learning.
“The real problem in our schools,” the CTA claims, “is not seniority protections or teacher pay. It’s the chronic underfunding that has provoked a fiscal crisis and is threatening our students’ education.”
“It is vital that the cuts are stopped …,” the CTA notice states. “Reducing teacher protections in the guise of ‘cutting costs’ will make things even worse.”
The CTA says these bills “would foster discrimination and favoritism” and “would move California in the opposite direction of proven reforms that are helping our students and schools.”
Proven reforms that are working? Really?
But, as one teacher recently wrote in an email to Robertson, “I think if I do my job as I would have to at any other business, I don’t need this protection or seniority to save me. My work as a teacher should speak for itself.” Amen to that.
Just because the teachers’ union wants something doesn’t mean parents should blindly want it too. Fight for more money definitely, but let’s first make sure that money gets where it needs to go.
Marsha Sutton can be reached at: SuttComm@san.rr.com.
- Education Matters: Education decimation
- Education Matters: The fight for civics education
- Education Matters: Restricting students’ freedom of speech
- Education Matters: Leaving a legacy of unfair advantage
- Education Matters: Arguing with a rock star
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