Should California’s Teachers Vote With the Governor?
Nearly half a million of California’s voters are teachers. Like other voters, they will soon have to decide how to mark their November ballots. They will certainly scratch their heads over Propositions 30 and 38, competing measures that would ease the damage of four years of steady budget cuts.
Should teachers vote for Prop 38, which would bring significant new money to each school and provide funding for preschools? Or for should they vote for Prop 30, which would bring less money to education – but has the backing of the Governor?
The California Teachers Association (CTA), the state’s largest teachers union, has officially taken a neutral position on Proposition 38. Officially, it has committed to support the Governor’s measure. But as the State Council members fan out to campaign for it in lieu of their usual quarterly meeting, one has to wonder if their heart will be in it. When it comes to sustaining funding, either measure would do for the moment, and Prop 38 establishes a longer period of commitment.
The CTA’s State Council is an elected body of nearly 800 representatives that normally meets four times a year. State Council members are elected by regional delegates that are, in turn, elected by those rank-and-file members with sufficient interest in union issues to take time out for this sort of thing. It’s a big group. Usually, the CTA State Council convenes in the ballroom of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, a cavernous 26,108 square foot space that may be the only meeting space in the state large enough to accommodate it. For perspective, only two parliamentary bodies in the world have more members than the CTA state council: China’s National People’s Congress (3,000) and the United Kingdom’s House of Lords (827).
Making decisions in such a large body is no easy task. Because it is so large, the CTA State Council can only meet occasionally. Its meetings are often raucous, and divisions show. Nimble changes in position are out of the question.
When the State Council set its neutral position on Prop 38 in the summer, the politics of the moment were quite different. The issue at the time was whether to support the Governor’s ballot measure or to support yet another measure promoted by the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), CTA’s friendly competitor for union affiliation. Supporting three measures was unthinkable, and there was doubt at the time that Prop 38’s backers would put forward the money necessary for a serious campaign. When the time came for a vote, the State Council chose to cast its lot with the Governor.
Usually, the California State PTA aligns with the CTA on ballot questions, but in this case they have not done so – the State PTA supports only Prop 38, as does Education Trust-West. Meanwhile, the campaign for Proposition 38 is proving quite well-funded, after all.
Many other education-related organizations including the California School Boards Association, ChildrenNow and Educate Our State have endorsed both measures, and this position seems to be gaining traction. Voters with an appetite for detail can revel in the similarities and differences between the measures by studying the well-crafted comparison sheet created by Mary Perry.
In a nod to “When Harry Met Sally,” Educate Our State is calling on California voters to support both measures. They call this a “yes! yes!” position. [note: the link is for mature audiences only.]
The Governor sees Proposition 38 as an unfortunate distraction. He wants voters to pass Proposition 30, which aside from four years of help for the General Fund also includes constitutional “realignment” provisions that would permanently shift some of the responsibility for public safety, health, and social service programs from Sacramento to the counties.
The most emotionally packed arguments in the campaign for Prop. 30 relate to the disturbing prospect of automatic “trigger cuts” to education. If Prop. 30 fails, the education budget will automatically be cut, and those cuts will be passed to school districts. Backers for Prop. 38 call this “hostage taking.” If passed, Prop. 38 would leave the legislature with plenty of capacity to fill gaps.
In all the back and forth about which ballot measure does a better job, it is significant to note the extent of agreement about the pressing need for additional funding. These two measures are quite different, and neither is perfect. But most advocates are burying their differences because the prospect of even less funding for California’s students is too bleak to imagine.
For background on why California’s funding for public education has fallen so far behind the rest of the United States, see http://ed100.org/californiaskimps
Correction: A prior version of this post alluded to the possibility of a change in CTA’s position on Prop. 38 through a floor vote of the State Council. This is not possible, because the October meeting has been cancelled.