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Eric C. Heins | CTA State Council Speech | June 3, 2017


Good morning State Council.

Who's excited it’s near the end of the school year? Who’s ready for a vacation? And by vacation, I mean a well-deserved rest, a break from the political craziness going on in the world, getting ready for CTA and NEA summer conferences ... or all of the above. 

With the announcement of a federal budget that guts education, health care, civil rights and the environment, a lot has happened in the last three months. We have some work ahead of us, but by uniting and working through our union, I know we are not alone.

I know we have the courage to keep moving forward for the students who are depending on us. And through the work of this body, we have a plan to guide us. I know talking about the strategic plan is not sexy or exciting, but what we've done with it is.

In the three-and-a-half years since State Council approved CTA’s Long Term Strategic Plan ... every day, I am reminded what a good decision that was. It has given CTA greater focus and direction, helped us to be proactive more often than reactive, strengthened our ability to lead on important issues facing students, educators and schools, and to lead on social justice issues facing our state and the rest of the country.

It also firmly roots us in our values at a time when our country is grappling with what’s true and what’s false, what’s right and what’s wrong. The Strategic Plan is in motion at all levels of this organization. At CTA, we are building a better state for public education.

We’re creating the climate and conditions that will allow students to thrive. And we’re striving to make California stronger for everyone. That includes standing up on behalf of our students, and pushing back strongly against those who would undermine a quality and free public education system ... or our right to be different.

If you look at our Advocacy Agenda, The Public Education All California Students Deserve ... which is available in 12 different languages ... you can really see the Strategic plan playing out. That agenda reflects so much of what we’re doing in California ... such as moving away from standardized testing as the sole measure of success ... ensuring that ALL students have access to a well-rounded education ... fully funding our schools ... or ensuring that educators are leading the profession in professional development, curriculum and teaching methods ... and that they receive compensation comparable to other professionals with the same amount of training and experience.

Of course, one of the core objectives of the Strategic Plan is ensuring that our schools get the resources and support they need. The Local Control Funding Formula is working toward that goal. It’s also empowering educators and communities to have more say in how those funds are used.

Now, I am well aware that is sometimes easier said than done. While some districts have embraced real participation in developing local control accountability plans with our local chapters and with parents ... others have a “thank you for your input” approach that allows them to check off the educator or community input box ... and then move ahead with whatever the heck they want.

Some of it is just ignorance or bureaucratic resistance to taking risks ... and in other cases it is deliberate obstructionism or not wanting to give away any perceived power. The bottom line is the LCAP allows for tremendous flexibility ... and I say let’s not spend too much time worrying about districts that don’t get it yet. We’ll get them there. Let’s not agonize. Let’s organize. The LCAP is a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our local chapters and to rally members around issues that are important to the success of their students. Meanwhile, the governor’s revised budget plan pumps an additional $1.4 billion into the LCFF and eliminates the nearly $1 billion deferral that would have been a nightmare for many school districts. This is great news.

Still, we have concerns with other parts of the budget as it stands. There’s one proposal that would prematurely reduce future education funding and undermine the minimum school funding law. We’re working with the governor, legislature and the entire statewide Education Coalition to get a better solution.

We’re also deeply concerned about the mixed signals being sent to Higher Ed and its students. Community colleges will get to see some increases, but the cuts to the CSU and UC systems are unacceptable, as are the recent tuition hikes approved by the CSU Trustees. Our university students simply cannot continue to pay more and more. It’s just wrong. A university education should be affordable for all Californians!

While we’re working for a state budget that brings money into our schools, unfortunately, in Washington, they’re trying to take money away. The Trump Budget plan for education, with support from Private Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is in direct contradiction to our Advocacy Agenda. It's more like a vehicle to dismantle public education and further the interests of corporate, for-profit reformers.

The Trump budget would slash $10.6 billion from public schools to pay for a private school voucher scheme – something California voters have rejected twice. Here’s just a few programs on the Trump/DeVos chopping block:

*Special education

*After school programs

*Class size reduction

*Educator training

*Indian Education

*Migrant student programs

*Student loans

*College work study

*Historically Black Colleges

*Head Start

*Community Schools

*Arts in Education

*Speech and hearing therapy

*Vision screening for low-income kids

*And Homeless youth programs 

These programs touch everyone in this room and all of our students. But that’s not all. The same hard-working men and women Trump vowed to protect will be struggling even more with the proposed cuts. It’s predicted this budget would kill nearly 2 million jobs by 2020. Cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security would hurt children, working mothers, seniors and the disabled. When kids aren't healthy, they can’t come to school ready to learn. There are cuts to multiple programs designed to keep working people safe, healthy and trained on the job.

The proposal basically wipes out all civil rights enforcement. And then, there’s the republican health care plan that will leave 23 million people uninsured. And where is the money going? Tax cuts to wealthy and building a stupid wall. You have to wonder. How does this make America “Great Again?” For who? I’ll tell you who. The top 1%: The CEOs already making 500% more than their employees. The hedge fund manager playing the system. Those that can afford to pay for their own healthcare. Really, for white wealthy America. This is truly a reversal of fortune for everyone else.

But it’s not all about money. It’s about power … and not the power of working together for a common good … it’s about the power secured through fear and oppression and denying people human rights. In stark contrast, here in California ... you and thousands of CTA members stood up for students and social justice on May 1.

At the direction of this body, thousands of educators took part in our Statewide Day of Action to protect public education and stand up for all students, including the undocumented who are coming to our classrooms with a growing threat hanging over their heads.

I want to thank Council for initiating the May 1 call to action and everything you did to make it a success. We had great press coverage and social media was on fire all day long with the Hashtag: CTADayofAction. Our actions were also supported by the CTA Media Fund and our latest advertising campaign. 

I mentioned the Trump administration’s support for a corporate reform agenda. That agenda isn’t just about school vouchers to undermine public schools, it’s also about a massive expansion of schools controlled by the corporate charter school industry and its investors.

We don’t have to look any further than the Los Angeles School Board elections a few weeks ago to see that billionaire agenda in action. In the most expensive school board race in U.S. history, the California Charter Schools Association and its billionaire supporters poured in nearly $13 million to buy two seats on the board.

They outspent a coalition of educators, parents and labor families by over 2-to-1. I want to commend United Teachers Los Angeles for their fight. Will the sisters and brothers from UTLA please stand up. I want you to know CTA and NEA were proud to stand with you.

There were hundreds of volunteers making calls and knocking on doors. In the end, we came up just a little short. And much of that has to do with the massive mis-education campaign by the Charter billionaires. For example, three people pumped in $3 million in the closing weeks.

They even sent mailers that depicted our candidates as being part of the Trump/DeVos education agenda. And they did that because our message about charter school accountability is getting thru.

Let me break this down a little. All charter schools aren’t created equal. In California, many charter schools have developed and operate under the original intent and spirit of the law — that is, to give educators more freedom to innovate and to establish schools with a focus that meets a need not being met under the traditional school model.

But others have been created for less idealistic reasons, putting profits before kids and often exploiting employees and engaging in discriminatory enrollment practices. When done right, with community and educator support, charter schools can fit into a local education plan. When done wrong, they’re bad for both students and educators. 

We have charters like Animo in LA or Helix High School in San Diego that are union organized and who are great members of CTA. They’re using the charter law the way it was intended. But there are other charters out there – run by private corporate management companies like Celerity that was raided by the FBI and is under investigation by Homeland Security for misuse of public school funds.

It shouldn't take a raid by the FBI for the public to find out how these corporate charters are spending public tax dollars. CTA is committed to ensuring all charter schools work for students, parents, and educators ... not just for corporate charter owners. Our successful efforts to organize educators in many charter schools is a part of the Strategic Plan, and has allowed those teachers to be treated more professionally and empowered them, where necessary, to be watchdogs against fraud and abuse. It’s why this body sponsored three bills to ensure all charter schools are accountable, transparent, and accessible to all students.

In a recent, BIG victory ... working with the ACLU, NAACP and other groups ... CTA got the Charter Schools Association on board to support AB 1350 ... our sponsored legislation that would end discriminatory charter school enrollment practices and provide students facing suspension and expulsion with due process.

That bill passed the Assembly and now moves to the Senate. And we're continuing to work on our bills around transparency and ensuring that only local school districts have the power to authorize local charters. In other legislative action, we are currently doing a full court press to stop and change a bill … AB 1220 by Assemblymember Shirley Weber … that would extend the teacher probationary period an additional year.

Yesterday this bill, amid a slew of misinformation, made it out of the Assembly with only 5 legislators voting against it. As a state, we should be supporting teacher quality and attracting the best and brightest teachers for California students … and this bill will not do that.

AB 1220 is the wrong solution to support good teaching and learning, and it’s disappointing that leaders in the Assembly refused to work with educators to improve it. As it stands now, this bill will aggravate the teacher shortage in California and will make it harder for new teachers to speak out for students.

Forty-six other states provide some due process rights to teachers on day one. California is taking a step back. We hope to work with the Senate to improve this legislation.

CTA is standing up for and engaging new teachers, and not just in Sacramento. At the local level your efforts to bring new members into our union, and to engage current members, are more important than ever. We celebrated last year when the Supreme Court deadlocked in the Friedrichs case that would have wiped out fair share fees.

In preparing for that decision, we really saw our Strategic Plan in motion as CTA chapters got into buildings, had thousands of conversations with educators, and took member engagement to exciting new levels. But we knew the Supreme Court deadlock was a reprieve, not a full victory. With a new justice on the Court, and two new cases making their way through the judicial system … we are facing the same attacks. We have a tremendous opportunity that we need to seize now. 

There is no denying that the loss of fair share will impact the CTA Budget. It’s why we need to plan for the change and stay the course of membership engagement. We need to support and work together … and share ideas. You’re not in this alone.

Talk to others here at Council or at your Service Center meetings and find out what other locals are doing to engage members. There are some great things happening out there. Locals like the Teachers Association of Long Beach are meeting members where their interests are. Not only engaging members around bargaining, but also building social connections by hosting fitness groups (I should join those), major league baseball outings, and even a beer club.

I wonder if the Beer Club meets before or after the Fitness club? I'm really joining now. I just saw a terrific end-of-year piece from the Temecula Valley Educators Association … a really colorful brochure that reviews all the great stuff that TVEA did this year in areas like Community Involvement, Professional Development, Bargaining, Social Events and more.

It’s a fun, positive piece … and it would make me feel really good about my union. Kudos to TVEA! So again, share ideas with each other … take advantage of the membership engagement resources on the CTA website and make a commitment to have at least one conversation with a new educator at your school to talk to them about why you joined the union.

Use your story of self and the skills you learned from Marshall Ganz. That one conversation will make a huge difference. I’d like to close in celebration of Pride Month and with the words of Gay Rights Activist and Organizer Harvey Milk. Although he was referring specifically to young gay and lesbian people, I think his words apply now more than ever to all the students we serve.

In a 1978 speech he said, “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right.”

As CTA continues implementing our strategic plan on building a stronger union … as we defend public education from the privatizers … as we keep our schools a safe and inclusive space for all students … and as we fight for social justice … I know that we will win. We’ll defeat those who would destroy public education! We will build a BETTER tomorrow! Our schools will be a BETTER place to come for our students! And in the long run all will be STRONGER because of it!

Thank you.

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

© 1999- California Teachers Association