This Is What It's Like to Take on School Unions As a Democratic Leader in California

Gloria Romero fights for school choice from the left.

Gloria RomeroPhoto courtesy of DFERWhen National School Choice Week kicked off at the end of January in Los Angeles, former California State Senator Gloria Romero was there to celebrate. 2013 may prove to be a banner year for Romero in her school-choice activism. As a state senator, Romero introduced and fought for the passage of “parent-triggered” school reform in 2010. The law allows for parents to force a school district to convert a failing public school into a charter program if they have enough community support.

Toward the end of 2012, Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., became the first school to successfully convert to a charter program through application of the parent-trigger law. A second school in Los Angeles is now on its way to join them.

Romero is also a Democrat, and thus her education reform activism has pitted her against the powerful education unions that are very politically influential within her party. She’s now the California director for Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a group devoted to fighting for school choice from the left. Last month I interviewed Romero about recent school choice successes and the challenges of trying to fight for education reform within the confines of her own political party.

Reason: How do you feel National School Choice Week went this year?

Gloria Romero: Well, it was a very enthusiastic kickoff. For us in California it was very symbolic. The kickoff occurred in a very blue state. This is very democratic country. It begins to show increasingly that the issue of choice, that the issue of parent empowerment, is no longer such a partisan issue. Democrats aren’t just joining the fold, they’re leading the fold. It was a bipartisan group, but there were more Democrat speakers than Republicans. Choice can no longer be construed as an issue of the right.

Reason: Describe what it’s like to try to challenge union control of the education system as a Democrat.

Romero: Where do I begin? When we talk about education and education reform, it automatically means change agents have to take on and confront the No. 1 political force in California, and that’s the [California Teacher’s Association]. Simply to talk about education reform, to enact legislation means you’re dealing with the power of money. Unfortunately we’d been stymied in many of our reform efforts because of the power of money. I still think we have to try. We have made progress. We’ve gone two steps forward, one step back. If we can’t get it through the ballot box or legislature, we have to go through the courts.

Reason: Tell us a little bit about Democrats for Education Reform and what they’re up to.

Romero: It’s a national organization — a PAC — that is committed to supporting Democrats who have the courage basically challenge the status quo, to challenge the system. In California we have focused primarily on parent empowerment strategy. We have very much connected this with the civil rights fight. In California the base of the Democratic Party is black and Latino. When you look at failing schools, they’re primarily in poor and minority areas. This is where we see there’s strong ground we can stand with Republicans. More successfully we have focused our efforts at looking at litigation and empowering parents and teach parents how they can have choice and overcome the entrapment of ZIP code.

Reason: What has surprised you most about this struggle?

Romero: The betrayal of money. I’m a Democrat. I believe in the Democratic Party, but I think the party has largely lost its way when it comes to fighting for rights. The money has caused the party to not have the courage to stand up for the most vulnerable, the people we’re supposed to be fighting for. This will change, but it’s a civil right fight. It’s one in which, whether it’s through the courts -- less through the ballot box due to the power of money there -- this system will change. I’m just amazed at the commitment of those who have stepped up to fight: They are fearless.  It’s like a David and Goliath fight. It’s encouraging to see people step up and try to chip away at this failed public system that we pay for ourselves.

Reason: You were responsible for helping craft and push through parent-trigger legislation in California. What do you think of Desert Trails Elementary being the first school to make it through the process?

Romero: Bravo. Let’s get going. Let’s get moving in other cities. I’m going to be going to Texas and meeting with parents who were instrumental in getting a similar law. Parent trigger has started a revolution, a rethinking of the role of parents as true architects of their children’s future and in being oversight agents and holding schools and their bureaucracies accountable. To me, when I look at parent trigger, I’m very pleased to see what happen. It’s amazing to me to see how quickly to see embraced nationally. It was a hard fight to get it passed. I’m looking forward to it taking root. Parent trigger, when you think about it, should be a lesson that school districts, school boards, superintendents need to wake up. What it’s saying is that parents are telling their own elected officials that they have the power to create change but they just don’t. I hope it will encourage elected officials to create change and not have to wait for a petition. They should not have to wait. They should just know that the petition’s coming.

Reason: Is there a way for unions to embrace school choice without feeling like it’s a threat to their membership?

Romero: I would say yes. We do find Green Dot has a unionized charter network. But if we’re talking about choice with charters, most are not unionized. There’s the reluctance there. I think it depends on what level of choice. The way I talk about it to classified unions, these are the kids of their own members they’re stifling by restricting school choice. If it’s adults versus kids, I’m going to go with kids first. This is a public education system, not an employment agency for adults. I think you’ll find different union members react differently. Many rank-and-file members are not in agreement with their unions. There is a push for choice and it’s growing and gaining strength. The question is whether they jump on the bandwagon or end up on the sideline of history. That will be an individual struggle within the unions themselves.

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  • Harvard||

    Vouchers.

    Or, vouchers.

    Better yet.....vouchers.

    It could be no simpler.

  • Juice||

    I'd like to see a voucher program that recognizes the establishment clause of the first amendment.

  • Bam!||

    I don't follow.

  • ||

    Because parents using their vouchers for religious schools is claimed to violate the establishment of religion clause. But this is incorrect.

    Allowing parents to use vouchers for the schools of their choice, without excluding religious schools, doesn't violate the clause. Explicitly restricting vouchers from being used for religious schools, however, WOULD violate the clause. That a parent can use a voucher for a religious school isn't the state being involved with religion, it's just giving money to parents who MIGHT choose a school with a religious background.

  • SiliconDoc||

    Yes it's called freedom of choice, not the government forcing a choice or restricting a choice.

    It's not a difficult concept, it's just retarded brain washing is everywhere.

  • ||

    And yet there are also education tax credits which avoid all these problems and don't require funneling money through the state at all. So...no vouchers! Education tax credits!

  • General Butt Naked||

    Why should someone get a choice on how to spend other's money?

    The houses directly next to mine have about 10 kids between them, and they pay roughly the same property taxes I pay. When their rugrats start weeding my garden and painting my fence, then they can choose. Until then, have fun in the public education system.

  • SKR||

    I'll give you a hint. The answer is utilitarian.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I don't really have a dog in this fight; I just hate paying property taxes so that people will have a free babysitting service for 13 years.

    Keep pumpin' out fuckwads.

    Jesus.

  • SKR||

    well yeah me too, but I would like more educated fuckwads. It would be good for my blood pressure, and these weird indentations on my temples.

  • General Butt Naked||

    One could argue that the people willing to research private schools and go through the trouble/cost of the voucher system would be the same kind of people that participate actively in their children's education. So those kids would already be relatively well-adjusted and college bound.

    Another thing to consider is what will happen to private schools in the US if the voucher system is established. I would guess that we would start seeing problems that are occurring in our nation's universities. That is, an inverse squared relationship between rising costs and the quality of the education.

    And you know that once this thing gets going the meddlers in the government won't be able to keep their paws off of the running of private schools.

  • SKR||

    It would still likely deal a substantial blow to teacher unions and ossified public school administrations as they see money draining away.

    Huh weird, money can have a power for good. I never would have guessed from reading her interview responses.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    How about this: A significant number of private schools spend less per student than public schools do.

  • grey||

    School vouchers will morph into EBT style cards, you know, for the kids. Then parents will then use it to buy shit they want.

    Sarcasm, sort of, everyone here knows the government will fuck up even a voucher system. It's the best choice given the option, but is there really anyone here that is optimistic about the government funding education?

  • susan256||

    just before I saw the paycheck which had said $6787, I accept that my cousin woz like they say realey taking home money in there spare time on their computer.. there best friend haz done this 4 only 21 months and recently took care of the loans on their apartment and got a great new Ford. we looked here, jump15.com

  • Juice||

    darius, if my tax dollars are being used to fund a religious institution, it violates the establishment clause.

  • pmains||

    School vouchers do not establish a state church. They do not move us in the direction of an established state church. The school voucher law neither privileges nor discriminates against religious institutions. To insist that it violates the first amendment is ahistorical and as absurd as insisting that the right to bear arms is the right to the limbs of a bear.

  • Jordan||

    If I spend my Social Security check on a Bible, does that violate the establishment clause?

  • Juice||

    There are no strings attached to how you spend your SS check, but you must spend the school voucher on schooling. Maybe the voucher should just be a blank check cut to the parents to spend as they please, then it would be analogous to SS.

  • Jordan||

    There are no strings attached to how you spend your SS check, but you must spend the school voucher on schooling.

    That distinction does not explain why one is a violation and the other isn't.

  • Juice||

    It's not a cash payout. It's a voucher, kind of like food stamps. There are restrictions on how you can use it. Surely there would be a list that the government keeps of those institutions that are specifically approved to receive the voucher. The government is saying "you are now allowed to receive tax money for your services." If there are religious institutions on that list, I say that this violates the establishment clause.

  • SKR||

    how would one family's choice to send their kid to catholic school in any way effect your ability to the free exercise of your religion?

  • ||

    how would one family's choice to send their kid to catholic school in any way effect your ability to the free exercise of your religion?

    It doesn't, but let's not pretend that it isn't also forcing you to help them exercise theirs. Vouchers are pretty much A-OK under current case law, as are spending your SS check on a Bible or bringing food you bought with food stamps to a church pot luck. But then so is PPACA.

  • SKR||

    right now, those people that would like to excercise their freedom of religion are forced to pay into a system that restricts their freedom because in order to send their children to a religious institution they must forfeit all the monies paid through taxation. You are also forced into that same system but unless you choose to send your kids to a religious school your freedom of religion is not restricted. Under vouchers, there would be a net increase in freedom. You both are still getting screwed by the government but at least the giant rubber fist for the religious gets retired.

  • ||

    Yeah, cause no protestant or atheist would ever send their kids to a catholic school.

  • SKR||

    Lol, designate. I went through 12 years of Catholic school. My parents are Luthern, and I'm an atheist. I'm not sure what your point is but you made me chuckle.

  • ||

    It was meant as a reply to Nikki. I just think it's funny to say that giving parents vouchers that might end up going to a religious school automatically means that the person sending their kid there is somehow forcing their religion on others.

    Glad I could make you chuckle though.

  • Juice||

    I do not want to be forced to pay for the running of a Catholic school/church.

  • ant1sthenes||

    I do not want to be forced to pay for the running of a Progressive school/church, but tough titties for me, eh?

  • ||

    So start a secular school that offers the same quality education and try to put the catholic school out of business.

    This may come as a shock to you but the school is a separate entity from the church.

    And you still haven't answered how some religious school receiving money violates the establishment clause. Unless those vouchers are ONLY good at catholic schools, the government isn't "establishing" anything (except the idea that we can take money from everybody and distribute it to a few).

  • KPres||

    darius, if my tax dollars are being used to fund a religious institution, it violates the establishment clause.

    Likewise, if your tax dollars fund an institution which prohibits religious education, as the current system does, it violates the establishment clause.

  • SKR||

    Well you could look to the Netherlands and the standards they have established to see how vouchers coupled with religious schools didn't lead to teaching Intelligent Design. If that's the worry.

  • Juice||

    I don't care if you're kids are taught creationism, just don't do it on my dime.

  • Bam!||

    I don't care if you're kids are taught creationism, just don't do it on my dime.

    I think we need to teach them proper spelling and grammar before the origins of the universe.

  • SKR||

    yeah, that's pretty much the point of the system in Netherlands, but apparently you would rather piss and moan.

  • Juice||

    The point of the Dutch voucher system is that no tax dollars are spent on religious education? Yeah, I don't think that's how it works.

  • SKR||

    huh weird, I don't remember arguing that particularly asinine strawman.

    derpity derp derp derp

  • Juice||

    Maybe you should make your point more clear then because it didn't address mine one bit.

  • SKR||

    The Dutch system set curricula standards to prevent government funds going towards reigous education that contravenes those standards. This means stuff like creationism andyoung earth bs is right out.

    I don't know what you think goes on in a religious school, but we just had a theology class each semester that amounts to a philosophy class. Oh noes the horror!!!

  • grey||

    We're trying to bake a pie out of chicken shit. If the government wasn't funding education, then most of these objections go away. I don't care if my neighbors teach their kids Scientology in their curriculum.

    I have faith in parents if they are given back the responsibility for their own lives and their own children; they will make sure their kids get an education that meets the workforce needs. Much more so than what we have today. Can anyone argue the schools are turning out people for this centuries work force?

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    It actually can get simpler:

    End Socialized Education.

  • SKR||

    yeah fuck the good let's hold out for the perfect forever.

  • Juice||

    If I'm forced to fund churches, there's nothing good about that.

  • ant1sthenes||

    I don't know. If you support the status quo, there's the karmic good of you having to pay to support indoctrinating children with an ideology you find repulsive and socially destructive.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    First of all, I was only claiming superiority in the simplicity arena, assface.

    Secondly, if you convince me that the second order effects aren't going to lead to a creeping socialization of good functioning private schools, then I'll listen.

    Until then take your perfect-enemy-of-good accusations and jam em up your ass with a rusty shovel.

  • Wendy J. Elliot||

    like Mike said I didnt know that a mom can earn $5923 in one month on the computer. have you read this site... http://zapit.nu/31P

  • BarryD||

    DER!

  • SiliconDoc||

    This whole scene is horrifying.
    We have a continuously screwed up most major government function that for 6 hours a day takes everyone's children and freaking blows it.
    Except of course, the pols kids, who are exempt, and go to private elite institutions with posted armed guards.

    Whatever, I am so sick of hearing about the gigantic failure. Have they been whining for 10 or 20 years now ?
    Obviously they cannot and will not fix a damned thing.
    It is in continuous decline.
    Carnegy stats show lefties took over the school systems from righties post seventies or so - when the polls showed prior near 90 percent conservative teacher response, they show now the opposite, the libtards at 90% and near total destruction is at hand.

    My fix for the school system of course is going back to hardcore conservatives running classrooms. Feminized idiocy will be out, if the teacher says get down and do 40 pushups for opening your yapper or being rude, that's what you will be doing. No lawsuits, no whines about abuse, no child psychologists around every corner.

    Expect all that as soon as the sun explodes. Al Gore has probably already contributed to a 10% decline in learning in the USA.

  • SKR||

    sounds pretty authoritarian. fuck. that. shit.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    There's nothing wrong with teachers beign able to take "reasonable" measures to get kids to behave in school. However, once kids get past the babysitting phase, I think very little time would need to be spent "in school". Education is due for a cataclysmic overhaul, and the coming fiscapocalypse will help it along.

  • SKR||

    what I consider "reasonable" and what a hardcore conservative considers "reasonable" are likely to be vastly different. A disruptive student should be removed from the classroom so as not to distract others and given over to his parents for punishment. If they are fuckoffs and do nothing to correct the behavior fucking expell the little douchebag and let them or more likely the criminal justice system deal with him. My kids shouldn't have to be subjected to authoritarian asshattery just because some other kid is a little fucker.

  • Harvard||

    Then take your fuckbrat AND his/her voucher and find a school that better fits your style.

  • SKR||

    That would be ideal. Where is this voucher of which you speak?

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    Yeah, he and his children need to find a school that better fits their style despite you being the one calling for a goddamn fucking borstal system.

  • grey||

    Sure SDoc, why don't you be top man and say who teaches our children, we'll substitute one ideology for another. From earlier in the blog, I'll quote a very famous line that provides a nuanced and yet pointed response,

    "sounds pretty authoritarian. fuck. that. shit."

  • General Butt Naked||

    Well-behaved kids in public schools grow up to be well-behaved taxpayers, and well-behaved democratic voters...

    Fuck that. If I had a kid he'd be taught that he needs to challenge the kind of arbitrary authority that school administrators so love on a daily basis.

  • SKR||

    This

  • Paul.||

    Whenever Democrats talk about reform, I instinctively reach for my wallet.

  • Sevo||

    So do they.

  • Kyfho Myoba||

    L. O. L!

  • grey||

    ^^^This is Funny Shit^^^

    The funniest lines have truth.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    I RTFA and even when someone from the Left supports a position I agree with, the way they talk about it sounds creepy. It's just a totally different frame of mind. I did like hearing her say it was an education system for kids, not an employment agency for adults. That's refreshing, if obvious. However, she continually confuses "rights" with "authority". They are not the same thing.

  • SKR||

    and it's always the power of money...

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    Yes, she continually blamed "money" for the disgusting behavior of her compatriots. She never seems to recognize that the real problem is giving government the authority and influence wielded by lawmakers and their union bedfellows.

  • SKR||

    only money has power. power couldn't possibly have power. nope.

    c.c

  • ||

    Vouchers do not violate the estabishment clause. It's all about locus of control. Vouchers are a payment to PARENTS. They have the locus of control. They can CHOOSE to pay for a school that is religious or secular. There is no STATE endorsement of religion, nor is their state discrimination against religion (except in WA where there is a law about scholarship monies being used at religious institutions/schools).

    Your "Tax dollars" pay my fucking salary. But if I choose to spend some of my money on a religious institution, it does not violate the establishment clause either. Again, LOCUS OF CONTROL.

    Religious and non-religious schools compete in the marketplace. They compete for the dollars of parents and they compete for students. There is no govt. endorsement of religion when a parent chooses a religious school REGARDLESS of where that parent's money comes from.

  • Harvard||

    STFU you statist fuckwad in a brown shirt. I must now reverse my position because to agree with you in any way about any thing relegates that position to unacceptable.

  • ||

    We probably agree about most things where we differ from Dem/Repub party line.

    against the war on drugs, against militarization of police, against criminalization of prostitution, against income tax, against using the military as the world police, against overly punitive criminal justice system (especially federal), against intrusive police search and seizure powers, against DUI roadblocks, against overly permissive taser usage/policy, etc.

  • SKR||

    admit it. you only hate dui roadblocks because they are boring.

  • ||

    I don't hate them. I think they violate my state constitution, and my state supreme court happens to agree with me. They violate privacy. My state constitution protects privacy, thus they are unconstitutional

  • crashland||

    Wow you are an easy one to control. Admitting to a little common ground with old Dunphy isn't the end of the world.

  • Juice||

    Well, then if that's the way it is, I'm going to have to oppose a voucher system in favor of the crappy monopoly government school system, if those are my only two choices.

  • ||

    You can be in favor of education tax credits instead...

  • Sevo||

    Shine on, Nikki Diamond| 3.14.13 @ 7:07PM |#
    "You can be in favor of education tax credits instead.."

    I agree, but it looks like the folks would rather ignore the point.
    HEY, BOZOS! YOU CAN BE IN FAVOR OF EDUCATION TAX CREDITS INSTEAD! CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
    We'll see if it works.

  • SKR||

    Because tax credts are an even greater political nonstarter than vouchers in today's current political culture. It's really seen as giving te poor the shaft.

  • ||

    I hate to quote Walter Cronkite, but ... yup... That's the way it is, was, and will be.

    Cheers

  • SeaCaptain(Yokeltarian)||

    You militant atheists masquerading as libertarians really are disgusting pieces of shit.

    My gosh you're fucking retarded.

  • SumpTump||

    Sometimes man you jsut gotta jump back jack. Wow.

    www.EliteAnon.tk

  • SumpTump||

    I dont get it man, that makes no sense at all ddude.

    www.EliteAnon.tk

  • newshutz||

    wtf is a "change agent"?

    When a term like that pops up, I know I am going to hear some progressive double speak.

  • Sonderegger||

    Bravo. Let’s get going. Let’s get moving in other cities. I’m going to be going to Texas and meeting with parents who were instrumental in getting a similar law. Parent trigger has started a revolution, a rethinking of the role of parents as true architects of their children’s future and in being oversight agents and holding http://www.toneweras.com/new-e.....-c-55.html schools and their bureaucracies accountable. To me, when I look at parent trigger, I’m very pleased to see what happen. It’s amazing to me to see how quickly to see embraced nationally. It was a hard fight to get it passed. I’m looking forward to it taking root. Parent trigger, when you think about it, should be a lesson that school districts, school boards, superintendents need to wake up. What it’s saying is that parents are telling their own elected officials that they have the power to create change but they just don’t. I hope it will encourage elected officials to create change and not have to wait for a petition. They should not have to wait. They should just know that the petition’s coming.

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