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The History of CTA


CTA’s long history is full of the sounds of school strikes and teachers chanting on picket lines, the shouts of victory on countless election nights, and the quiet conversations of educators waiting to speak out in crucial legislative hearings held over the decades in Sacramento. 

It’s the sound of teachers making history — and making their voices heard across the state. Today, CTA members are still voting, bargaining and organizing for students, for better communities, and for the respect, benefits and salaries that educators and education support professionals deserve. 

The 325,000-member CTA is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, and both are among the largest unions in the country. Neither is officially affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but both work effectively at the state and national levels with all major players in the labor movement to build and protect the middle class and working families. 

Founded in 1863 during the Civil War as the California Educational Society, CTA won its first major legislative victory in 1866 with a law providing free public schools to California children. A year later, public funding was secured for schools that educated nonwhite students. More early victories established bans on using public school funding for sectarian religious purposes (1878-79); free textbooks for all students in grades 1-8 (1911); the first due process law (1912); and a statewide pension, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (1913). 

CTA led efforts to outlaw child labor in the state and enact other protections for children (1915), and to strengthen the teacher due process law (1921). In the 1940s, the union was one of a handful of organizations to protest the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. 

While the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 made collective bargaining a lawful, protected activity in the private sector, it did not include public workers or teachers. Wisconsin passed the nation's first public employee bargaining law (1959), and several large, urban affiliates of NEA or the American Federation of Teachers started winning bargaining rights (New York in 1961, Denver in 1962, Chicago in 1966). 

After a decade of school strikes and teacher organizing, California K-14 educators at last won the right to bargain collectively in 1975 when the CTA-sponsored Educational Employment Relations Act, also known as the Rodda Act, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The pent-up frustrations led to a rare and historic burst of union certification work — within 18 months, 600 of 1,000 CTA/NEA locals statewide secured bargaining rights in their school districts. 

A turning point in CTA's history came in 1988. That was the year teachers mobilized to pass Proposition 98, the landmark state law guaranteeing about 40 percent of the state's general fund for schools and community colleges. Teachers were tired of the Legislature’s raiding school funding during every economic downtown.  

At the ballot box, CTA members are a force. Two deceptive school voucher measures were killed (in 1993 and 2000), and three statewide school bonds were passed (in 1998, 2004 and 2006), providing nearly $35 billion for school renovations. 

Making organizing history, thousands of CTA members across the state joined forces with nurses, firefighters and police union members in 2005 to overwhelmingly defeat Gov. Schwarzenegger’s initiatives that would have cut school funding, destroyed teachers’ due process rights and silenced the voices of public employees. That same year, CTA filed a lawsuit against the governor to get back all money owed to schools under Proposition 98. 

Another proud accomplishment was CTA’s sponsorship of SB 1133, the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006, resulting from CTA’s lawsuit against the governor to recover the funding owed to schools. As part of the settlement, Gov. Schwarzenegger agreed to set aside $3 billion to help hundreds of at-risk schools in the QEIA program with proven reforms over an eight-year period. The internationally recognized program is helping schools that are serving a higher percentage of low income, minority and English learners to succeed.  

QEIA uses research-based reforms like smaller class sizes, more counselors and better teacher training. The program’s success can be seen in communities across the state as it helps close the achievement gap for many of our students of greatest need. 

More recently, in November, 2012, CTA led the fight to pass Gov. Jerry Brown’s  Proposition 30. It stopped $6 billion in education cuts to schools and colleges and will generate $47 billion for public schools, colleges and other essential services.CTA also defeated Prop. 32, another attempt to silence our political voices. 

Under the umbrella of the CTA Foundation for Teacher and Learning, the Institute for Teaching is an incubator for educational innovation. Through its successful grants, teachers are able to propose and lead change based on what is working in their classrooms.  

After years of effort, CTA members have created and are advancing a framework for fair teacher evaluation that puts the emphasis on constructive reform, not punishment. We believe the goal of any evaluation system is to strengthen the knowledge, skills and practices of teachers to improve student learning. 

We are excited to be celebrating 150 years of advocacy on behalf of our profession and our students. We know there are many challenges ahead for California’s schools, but working in partnership with the public, we know we can meet them just as we have for the past century and a half. 

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

© 1999- California Teachers Association