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CTA President Dean E. Vogel Speech to Council


Good morning State Council. It’s so good to be here today with my friends and colleagues. People I admire and people that inspire me. People that are thoughtful in the way they approach and debate the tough issues and the way they reach the right decisions. And that’s a good thing because there’s no shortage of tough issues for us to discuss this weekend. This morning I want to talk about the realities that are happening in our country, in our state and in our profession.

We’re going to talk about Tax Fairness and the Occupy movement, paycheck deception and a funding initiative in November 2012. I've also got to talk about how our union is central to improving the world we live in. And how we can lead the way to a better future for our students, for their families…and for ours.

So let’s start with what everybody in the country has been talking about lately…the Occupy Wall Street movement. What began a little over a month ago in the financial district of New York City, has now spread to over 100 cities. This is a grass-roots movement that is fighting back against the corrosive power major banks and the super-wealthy are wielding against the democratic integrity of our country.

Did you know the richest 1% of Americans hold a third of the nation’s wealth? Did you know that corporate income grew over 400% from 2001-2008 compared to 28% for personal income? With this wealth, individuals and corporations have been buying their way into lower tax brackets, buying their way into government contracts and buying their way into astounding political influence.

Just take a look at what’s been going on in public education. Arguably two of the most influential people in the public education debate these days are billionaires Eli Broad and Bill Gates. Their push to privatize schools, narrow the definition of student and school success, tout unproven reforms as gospel, and undermine the role of educators and their unions has given them notoriety and influence.

The fact of the matter is the problems facing our schools and our country are complex. We have to acknowledge this and understand the issues in order to make wise decisions and have intelligent conversations. We owe it to our children, ourselves and our fellow Americans to get it right. That’s why CTA is speaking out for education reform that works. It’s why CTA has been talking about tax fairness. And it’s why we are encouraging our members to carry that message to Occupy events popping up across California.

We could not sit by and watch this grass-roots movement unfold without saying, “Yes we understand and share your frustrations. We see the inequities. We want better for our country too.”  Some say this movement has nothing to do with education. I disagree...and I believe you disagree as well. Public education is central to rebuilding our country and to shrinking the growing chasm between the haves and the have nots.

We see the current disparities every day in our classrooms and in our communities. And these inequalities are counter to everything we believe. We fight for every child, not just some. We believe in opportunity for all children, not just a few. That is the cornerstone of public education and the mission of CTA.

Look, we elected a governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction that are standing with us on just about every issue, so we are better off than a lot of states. But let’s face it folks, California’s in a world of hurt. Let me give you some facts:
California currently ranks 46th in K-12 student spending. We spent nearly $3,000 less per student last year than the national average. Just 10 years ago, we were only $700 from meeting the national average. We rank last in the number of teachers and librarians per student. We are 49th in the number of counselors per student. In the past four years we’ve cut $20 billion from our schools and colleges.

During the same time we’ve laid off 40,000 educators…and college tuition has doubled. This is not the public education system we want for our state…or what our students deserve. And it’s not what will build a strong economic future for California. The unprecedented cuts to our schools and colleges are impacting our union as well. Our membership count is nearly 30,000 less than it was four years ago. This impacts the CTA budget and how we do business.

I know the Budget Committee is tackling these issues, but these realities require us to be strategic and disciplined about the way we make our decisions. We already know that we will be facing an expensive initiative battle next November 2012 as supporters of yet another Paycheck Deception initiative have turned in nearly 900,000 signatures. It’s going to qualify. Now we’ve beaten it twice before, but this one is a little different.

This scam claims to ban political contributions from both unions and corporations, but when you read the details, it really only impacts unions. It bans our use of payroll-deducted funds for political purposes. This is a huge challenge. Because you know, you have members in your chapters who are going to say: the union has to get my permission before spending money on political candidates, great. Sign me up.

But this measure is about more than candidates…it’s about initiatives, it’s about legislation, it’s about lobbying, it’s about education policy. So when the attacks come on our secure pensions, when some lawmaker wants to take away collective bargaining, when they want to change how colleges are accredited, when they want to dictate a statewide teacher evaluation system based on student test scores…CTA depends on this money to speak out for our profession and defend our rights as educators.

We have to talk to our members about what’s really at stake. Look, California is one of the last union strongholds and there are some people out there who hate CTA because of it. They want to privatize our schools and turn public education into a money-making business. Corporations already outspend unions on politics 15 to 1. If this initiative passes, it could be 25 to 1 or 30 to 1…or even 99 to 1. But defeating this initiative will not be easy or cheap.

We are in different times and it is going to take all of us educating our members and working in coalition with other unions to beat it again. 

There was an excellent article in the California Educator last month. We’ve got to engage in conversations in the lunch room or at our building meetings. We must empower our members now, so we can engage our communities and the public later.
Now, I’ve spent a good bit of time outlining the sad state of realities that surround us, but you and I both know, they don’t define us. You don’t get to be as old and powerful as CTA without being united and organized. And during these tough times, we cannot forget that very real truth.

Together...we are stronger. In the words of legendary author and activist Alice Walker, “The most common way people give up their power is thinking they don’t have any.” Let me say that again. The most common way people give up their power is thinking they don’t have any.

I know that is NOT CTA. I know that is NOT anyone in this room. Because when we come together in our local schools and colleges…in our local chapters…as CTA…with other labor unions and community groups...WE have power. We are One. We saw this as part of our historic State of Emergency actions last year. We saw this in Wisconsin. Where even in defeat, union members and working class Americans joined together as one and made working class and union issues, America’s issues. We see this now in the Occupy Wall Street movement. We must harness this energy, engage with our members and the community, and organize for a better future.
As part of this State Council’s State of Emergency plan you voted to have CTA take a serious look at long-term strategic planning. Building on Council’s recommendation, we put together a workgroup of members and staff and have begun this important work. Some of you in this room serve on the workgroup. One of the first recommendations from the workgroup and our first step in the process will be hiring an expert to help lead us through this important process: One that will involve more input from everyone in this room, as well as your members back home.

This will not be a quick process, but it will be thorough…and thoughtful…and inclusive…and transparent. And there’s a good chance that our organization will look and maybe operate differently when we are done. But these are the decisions we will make together as we continue to look inward to evaluate our effectiveness, our capacity and our relevance in how we best move forward. I know that change can be difficult.

I guess as a counselor, it’s one of the concepts I saw challenge my students and colleagues most. But change comes, whether we like it or not. It’s a natural occurrence…and we all know, when you don’t adapt you don’t survive. We’re all going to have to step outside of our comfort zones during this process, and we know how to do this. 

Now, I’ve already mentioned one initiative that’s going to be on the November 2012 ballot, but what about a funding initiative? It’s painfully clear that our state budget is starving for funds, and it’s not for a lack of money. California has the 8th largest economy in the world. The problems really come back to the state’s unfair tax structure. The super wealthy and big corporations are getting tax breaks that have them barely contributing to a system that helped them build their wealth.

We must expose these inequalities and lead the way to tax fairness and stable funding. We must actively participate in affecting and shaping the political economy in which we live. That's why we are working in coalition with other labor unions and community groups to come up with a funding initiative we can ALL get behind and support next November.

Led by this Council, and grounded in the recommendations of the Public Education Funding Workgroup, we know there are certain criteria any initiative must meet. It must be based on tax fairness – meaning a progressive tax system – to ensure everyone is paying their fair share and to and bring stability to our funding issues. The initiative must include funding for education – Pre-K through higher ed – and other essential public services.

In order to stop more cuts and the hemorrhaging caused by the state’s structural budget deficit, it must generate about $8 billion dollars. Any less and we are doing the state a disservice by making voters feel like the problem is taken care of when we know it’s not enough. And we must be smart about putting forth an initiative that has the best chance of success...meaning it does have broad coalition support and it is winnable.

We can’t afford to go it alone and we don’t want to. When I say everyone wants to have something we can do together, I do mean everyone. The governor called me Thursday morning to talk about how the state needs more funding and how he wants to work with us to make it happen. And when he talked about his priorities, for the most part they looked like ours. He knows it’s going to take a broad coalition – labor, community and business – in order get the job done.

And I tell you, I pushed him on including progressive taxes and he listened to what I said. To his credit, this governor has continued to reach out to us and seek our input. It’s also important to understand voter behavior is going to be shaped by so many things that are outside of anyone’s control.

What happens between now and next November is anybody’s guess. Does the economy continue to spiral and unemployment increase? Do we fail to meet state budget projections and have to cut more from public schools and colleges? Will there be more attacks on our secure retirement system? How does redistricting and the presidential race impact the election? How do we engage our members and the public?

These are all things that must be considered while moving forward with a tax initiative. I’m confident that CTA, being thoughtful and strategic, can successfully navigate these waters. I'm confident, because I'm confident in you. We can lead the way to more equitable education funding and tax fairness. And as a result, we can improve the education of our students, and build a brighter future for our state and nation.

We must continue to speak up for our students and our profession…and be the voice of reason in the education reform debate — especially as the discussion heats up on the re-authorization of ESEA. It’s why the CTA Board unanimously voted to oppose California seeking a waiver from No Child Left Behind. Teachers want to engage around improving our professional practice, but trading one set of top-down mandates for another or wrapping up Race to the Top in a different package is not going to fly.
You will hear more from the CTA ESEA workgroup shortly. So as we move forward in a new year, we will undoubtedly face many challenges, but we must stand firm in our belief and resolute in our values. We must not take our unity for granted. We've got to build on it…and nurture it. Engaging all of our members. We’ve got to reach out to labor and education coalition partners, as well the communities in which we live and work.  We are at an important crossroads in America history and in CTA’s history.

Here’s the good news:  Where we end up is all up to us.  I'm ready.  Are you ready?  Thank you.

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

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