Bill Would Mandate Union Teacher Jobs

JUNE 2, 2011


An education bill is being used to increase the power of teachers’ unions. AB 515 is by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, and was heard and voted on in the Assembly this week.

It appears to be an attempt to increase access and availability to community college classes through extension courses. While this sounds altruistic, the bill has been amended four times, and now includes provisions which would boost teachers union jobs in the public-sector schools, while competing directly with private educational institutions.

The bill now includes provisions for teachers union rules requiring 50 percent of a school district’s current expense be paid toward teacher salaries; and a “75 percent rule” which states that 75 percent of the hours of instruction be taught by full-time instructors.

The bill also now includes fee waivers for lower-income levels, semester unit limitations, financial aid provisions, non-resident fee provisions and record keeping requirements on student demographics.

Opposing Private Schools

The bill’s analysis even addresses the opposition by the California Labor Federation to privately funded educational institutions such as University of Phoenix and National University. “Sixty percent of Cal Grant money is going to for-profit institutions,” Brownley said to colleagues in the Assembly on Monday.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelley, R-Hesperia, was the first during the Assembly session on Tuesday to express opposition to the bill. “This bill is not about access, but about getting people back to work,” Donnelly said after critiquing the eleventh-hour amendments.

Donnelley’s office said that the specific amendments Donnelley objected to involved raising the costs of the extension courses on non-resident students to subsidize fee waivers of others. And this amendment was added after Donnelley helped Brownley win approval for the bill in the Assembly Higher Education Committee.

As a 12-year community college trustee, Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, said he’s also concerned with the cuts being made to the system. However, Wagner questioned the motive behind including the 50 percent teacher salary rule, and 75 percent full-time instructor rule, as well as the creation of a two-tiered fee system.

Education experts have repeatedly challenged the 75 percent rule, which states that 75 percent of the hours of instruction must be taught by full-time instructors. One education expert, who asked to remain anonymous, said that it is well known in education circles that the 75 percent figure was arbitrarily chosen, and does not have any scientific basis. Many community colleges request and are granted waivers to the rule because it is difficult to get to the 75 percent full-time teaching faculty level, prevents flexibility and is much more expensive.

The expert I spoke with said that even a 60 percent level may be feasible, but since there have been no studies done on this issue, no one really knows. Teachers unions insist that they need full-time teachers for “academic” reasons, but there is no empirical evidence supporting the 75 percent rule — the teaching faculty just wants more full-time teaching positions.

Collective Bargaining

Another concern of AB 515 is the collective bargaining provision, which was amended into the bill. The California Federation of Teachers is the predominant teachers union at the Community College level. In the CFT contract, language listed under “Model Contract Language,” and “faculty rights,” states:

Courses taught with the use of technology may be included in a faculty member’s workload only with his/her consent. No faculty member shall be required to teach a course using distance learning technology. No faculty member shall be sanctioned for declining a course taught using various educational technologies.

When labor unions oppose an education bill, beware of the motive.

The American Federation of Teachers wrote in an opposition letter about Brownley’s bill:

AB 515 will institutionalize in our community colleges a two-track system based on ability to pay. It seeks to create an educational toll lane by allowing colleges to offer extension classes bearing the same college credit and having the same transferability as the regular credit curriculum.

All of the faculty organizations (AFT 2121’s state affiliate, the Community College Council of the CFT; the Community College Association of the CTA; FACCC, and ASCCC), as well as the California Labor Federation, are strongly opposed to the bill. …We do not want what would essentially amount to private or for-profit colleges within our colleges, providing easy access to those able to pay more than $200 per unit.”

Student Glut

The real issue is that California’s Community College system cannot handle the current number of students, with continuing cuts to funding. The conundrum for Democratic legislators is they do not want to boost or encourage for-profit educational institutions, which would be the obvious, free-market answer.

With California’s economic devastation and current fragility, increasing public education funding, fueled by teachers unions, is controversial and many say that it is irresponsible.

Brownley couldn’t get the votes needed in the Assembly on Tuesday, as the bill stalled at 24-18. On Wednesday, with another vote taken, the bill failed to pass, 33-22.

Brownley asked for reconsideration. However, with the strong opposition of the teachers unions and the California Labor Federation, it doesn’t appear that even the Democrats can pull this one off. Expect more amendments in AB 515, and more concessions to labor and teachers unions.

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