School Choice: Parents and Kids vs. Teachers Unions
The week of January 23 – January 29, 2011 was National School Choice Week. Although charter schools, permitted by the state since 1992, allow for some freedom of choice for parents and pupils alike, as of 2009 serving approximately 250,000 state students, California regulations hamper students from choosing online learning alternatives or attending private or parochial schools with higher achievement scores and lower drop out rates.
(A new report by Pepperdine University says K-12 expenditures rose 22% between 2003-04 and 2008-09, up from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion, but during the same period classroom spending declined from 59% to 57.8%. )
California is ignoring a movement by state leaders across the county to establish school choice voucher plans, or Education Savings Accounts (ESA), which would permit money the state sends to schools to be deposited directly into a family’s ESA, allowing parents to use to the money to send their child to the public or private school of their choice.
Don’t expect any promising changes, however, from either Governor Brown or California’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, the former Antioch city councilman, member of the County Board of Supervisors, the state Senate and Assembly. He’s a former Mt. Diablo Unified School District teacher. Teacher unions are opposed to burgeoning national education reforms, which advocate altering the way teachers are hired, evaluated and fired. Both Governor Brown and Supervisor Torlakson rely heavily on union support during election time.
In fact, California Teachers Association President David Sanchez recently commented, in regard to Brown’s seven new state Board of Education appointees, that the union was thrilled because the prior board had been stacked with too many members connected to charters, which are mostly nonunion.
Commenting that, although there was no quid pro quo, “we did work our butts off with getting the word out” about Brown’s candidacy, and if Brown proposes a June ballot measure to help fund schools “we’re going to invest time and money in it.”
I guess we’ll soon find out whose side the Governor, the new Superintendent of Public Instruction and the new state school board members are on – that of parents of kids in failing public schools or teacher unions.
In December administrators from the Compton Unified School District, which ranks among the bottom 10% of comparable schools statewide, resisted a petition from parents to turn the school over to a charter operator, meaning all school employees would probably lose their jobs. Parents filed suit, a judge issued a restraining order against the district and the new state board will be soon be holding a long-delayed hearing in regard to the parent trigger law, which requires underperforming schools to launch one of four turnaround strategies if a majority of parents sign a petition.
Should any attempt be made to weaken the proposed regulations, we’ll know the unions have won another battle.