Emperor Palpatine: There is a great disturbance in the Force.
Darth Vader: I have felt it.
Emperor Palpatine: We have a new enemy, the young Rebel…
Darth Vader: How is that possible?
Emperor Palpatine: Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You know it to be true. He could destroy us. The Force is strong with him.
– Quote (edited for brevity) from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

There are indeed great disturbances in the force. There are indeed challenges to the imperial monopoly that, for nearly 40 years, has eroded the quality and escalated the costs for California’s system of public K-12 education. And the imperial stormtroopers who enforce their educational edicts on California’s state legislature, its thousands of public school boards, and by extension, millions of parents and children, are all part of an evil empire called the California Teachers Association, or CTA. In plain English, the teachers union.

A comprehensive summary of just how harmful the CTA has been to California’s young students can be found in a 2012 report “The Worst Union in America,” by Troy Senik, published in City Journal. Senik explains how it all began:

“The CTA began its transformation in September 1975, when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Rodda Act, which allowed California teachers to bargain collectively. Within 18 months, 600 of the 1,000 local CTA chapters moved to collective bargaining. As the union’s power grew, its ranks nearly doubled, from 170,000 in the late 1970s to approximately 325,000 today. By following the union’s directions and voting in blocs in low-turnout school-board elections, teachers were able to handpick their own supervisors—a system that private-sector unionized workers would envy. Further, the organization that had once forsworn the strike began taking to the picket lines. Today, the CTA boasts that it has launched more than 170 strikes in the years since Rodda’s passage.”

With 325,000 members paying, on average about $1,000 per year, the CTA runs an empire sustained on dues revenue of over $25 million per month. This permits them to fund political campaigns, educational campaigns, and legal battles, with almost no constraints based on cost. They have enough money to fight on all fronts, everywhere, all the time. And they do.

Back to Troy Senik, on how back in 2010 the CTA squelched a parent trigger campaign by activist parents in Compton.

“In 2010, when 61 percent of parents at McKinley Elementary School in the blighted L.A. neighborhood of Compton opted to pull the trigger, the CTA claimed that ‘parents were never given the full picture . . . [or] informed of the great progress already being made’—despite the fact that McKinley’s performance was ranked beneath nearly all other inner-city schools in the state. Several Hispanic parents in the district also said that members of the union had threatened to report them to immigration authorities if they signed the petition. Eventually, the Compton Unified school board—heavily lobbied by the CTA—dismissed the petition signatures, with no discussion, as ‘insufficient’ on a handful of technicalities, such as missing dates and typos.”

Pretty nasty stuff, from a union whose rhetoric emphasizes their concern “for the children” and the “working families.”

REBEL CAMPAIGN #1  –  PARENT TRIGGER LAWS

Which brings us to the latest disturbance in the force, this time in Anaheim, where Palm Lane Elementary School, failing academically, qualified as a parent trigger eligible school. But this time, despite being subjected to many of the same dirty tricks experienced by Compton’s activists, the Palm Lane activists managed to take the district to court, where, last week, they won. But, of course, the CTA Empire struck back. Take a look at this announcement on the CTA’s Facebook page (July 24, 7:59 p.m.):

“The Anaheim School District is appealing a judge’s flawed ruling in favor of a parent trigger effort based on outdated data and controversy over an administrative reassignment. The effort was organized in part by the law’s authors and has drawn support from political outsiders and extreme national figures including Newt Gringrich. Kudos to the strong members of the Anaheim Elementary Education Association who have worked fairly and openly to ensure that the local community has the facts regarding this flawed law and that parents who’ve been excluded from the process have a voice.”

Will the band of rebels in Anaheim have the resources to fight the union’s appeal? The union knows they can wear them down. Twenty five million dollars a month buys a lot of attorneys, along with state and local politicians.

But unlike in episode five of the famous Star Wars saga, the rebels aren’t just fighting on one planet. There’s trouble all over the galaxy.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #2  –  FRIEDRICHS VS. THE CTA

For example, later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case “Friedrichs vs. the CTA,” which challenges the right of government unions to charge mandatory “agency fees.” As it is, teachers can endure a laborious “opt-out” procedure to avoid paying the “political” portion of their dues, which is about one-third of the total dues. But they still have to pay the agency fees which pay for allegedly non-political activities such as educational programs. litigation, and collective bargaining. The Friedrichs case, and it’s a strong one, argues that collective bargaining with local governments is inherently political. To give you a taste of what sort of attitudes are spawned by the CTA Empire’s monstrous deluge of misleading us-vs-them rhetoric, here’s a comment posted on a UnionWatch article authored by Friedrichs, “Teachers Stand Against Union Tyranny“:

“…she is a plant who is voicing the concerns of the extremists in America who want to do away with the middle class and working poor. She is nothing more than a bought and paid for goon of the Koch brothers and groups like theirs. If I worked with this rat I would make her so unwelcome in so many ways that she would seek out the right wingers she has sold her soul too and leave teaching. She is a gutless, repugnant, two faced, scumbag. She needs a punch in her ugly lying face. What a skank.”

Wow. Funny how the reformers are so often tainted as “haters.” But apparently this is not the hate the stormtroopers are looking for, so they’ll move along now.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #3  –  VERGARA VS. CALIFORNIA

The galaxy is a big place. Rebellious planets abound. Along with Palm Lane and the Friedrichs case, working its way up the California appellate system is Vergara vs. California. The plaintiffs prevailed in this case in Los Angeles superior court last year, but a final decision may not come until 2016. Vergara argues that lifetime tenure – awarded after less than two years in the classroom, dismissal procedures that make it nearly impossible to fire incompetent teachers, and “last in first out” layoff policies that reward seniority over merit, have harmed California’s children. They further argue that these policies have a disproportionate negative impact on students from disadvantaged communities. Watch these closing arguments by the brilliant Marcus McRae, for everything you need to know about this important case.

Now take a look at how the CTA Empire struck back, in this excerpt from their press release announcing their plans to participate in an appeal to the Vergara ruling.

“From the beginning, this lawsuit has highlighted the wrong problems, proposed the wrong solutions, and followed the wrong process. This lawsuit was not about helping students, but yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on California public schools and students.”

California’s state legislature is filled with politicians who are, with rare exceptions, either wholly owned by the CTA, or tepidly support reform but stop short when it counts so they can avoid being individually targeted by one of the CTA’s imperial cruisers. As a result, the courts are one of the only places reform can begin. But court battles can cost even more than political campaigns.

REBEL CAMPAIGN #4  –  BAIN VS. THE CTA

Nonetheless, here’s yet another rebellious planet in the CTA’s galaxy, lead by tireless reformer Michelle Rhee, in the form of “Bain vs. the CTA,” a case that argues the union cannot strip members of voting rights and discounted insurance benefits simply because they have opted out of paying the political portion of their dues. As education reformer Larry Sand writes for UnionWatch in his recent post “Bain Explained“:

“The Friedrichs case, with a possible Supreme Court decision next year, is much further along than Bain. If the former case is successful, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the latter. Friedrichs claims that all union spending is political and therefore joining should be voluntary. If it flies, teachers will have an option to join the union or refrain from doing so. That could take the wind out of Bain’s sails as there will probably not be the two tiers or classes of membership that there are now. If all dues are political and you join the union, then all fees will be chargeable and teachers couldn’t then opt out of the political portion because all of it would be political. However, should Friedrichs fail, Bain will be all the more important.”

The legendary Star Wars movie saga has been producing installments longer than most Americans have been alive. In the moral debate over how to manage California’s schools, the only difference between the CTA and Palpatine’s empire is that complementing the overwhelming raw power wielded by the CTA, there is a propaganda machine of unmatched potency. Along with equipping rebel armies with attorneys, reformers will have to tap the force of truth and pay the freight to spread their message across the galaxy, telling it in terms that win the hearts of parents everywhere.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

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