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Charter Schools Take Unnecessary Risk With Blistering Attacks on California Gubernatorial Frontrunner

If Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wins in November, will he punish charters for their efforts?

When it comes to politics, it's not always clear when to publicly blast a political opponent—or when to take a softer approach given the power that politician might one day exert over one of your priorities.

I was reminded of that conundrum recently. In these pages, I compared a state effort designed to crack down on "economic crimes" to something out of the Soviet Union. That bill's author, Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) sits on a committee that on Monday heard an occupational licensing reform bill sponsored by my employer.

The opposing lobbyist actually referred to the offending column, but Galgiani nevertheless voted for the bill, which passed out of committee 6-1. Good for her. For all their flaws, most politicians have the integrity to vote however they are going to vote—not to spite their critics. At least that's my operating assumption.

Certainly, columnists and political activists have to call them as they see them, yet even I was taken aback by the harsh tone of an email sent out this week regarding the governor's race from a group that promotes charter schools. The California Charter Schools Association Advocates sent an email with a subject line calling Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom an "unprecedented threat" and called for members to be "all in" for Democratic former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The email includes a link to a video of one of its board members blasting Newsom in a talk.

It's not a surprise that a pro-charter organization would back Villaraigosa in the June 5 primary. Villaraigosa is a liberal Democrat with lots of baggage for those Californians who are on the more conservative side of things. He has called for limiting Prop 13's tax protections and has gained troubling union endorsements, but as mayor he admirably stood up to the teachers' unions and attempted to expand charter options for L.A. school kids.

Charters are publicly funded schools that provide an important alternative to the public-school monopolies, especially in low-income areas with notoriously troubled schools. They are indeed under attack by the bureaucracy and the teachers' unions, which fear the competition and the diversion of funds. The California Teachers' Association routinely runs bills designed to limit—or essentially kill—these alternatives, even though they can greatly improve the life prospects of poor kids.

On the last point, a 2014 Los Angeles court ruling known as the Vergara decision deemed the state's system of teacher job protections unconstitutional. It was later overturned by higher courts, but the case highlighted the large number of students subjected to ineffective teachers. Charters provide a way out. Fortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown has been a strong supporter of charters and has been a backstop against anti-charter bills.

The real surprise is that the group would view Newsom as an existential threat to the current order. He has received the CTA's endorsement, which always is problematic, but Newsom also has a reasonable record of supporting charter schools—including one for dyslexic kids—when he was mayor of San Francisco.

"Gavin Newsom's record on public charter schools is clear: successful charters thrived when he was mayor and they will thrive when he is governor," said Newsom's campaign manager, in a statement this week. "He fundamentally believes in their mission as engines of educational innovation." Newsom, however, "opposes the creeping for-profit privatization of public education" and "has reasonably suggested that new charter approvals should be temporarily paused until both sides of the debate achieve the consensus they both say they want on those minimal transparency measures."

We should be more concerned about the impossibility of reforming these massive school districts and the inability of districts to fire even the worst-performing teachers (search Google for "rubber rooms") than about "creeping for-profit" schools. But it's hard to view Newsom's record or his statement as particularly hostile to charters.

Perhaps the tough anti-Newsom rhetoric simply reflects a changing dynamic in the race. According to news reports, longtime charter-school advocates Reed Hastings of Netflix donated $7 million and Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad donated $1.5 million to boost Villaraigosa via independent expenditure committees.

"Hastings and Broad have pumped new life into Villaraigosa's campaign," wrote Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton. There's no question about that. "And, despite the current cautious rhetoric, the race has become a proxy fight between teachers' unions and their charter school critics." But now the rhetoric is getting less cautious, with the charter group laying down the gauntlet and focusing attention on the debate over schooling.

The group raises some important points that should be debated in the campaign. But this brings us back to that initial dilemma about blasting political foes. The Newsom campaign says that the charter group's "hysterical hyperbole does a disservice to their members and to the overall public education policy discussion." According to recent polls, Newsom maintains a solid lead and still is the odds-on favorite to be California's next governor. If he wins, will he punish charters for their efforts? I tend to doubt it, but the heated rhetoric still seems unnecessarily risky.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

Photo Credit: Christopher Victorio/imageSPACE//Newscom

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  • JoeBlow123||

    Super liberal Gavin Newsom or some super liberal Los Angeles mayor... what fantastic options in California.

    Gonna run out of other people's money eventually.

  • FlameCCT||

    Governor Moonbeam has already run out of OPM.

  • Flinch||

    We may finally have definitive confirmation of life imitates art: the gubernatorial race is nothing more than Beevis and Butthead. No matter who is picked, we are all dumber for it.

  • Eidde||

    "By Jove, sir, you can at least spell my name correctly."

    /Beavis

  • ||

    In CA politics, Gavin is a "Downtown Democrat," which counts as a Republican.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I noticed some charters schools in Arizona also skipped school to protest higher wages.

    Teaches skipped work and kids ditched class to "support" the teachers because the teachers said so.

    Our educational system is so messed up.

    While I agree that teachers probably get paid too little, they also get months off work as a perk, and paid into a racket that pushes to keep bad teachers employed no matter what.

    Its a wash.

  • FlameCCT||

    The problem with teacher salaries is simple. If one breaks down teacher pay to an hourly wage scale then they are paid quite well. If they want more pay checks then simply treat teachers as any other government employees; work the entire year with federal holidays paid and 2 weeks paid time off to start. This leaves plenty of time to do classroom prep, lesson prep, teacher training, etc. while the students are on breaks.

  • MichaeI Hihn||

    It seems downright silly that most of the country follows a northern agricultural annual cycle when almost everyone stopped organizing their days that way generations ago.

  • markm23||

    It never was an agricultural cycle. On most farms, you plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. Most of summer has a lighter work load. If school was based on 19th-century agricultural requirements, there would be two long breaks for planting and harvesting (dates varying according to the major local crops and the local climate), half-days in the summer, and full days in winter until the snow got too deep to get to school. (In fact, many rural schools were open for only about three months a year, after harvest. They still managed to teach basic literacy and arithmetic, sufficient to run a small business, to most of the kids by about 14 or 15, and that's better than today's high schools do with many kids. That's because a one-room school doesn't divide the kids into grades by age and teach them in lockstep, because misbehavior was corrected with corporal punishment rather than giving the kid time off school, and because if some parents didn't bother supporting the teacher's efforts, the school board didn't bother making their kids come to school.)

    The 9 months of full day school and 3 months of summer off is for the better off city people to leave the city and vacation in the mountains where it is cooler. Most American cities - especially NYC and it's neighbors - were unbearably hot in the summer before air-conditioning became common, although the majority of the population was too poor to get out of town and just had to bear it...

  • The Laissez-Ferret||

    ^^^This X 1000. One of the biggest arguments to make my blood boil is people saying teachers aren't paid enough. My sister has been a teacher for over twenty years and I present the argument that most people work 230 days a year vs 190 at most for teachers. And then teachers complain bc they have to "take work home". Yeah, a lot of people have to do that. Or they travel a lot and spend time away from home and their families.

    Also, you picked to become a teacher so boo fucking hoo.

    Interesting footnote is my sister took an education job in the private sector for online schooling about two years ago. She lasted about three weeks before we quit. Honestly, most of these people live in a bubble.

  • ||

    And then teachers complain bc they have to "take work home".

    In my experience, no, they don't. They get union-mandated time during the day to do every single thing they need to do, and they're not going to spend one minute more than that doing jack shit.

    Do I sound bitter?

  • markm23||

    I think that when I was in public schools - and this was a long time ago - most of the teachers were taking work home, such as homework and tests to grade. When 30+ kids turn something in, and get their papers back the next morning, graded, it was pretty clear that teacher was working at night, because she did not have enough hours in the day. And I could compare the Junior Hign and High School teachers with my father, who carried a lighter teaching load at the community college and certainly worked many hours overtime for 9 months a year.

    However, there was no requirement to do this, and really no requirement to even attempt to teach. I know this because one man in Junior High didn't teach at all - which every teacher who got his kids the next year knew - and he kept his unionized job until retirement. If I was dictator, the NEA leadership would be in prison for child abuse...

  • ||

    The problem with teacher salaries is unions.

    You can't give one teacher a raise without giving every teacher in the district a raise. No negotiation over raises is therefore anything less than very, very high stakes for the district, which has every incentive to fight as hard as possible to not give raises and no incentive to concede, as the raise will be across the board and therefore provides no performance incentive whatsoever - it's just greater expense with no return.

    This means, whatever you may think of how valuable teachers are or how hard they work, that unionized teachers are being paid below market rate, yet you cannot attract teachers who are worth what they're paid because you cannot give individual teachers raises.

    Thus the union-enforced price cap on teachers keeps the quality of education low.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Public sector employees should never have unions.

  • Rhywun||

    While I agree that teachers probably get paid too little,

    With rare exceptions, they do not.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    I turn 65 this year. I started reading the newspaper when I was ten. I cannot remember a time when either teachers, or popular opinion, or the news media's talking heads and pundits expressed anything but dissatisfaction with teacher compensation, often with ridiculous comparisons with the pay of sports stars and Fortune 500 CEOs. Meanwhile, the administrative burden has grown such that teachers less than half of a government school systems employment and there's an immense Federal bureaucracy to boot.

  • NoVaNick||

    Problem isn't so much the teachers-its the administrators. My son is in 2nd grade at our local public school and was having some difficulties with his work, so we arranged a meeting where we thought it would only be the teacher and assistant principle. Turned out there were eight other people there too (nurse, psychologist, special ed teacher, student intern, and a few others I had never even heard of)-the meeting was only supposed to be 60 min but lasted for almost 2 hours, and we had two more of these before we decided not to do anything more since there plan for him wasn't working. We are now looking into private schools, wish there were more charter options in Virginia.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    A teacher with 15 years of trough feeding service gets paid $80,000 in the small ex-urb that I live in. Median house value here is $270,000 to give some sense of cost of living.

    That's for a scant nine-months of work, guaranteed two weeks for Christmas, a week in the spring, a 4 day weekend for Thanksgiving, every federal holiday, and benefits that make my poor little private-sector eyes tear up. They even get days off for bad weather.

    The supposed continuing education thing is a joke. History and math don't change much, and English teachers exist to make sure language stays static.

    It takes an 8th grader with some pedagogy training to teach a 7th grader.

    I'd keep dropping the salary till you can swing a dead cat without hitting someone who wants to be a teacher.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Where I live, teachers are paid very well relative to the cost of living. As are cops and fire fighters. No matter how good they have it, they always cry for more. Yet, with all their complaining about how horribly they're compensated. There is still a surplus of education school graduates from all the universities in the region.

  • PaulTheBeav||

    "has reasonably suggested that new charter approvals should be temporarily paused until both sides of the debate achieve the consensus they both say they want on those minimal transparency measures."

    LOL, let the anti side win until the pro and anti sides come to an agreement. I'm sure the anti's will be highly motivated to negotiate.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Making a huge concession to your opponents while getting nothing in return is the way to success, of course.

  • Eidde||

    If only there were ways to hold bad charter schools to account, like we do with bad regular schools. Like letting parents withdraw their kids from charter schools they find dissatisfying.

  • Flinch||

    I wonder if the question as posed is backwards. Has Gavin simply telegraphed he wants to crush charter schools for the sake of cementing teachers union perspectives in place and they didn't pick the fight? Maybe not, but it wouldn't be the first time a pol did a 180 after being shown the money. The governorship has money hovering in the wings at all times, and you're not going to get two democrats falling on the same side of charter schools: the money will split them at some point, and it may not show until after the election.
    This one should be interesting to watch, and as always... whatever the CTA endorses has a 99% chance of being the worst possible choice for the state. This is an achilles heel: Los Angeles is a much deeper base than San Francisco, and this time around could be that 1%?
    Man, I'm glad I don't live in the State of Emergency, Land of Disclaimers.

  • ||

    you're not going to get two democrats falling on the same side of charter schools

    And in this case, Villaraigosa is very supportive of charters and vice-versa. I think Gavin is engaging in cute political maneuvering - as PaulTheBeav says above, "let the anti side win until the pro and anti sides come to an agreement," while appearing to take the higher moral ground.

    Make no mistake, though - Gavin simply wants to win. The man has never, to my knowledge, shown principles of any kind.

  • Ron||

    theres the problem with California. when a group endorses its not an endorsement for the Democrat or the GOP its an endorsement for which democrat. In last years election no republican ran in some districts since no one would back them knowing they wouldn't win. Newsom is going to win and that will be very bad for California. When Newsom wins I will have to take a real serious look at how much longer I can live here.

  • Fairbanks||

    People in California who work at a decent wage will get screwed at an accelerating rate, given the political dynamics here. Even if something is done about public employee pensions it will only be to free up funds for other government give-away programs. So taxes will continue to rise. I'll stick around because I'm retired and the weather in Southern California trumps the downsides. But my fear is that eventually the tax base will be chased away enough so that it will not be a fun place to live even for retirees. That scenario is already playing out in Connecticut, where I grew up. It'll take a lot longer in California. Connecticut never really had much going for it to begin with, other than it was near NYC.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    It will hasten the need to declare martial law in CA.

  • Sevo||

    Posted earlier:
    The 'voter's guide' arrived yesterday. I can waste my vote on one of *two* Libertarian gubernatorial candidates!

  • LeRoi||

    So, shut up and hope he doesn't notice you?

    What a pathetic way to live.

  • MichaeI Hihn||

    Yes.

  • MichaeI Hihn||

    When it comes to politics, it's not always clear when to publicly blast a political opponent—or when to take a softer approach given the power that politician might one day exert over one of your priorities.


    Free speech should chill. It's the sensible course of inaction.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    If that halfwit Newsom is elected governor, California gets what it deserves. Well, to be fair, California is going to get what the people that voted for him deserve, but still.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    If that halfwit Villaraigosa is elected governor, California gets what it deserves. Well, to be fair, California is going to get what the people that voted for him deserve, but still.

  • Raoul Duke||

    Oh, California. When your choices for governor are Tony Villar or Gavin Newsom, I can only wish you luck.

  • MichaeI Hihn||

  • Eidde||

    "it's hard to view Newsom's record or his statement as particularly hostile to charters."

    You just quoted him as saying he wants to stop approving new charters until a consensus can be reached on new laws...apparently new laws to restrict charters.

    By unionizing them? By imposing racial quotas on them regarding admissions and student discipline? What wonderful new restrictions does he have in mind for charter schools?

    I'm sensing some hostility from him.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Well it certainly does seem like the charter schools are going to get hosed no matter who wins, so there seems little downside to the rhetorical broadsides.

  • creech||

    But where does he stand on the hi-speed choo choo?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    For all their flaws, most politicians have the integrity to vote however they are going to vote—not to spite their critics. At least that's my operating assumption.

    Unwarranted assumption but more power to you.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    For real. Check out Candide over here.

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