Teachers’ Pets


What’s a special interest? It’s a lot like pornography, in that the definition depends almost entirely on one’s point of view.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger views special interests as groups, especially unions, that support Democrats. Democrats, meanwhile, are intent on pushing down the governor’s poll numbers by bashing his allegiances. They also argue their supporters have purer motives for the public good. Let’s examine that argument through the lens of a three-year battle over charter schools.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 27, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 27, 2005 Home Edition California Part B Page 12 Editorial Pages Desk 2 inches; 98 words Type of Material: Correction
Charter schools -- A May 19 editorial should not have stated that state Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena) intentionally called a committee vote at a time when two supporters of a bill he opposed were not present. The bill, which would have allowed public and private universities and colleges to authorize charter schools, was heard and voted on by all 12 committee members on the date requested by the author, and it failed on a tie vote. Senate deadlines forced the timing of a reconsideration vote, and the bill would have died in any case without an additional vote.

Last month, the state Senate Education Committee considered a bill that would have allowed public and private universities and colleges to authorize charter schools. The bill, by Sen. Charles Poochigian (R-Fresno), had acquired two Democratic supporters in the committee. But Chairman Jack Scott (D-Altadena) scheduled a vote when those two lawmakers couldn’t be present, which killed it. Supporters squarely blame the influence of the California Teachers Assn.


The CTA is an umbrella for most of the state’s teachers union locals. With its close ties (and dependable campaign contributions) to majority Democrats, it has a near veto over legislation that appears to threaten the interests of unionized teachers.

Democratic legislative analysts said they worried that the Poochigian bill would have effectively allowed private universities to establish mini school districts with public money. For instance: Stanford, with its respected school of education, could sponsor three or four charter schools in the lowest-performing areas of East Palo Alto or Oakland, where half of minority students drop out of high school. Taxpayers would undoubtedly fail to see the harm in this.

The high-minded objections about private schools spending public money are ultimately cover for union job security. Most teachers in charter schools serve at the will of the school, without the ironclad job protections of most union contracts.

This is the third consecutive year that such legislation has died under similar circumstances. The first year, the legislation was admittedly too loose, extending charter sponsorship to virtually any nonprofit organization. But over the last two years, the proposal has been substantially tightened, limiting its reach to colleges. Charter school organizations have also improved their self-policing, and fiscal restraints are tougher. Most charters still must be sponsored by their local school districts.

Colleges could experiment outside district bureaucracies. Their charter school successes could become public school models. Alas, the CTA wields enough clout in the Legislature to make the appealing plan disappear year after year, without a floor vote.

When it comes to school reforms, students ought to be the dominant interest. They too often are not.