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Two state teachers' unions on opposing sides of budget deal

July 21, 2009 |  1:18 pm

The state’s two major teachers' unions reacted in sharply different fashions to the budget deal announced Monday night: The California Teachers Assn. will support the pact as the best available among bad alternatives; the California Federation of Teachers urges lawmakers to reject it.

In a statement, CTA President David A. Sanchez said the budget agreement “limits further damages to our students and schools.”

Sanchez and his union had been particularly concerned about an earlier proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to suspend Proposition 98, which guarantees base levels of funding for education. And he was relieved that the budget deal includes a payback of some lost revenue to education.

The settlement “protects the state’s minimum school funding law and restores much needed funds to education once the economy improves,” Sanchez said. “California educators are calling on both houses of the Legislature and the governor to quickly approve the budget plan.”
Make that some California educators. The leadership of the federation urged a different outcome.

“Legislators should do the right thing and reject this budget,” said federation president Marty Hittelman.  “The priorities are wrong. Massive cuts to all levels of education while, at the same time, preserving unproductive corporate tax breaks, is a blueprint for further California decline.”

The contrasting stances echo the war over state ballot measures in May, when these same unions landed on opposite sides.

The larger CTA, with 340,000 members, is regarded as one of the most powerful political forces in California. Having CTA on board with the current budget solution could be vital to getting this compromise through. It’s certainly welcome news for Gov. Schwarzenegger, who has been engaged in a series of dueling television ads with CTA.

During an earlier round of budget battles, CTA helped defeat Schwarzenegger-sponsored ballots measures in 2005, including one proposition that would have changed teacher tenure rules. On the other hand, CTA’s clout did not carry the day in May, when the association aligned with Schwarzenegger on ballot measures that would have extended some tax increases and raised about $6 billion in the short term. Those initiatives would have somewhat eased the ongoing budget crisis.

In the May ballot war, it was the federation and its allies that prevailed. This coalition included odd bedfellows to be sure, pairing the federation with conservative antitax advocates. The federation has argued that future tax increases should be considered and that the May initiatives would have limited the state’s future ability to raise revenues. The antitax forces opposed the May initiatives because they included the extension of recent tax increases and other plans to raise revenue. 

On the effect of the cuts that are part of the new deal, both the association and the federation speak in similar terms.

“The casualties of the state’s budget battlefield will be starkly apparent when our students return to their schools this fall to find fewer teachers, fewer course offerings and fewer resources,” said the association’s Sanchez. “Class sizes will be painfully larger and many art, music, career technical education and other vital programs are gone. More than 17,000 teachers, nurses, school librarians and counselors lost their jobs.”

Said Hittelman: “California invested in preparing most of these teachers, and added a year or more of on-the-job professional development, only to throw these teachers and that investment out the window. These cuts will depress student performance, which has been improving over the past decade.”

Hittelman also pledged that his organization would help put on the ballot an initiative to close corporate “tax loopholes.”

-- Howard Blume