Thursday, June 30, 2011

Buried in the Budget Deal, a Big Gift to Teachers' Unions

While we and others were willing to credit Jerry Brown for standing against the United Farm Workers by vetoing Darrell Steinberg's "card check" bill, those on both sides comparing Brown to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker may have been a little hasty. Apparently, the budget bill Brown just signed contains a very early Christmas present to the state's public school teachers.

I giveth, and giveth, and giveth, and sometimes I taketh away.

Apparently, the budget's education trailer bill, AB 114, was introduced just minutes before lawmakers voted on the budget package Tuesday night, where it passed without discussion and was not made public until Wednesday. It prohibits K-12 schools from laying off teachers in the upcoming fiscal year, and requires administrators to ignore the possibility of "trigger" cuts if tax revenue fails to meet Sacramento's expectations during the year. In other words, if schools are hit by a $1.75 billion cut halfway through the year, they can't lay off teachers to make up the difference, and they're required to assume that the cuts won't happen in the planning they're doing now. Some districts may even be required to rescind pink slips they issued earlier this year. According to Rick Pratt, executive director of the California School Boards Association, "Obviously, legislators went out of their way to protect teachers from layoffs, notwithstanding the level of funding they're providing for schools."

But the season of giving doesn't stop there. Remember the California Teachers' Association's big push for tax extensions to be passed without voter approval, and the California Federation of Teachers' proposal for a "millionaire's tax"? Well, it looks like they'll be getting their money one way or the other: another provision of AB 114 requires the state to cough up $2.1 billion in additional money to schools if voters reject tax extensions or they don't get to a ballot this year. Yes, you read that correctly. What's more, the bill also suspends three-year oversight of school district budgets by counties; while removing the requirement that districts balance their budgets beyond one year won't fix the finances of troubled districts, it will ease the pressure on unions to negotiate concessions. As one superintendent puts it, "It makes it difficult to look them in the face and say we have a problem. It defers the money problem and makes it worse." Kern County education official Michael Hulsizer was more blunt: warning that many districts will declare bankruptcy a year from now, he called it "frightening to pull the plug on a warning system that works. The consequence will be to enable districts to make bad decisions."

In other words, please spare us any more rhetoric about Jerry Brown's courageous stand against organized labor.


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