Monday, December 20, 2010


An unexpected Christmas present for California’s school children came two weeks early when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in an address to state leaders declared the union leadership of United Teachers of Los Angeles an “unwavering roadblock to reform.”

The mayor acknowledged that his own career included stints as a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association and as a union organizer for UTLA. Yet facing schools that have become, in the mayor’s words, “drop-out factories” comprised mostly of Latino and African-American students, Villaraigosa grew a spine that probably signals his belief that more political mileage can be derived from shifting his allegiance away from teachers unions and toward students and their disenchanted parents.

While the mayor mentioned the predictable liberal litany of things that harm California’s public education system—inadequate funding and the under-representation of Latinos and African-Americans in the University of California system—his fire was directed primarily at UTLA as “the most powerful defenders of the status quo.”

The mayor noted that UTLA had fought against the city’s “Public School Choice program that is now allowing non-profits, charters, teacher groups—anyone with a proven track record of success—to compete to run new or failing schools.”

The fact that only 50 “choice” schools are anticipated for 2012 in the huge Los Angeles district shows the general success of UTLA in maintaining a stranglehold on the area’s K-12 system. And no wonder. Comparisons with charter schools are deadly for their bureaucratic, union-based counterparts—as Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby and Harvard’s Tom Kane have shown in their analyses of charter students in New York City and Boston.

Villaraigosa went on to note the passage of legislation in Sacramento that allows communities to shut down or take over failing schools based on petitions signed by a majority of parents. According to his honor, “At every step of the way...UTLA was there to fight against the change and slow the pace of reform.

What is true of UTLA is also true of the California Teachers Association and its local affiliates. As Michael Piscal of the Inner City Education Foundation noted in the summer of 2007, “I’m a Democrat, but, overall, I’m appalled by the power of the CTA and how it wants to stop charters.”

Whether Villaraigosa and other Democrats are willing to take this reformist rhetoric about the tenure-driven “dance of the lemons” to the next level is uncertain. A key indicator will be whether the mayor puts merit pay, parental empowerment, and placing quality teachers in every classroom above the union-driven insistence on more pay and smaller classrooms—“reforms” that not coincidentally increase union membership, dues, and power.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


Near the end of a recent column about the November election I noted that the power of public employee unions and a seismic demographic shift have made California the bluest of blue states. That demographic trembler merits closer attention.

According to data gathered by the Public Policy Institute of California, in 1970 almost 80% of the state’s population was classified as white. A bit over 10% was Hispanic, and most of the rest of the Golden State’s residents were African-American or Asian.

Fast-forward to 1990 (after the immigration amnesty of 1986) and the Census Bureau identified a full quarter of the state’s population as Hispanic—over seven and half million of the state’s 30 million total.

The bureau’s 2009 estimate puts the Hispanic percentage near 37 and the white, non-Hispanic figure at 41 per cent--numbers that prompted the PPIC to label California a “Minority Majority” state.

Nothing but a continuation of this numerical trend is anticipated for the future--based on immigration data, birth rates, and figures fingering the folks moving elsewhere.

The political result of this population shift is that a state that voted nine times for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon just re-elected Barbara Boxer to her fourth Senate term by an overwhelming majority—despite an unemployment rate that stands above 12%.

California voters also returned Jerry Brown to the Governor’s Mansion where he is likely to sign the “Dream Act” bill that Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed twice.

That bill allows financial aid for higher education to go to “undocumented students” who have completed three years of high school in the state and possess a high school diploma or GED. The proposal, however, is only a minor immigration magnet compared to the Dream Act that Sen. Harry Reid is pushing in Washington D.C.

As currently configured, this legislation not only provides an educational or military pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants up to the age of sixteen, it also offers a green-card reward for family members who brought them here illegally—a bonanza that eventually extends even to relatives of the adult lawbreakers.

In short, what is portrayed as a bill specifically targeting educational opportunities for youngsters dragged illegally into this country as small children is, in fact, an attempt by open-borders politicians to cram as many Democrat-leaning voters into the country as possible.

A more narrowly tailored bill tied to strict border enforcement would deserve serious consideration. But legislation that excuses fraudulent applications and rewards even the relatives of adult scofflaws is primarily designed to turn every state into California.

But who then would pay for California’s public union pensions?