California
Parents
For
Educational
Choice

ONE UNION'S WAR AGAINST CHOICE

"There are some proposals," said CTA President Del Weber, "that are so evil they should never even be presented to the voters." Why has this vastly wealthy, enormously powerful organization become so hysterical about 174?
THERE WAS a time when public schools devoted themselves to helping the children learn without regard to the teachers' personal ideology, self-interest, or political agenda. But as Tom Hayden likes to say: "That was then. Now is now." As violence has soared and test scores have plummeted over the last 30 years, public schools are now not so much seen as the last best hope for a free society but rather as a major cause of its steep decline. And a lot of the blame goes to teachers unions.

Instead of standing up against pressures to lower standards, eliminate discipline, and demoralize the schools with ideological fads, teachers unions have often supported some of the most destructive tendencies in public education while simultaneously fighting tooth and nail such genuine reforms as competency testing, merit pay, standardized testing, decentralization, parental authority, and, most especially, that 800-pound gorilla of educational reform –school vouchers.

ONE WOULD think with its 230,000 union members and its bulging $10 to $15 million-plus war chest, the California Teachers Association (CTA) wouldn't be so visibly hysterical about Proposition 174, the lightly-funded and bitterly-criticized voucher initiative. But ever since Proposition 174 qualified for the ballot last summer, CTA President Del Weber has been a whirlwind of pejoratives, calling the initiative "dishonest, divisive, and destructive," "a cynical fraud," "an evil measure," and "the single greatest threat ever to face school children in California." Acting state Superintendent of Public Instruction William D. Dawson described it as "a giant meteor crashing toward Planet Education." United Teachers of Los Angeles President Helen Bernstein called it an educational "Armageddon." There can't be any holding back on this one, she told her troops –"without decisive action there will be no tomorrow."

The reason is, unlike the warm-milk-and-sugar-cookie reforms of the past, vouchers actually have the power to transform the system. "Most other reforms they can handle," says Stanford political scientist Terry Moe. "New tests, new curricula, or even school-based management doesn't threaten the system. But vouchers revolutionize the system and they can't allow that."

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