A Crack in the CTA’s Wall?

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Over the course of recent years, CAPSO has supported a variety of state legislation aimed at using tax policy as an instrument for encouraging  and supporting various forms of private investment in education.  The Association has supported bills proposing the availability of tax credits for voluntary contributions to both non-profit organizations established to help parents access a private school education for their children, as well as organizations dedicated to expanding learning opportunities in public schools.  CAPSO has supported measures seeking to broaden the tax advantages that accompanying investment in Section 529 savings plans.  And CAPSO has supported various efforts to legislate tax measures designed to support teachers’ investments in their own continuing education, and in their classrooms.

A key feature common to each of the above-referenced proposals is that the underlying legislation always proposed policies intended to benefit students, parents, and teachers, rather than a particular category of school.  Another common feature is that in every instance, the legislation was opposed by the California Teachers Association.  As has been previously recounted in this column, even when CAPSO supported a bill proposing a $250 “above the line” deduction for out-of-pocket expenses for classroom materials and supplies incurred by teachers, the CTA opposed the measure, and continued to do so even after private school teachers were stripped out of the bill’s text.

The reason for the CTA’s opposition to such legislation is that the state’s largest teachers union would prefer to see the dollars in question allocated to Proposition 98 funding.  A current bill – one supported by CAPSO – provides a perfect case in point.  SB 1214, authored by State Senator Anthony Portantino, a Democrat representing Pasadena and other portions of the San Gabriel Valley, proposes an “above the line” deduction of up to $2,500, available annually for up to three years, to help teachers defray the costs associated with “clearing” their state-issued preliminary teaching credentials.  The CTA opposes the bill because, although it would provide a clear benefit to its members, the union believes it would be better policy if the state were to simply increase the Proposition 98 funding line for K-14 public education, and let those funds pay for the “clearing” of preliminary teaching credentials.

The benefit of such an approach, from the perspective of the CTA, is that every additional dollar of Proposition 98 funding creates a higher “floor” for all future K-14 education funding.  That said, there’s no assurance that 100-cents-on-the-dollar of new Proposition 98 funds will end up finding their way to the teachers who have paid out-of-pocket to clear their credentials.

Because SB 1214 would ensure that 100-cents-on-the-dollar spent to obtain a “clear” credential finds its way to the pocket of the teacher who incurred the expense, the bill is co-sponsored by the state’s other teachers union, the California Federation of Teachers.  In fact, the CFT’s partner in sponsoring the bill is the California Catholic Conference, a CAPSO-member organization.  In addition to the CFT and CCC, SB 1214 is supported by the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, the California State PTA, the Pasadena Unified School District and, of course, CAPSO.

Given its diverse backing, SB 1214 was successful in winning passage out of its house of origin – a landmark accomplishment for legislation of this nature supported by CAPSO.  Yet, even as the bill now advances to the State Assembly, it has failed to obtain funding in the budget process for the coming year.  Nevertheless, should the bill win passage in the Assembly, it will set the stage for a renewed effort in the coming legislative session, when its prospects for funding will be enhanced by the recent appointment of the bill’s author, Senator Portantino, as Chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

One more point bears mention.  Unlike previous bills of a similar nature, the CTA didn’t show up in person to testify against SB 1214, an anomaly that invites speculation.  Might it be the case that the union didn’t wish to publicly oppose a teacher benefit bill with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME looming on the horizon?  Though there’s certainly no guarantee, it’s widely believed that the unions expect to come out on the losing end of the Court’s ruling. Losing would means that public sector unions will no longer be permitted to automatically collect so-called “agency” fees from non-members.  Persuading non-members to voluntarily contribute such fees may prove difficult if the union is seen opposing legislation that would put money directly in teachers’ pockets.

Make no mistake.  The CTA will continue to wield formidable political power.  But it may now be constrained to do so in a less public, more circumspect manner.  In the coming legislative session, a bill such as SB 1214 may just prove to be a bellwether.

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