In 1863, the same year President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, John Swett, the fourth superintendent of public instruction convened a teacher’s institute of 100 educators – largely superintendents – that was to become the California Teachers Association.
Swett crusaded for professional standards for teachers, free public schools for all children, teacher control of the profession, better salaries and a school system that was adequately and equitably funded through a state tax. He was also a fervent believer that education was the great equalizer.
Back then, Swett said, “If one state in the union needs a system of free schools more than any other, that state is California. Her population is drawn from all nations. The next generation will be a composite one, made up of the heterogeneous atoms of all nationalities. Nothing can Americanize these chaotic elements and breathe into them the spirit of our institutions but the public schools.”
How prophetic was that? Since that time, CTA has been at the forefront of every positive change in public education in California.
From the establishment of free public schools in 1866, to leading the effort to establish community colleges in 1911, to supporting class size legislation as early as 1895, the California Teachers Association has worked on behalf of educators, students and public education.
CTA helped establish the California State Teachers Retirement System in 1913 so teachers didn’t need to retire into a life of poverty. CTA won a legal victory in 1927 when the state Supreme Court ruled that a school board cannot fire a female teacher simply because she got married. Due process, fair dismissal laws, collective bargaining all came about because of CTA.
CTA was behind Prop. 98, the landmark law passed in 1988 that provides minimum funding to schools and community colleges. We worked to establish more rigorous graduation requirements, longer school years and class size reduction for grades K-3. Most recently, CTA worked with the governor to convince California voters to pass the first tax increase for public schools and colleges in 20 years – preventing $6 billion in cuts to schools this year.
“It may be hard to believe in 2013, but public education, and education for all, is still a cause just as it was when CTA was founded in 1863,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “We are carrying on the work that began 150 years ago, and that’s why we are celebrating that fact this entire year.”