Good morning and happy New Year! Can you believe we’re done with our 150th anniversary? And what a way to wind it up, with our gala in October! Was that fun, or what? It was great having former leaders come back, and NEA Secretary Treasurer Becky Pringle, and of course, our modern day John Swett, George Sheridan. Not to mention the Governor. And yes, in typical Jerry Brown fashion, he dazzled us.
The entire year’s celebration was a lot of fun, a time to party, but we were also partying with a purpose: to remind all of us of the importance of public education in this state and our role in its preservation. You see, back in 1863, public education was still a radical notion. At that time, much of the voting public didn’t believe in supporting public schools with taxes. We’ve rediscovered in the 150 years since that our work remains rooted in that radical notion that public education must be publicly funded.
It wasn’t planned this way, but it was more than fortunate that our 150th anniversary dovetailed with the passage of Prop. 30 ... which I’d say was one of our great accomplishments together. To me, Proposition 30 is not just a temporary tax increase for public schools. It is a beacon of hope that shows the public still believes in public education. However, we will never be without challenges.
We continue to face major attacks that will affect our profession, our students and our classrooms. Recently, we joined the defense in two lawsuits, the Vergara and the Friedrichs cases, which I’ll talk about later. And this year, we expect to again join the fight to preserve secure retirement benefits for teachers, firefighters, police and municipal employees.
Leading Education Agenda
In spite of the challenges, we have an opportunity to lead the Education Agenda. In fact, we’ve planned for it. And we will. This is our time! Our good work is reflected in the Governor’s proposed budget ... and he publicly acknowledged us, our role, just last week when he appeared before the State Board of Education.
If you recall, we also played a significant role in electing the governor, who then championed Prop. 30. We must be vigilant in electing the right leaders, people, who support public schools and colleges. You will be reminded of that again this weekend when we make recommendations for the fall election.As the governor announced in his budget proposal two weeks ago, there will be $10 billion more for schools and colleges in this year’s budget. That amount repays all of the budget deferrals to local schools. Think of that!
The budget includes a funding increase of $244 million for the UC and CSU systems, which will hold tuition at existing levels. State funding for our community colleges includes an 11 percent increase in 2014-15. Yes, greater funding is still needed to restore our higher education system, but this begins to move us in the right direction.
The governor also committed to working with us to ensure the stability of the California State Teachers Retirement System. This too, was an important recognition that the state must ensure the retirement commitments made to our hard-working teachers and educators.This is our time!
Right now we have an opportunity with the Local Control Funding Formula and honestly, with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, to lead the education discussion and the profession. You see, LCFF is about engaging educators and parent in the decisions for our schools. It give us the opportunity to lead those discussions with parents and the community to move our schools forward and fund the priorities we know work best for kids, for our students. And I can't think of a better opportunity for us to engage our communities and organize.
CTA supports the LCFF and the Local Control Accountability Plan regulations as they give our local chapters flexibility to do what they need, but also ensure the money gets to kids as required by law.
I know the Common Core State Standards are not universally loved, and their implementation has been mired in controversy for some time now. But, in practice, many members are finding them to be a great change from years of scripted learning and the over-emphasis on high stakes testing. Remember, CTA policy commitee leaders were a part of the State Senate Work Group that modified the Common Core for California in 2010.
Our own C&I Committee reviewed the standards and recommended approval. State Coucil voted to support the State Board adopting them primarily because they offered more flexibility and academic freedom than California's old rigid standards. The new standards have the potential to transform the way we teach and change the role of teachers and support personnel.
Are you ready for the day when we become the pedagogical decision makers in our classrooms and our school sites? Look, there are districts out there not doing implementation right. In fact, they’re just downright awful. They seem to be caught up in the same high stakes nonsense that was born under NCLB and continues to this day. But this is where we can step up.
CTA is helping teachers demand their right to be involved in the implementation process in districts. Yes, it is our right. In fact, it is our professional responsibility. And we must own it. That's why CTS is providing trainings at conferences ... at regional meetings ... at local chapter trainings with school districts in many places.
And we are working with educators who are already working with the standards effectively to bring them to CTA conferences so they can share their expertise and best practices with others. We are also covering this in each issue of the California Educator and online at cta.org/commomncore.
It’s also important to note that here, in California, when we talk about supporting Common Core State Standards, we are not talking about supporting high stakes testing. Let me be clear. We have never shied away from high standards for our students. In fact, we've been a role model. But we have always strongly opposed high stakes, standardized tests. And we still do.
You need to know, CTA led efforts with the governor for a moratorium on testing this year. Now that doesn't mean we won't be giving tests. We still will be piloting versions of the test this year. But those test results will not carry high stakes. There is no way we will expect kids to take a test on material they haven't covered and teachers haven't had a chance to incorporate into their instructional practices.
Not to mention we don't have all the English and Math frameworks in place, or text book or materials. It’s just not happening. Every state in the nation is now trying to figure out how to do what we did, how to slow this process down and how to do it thoughtfully.
And another provision of AB 484 is that if the state board and the Superintendent of Public Instruction don’t think we are ready to go, they can postpone testing for another year. So that’s why it’s important for our voices to be in this discussion and to keep speaking out. And not jst at the State level ... but at the local level as well. It's our time! The idea of educators leading the education agenda isn’t universally supported. The same forces that tried during the last election to silence us are at it again.
We have fought attacks to our right to collect union dues ... your right to due process ... the right to laying off teachers by seniority rather than arbitrarily ... but this time ... the attacks are being leveled in the courtroom ... because they weren’t successful in the Legislature or at the ballot box.
I do need to talk to you about two important lawsuits that we face, the Vergara and Friedrichs cases. They will both have major impacts on our profession and our schools if they are not stopped. The Vergara lawsuit puts the professional rights of teachers on trial, and it will hurt students. The lawsuit attacks the Education Code provisions that grant permanent status to teachers, provide due process in teacher dismissal proceedings, and protect seniority as a component of the layoff process.
The suit demands that the court declare each of these statutory protections unconstitutional. Since CTA does not write or administer the laws, we were not originally a party to the suit. But we joined with the California Federation of Teachers to jointly intervene to safeguard teacher job protections that benefit the educational system.
But beyond this, we are again fighting corporate special interests and billionaires who want to push their education agenda on California public schools. That’s what this is about and we will continue to fight to ensure we have qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms whose rights are respected and not subject to arbitrary and capricious behavior or favoritism.
In the Friedrichs case, those same corporate interests are trying to do in the courts what they couldn’t do in the legislature or in the ballot box: silence our voices.
Now they are trying to prevent CTA from collecting agency fees. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled it is only fair that non-members contribute toward these expenses because they benefit from them. And in December, the U.S. District Court reaffirmed that by dismissing the Friederichs lawsuit ... but that’s just what their lawyers wanted so they can appeal the case and overturn the Supreme Court ruling.
It is nasty business but I’m confident we will prevail. And not only prevail, but thrive. I see a bright and deliberate future for CTA.
CTA’s Strategic Plan
And that’s what I’d like to spend the rest of my time this morning talking about how we lead our union now and into the future. If you’ve had a chance to read the Strategic Plan, you’ve got a pretty good idea about our direction. The Strategic Plan was presented to Council last fall, following feedback from more than 30,000 members and numerous discussions by over 100 members and staff who met for more than a year.
Earlier this month, we conducted a telephone Town Hall meeting on the Plan to discuss our goals for the future and how we will get there. I’m still amazed that we reached more than 30,000 members in two phone sessions! There were some great questions and a lot of reflection, but what keeps emerging for me is: How do we as an organization help our members take their profession back?
I find myself thinking about that new second grade teacher in Turlock, who is just trying to be the best teacher she can be, yet she is dying under the weight of the work. How do we help her? How do we make sure her voice is heard?
You know me, I’m an optimist and I believe in our organization and the power we have in bringing members together under a united voice. And not just that second grade teacher in Turlock … but the bus driver in Redlands … the Community College counselor in Stockton … the school nurse in Santa Rosa … the paraprofessional in San Francisco … the professor of education at Sacramento State.
These are the people who are advocating for our students. These are the professionals who know best about what is going on in our schools and our colleges and our universities. These are the same folks who have children of their own in school ... who are active in their neighborhood ... are members of a faith community ... who may be Rotarians ... or Little League parents ... who walk for breast cancer or are volunteers in senior centers. These are the people who are the fabric of our communities and are the link between our classrooms and our neighborhoods.
So this afternoon, at 4 p.m. We will be holding an open forum right here in this room, where you can ask more questions about the plan. Remember, as much work as has been put into this, it is only a plan, and it will only work if members step and get involved and make it happen. Your leadership will be key in making that happen.
At Council this weekend, we again mark the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And later this year, the country will mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was brought about by the March on Washington the year before and by many people who marched, sat in at lunch counters, and even sacrificed their lives for basic human rights.
As in our pursuit of quality public education for every student, the pursuit of equality for every American has been tested over and over again. Of the many inspiring quotes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. one that is as true now as it ever has been is the simple line: We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
If there is one thing we have as educators ... it is infinite hope.