The Corporate Agenda Brings Big Money to Reform Education, Attack Unions, and Academic Senates —By Dean Murakami

The Corporate Agenda Brings Big Money to Reform Education, Attack Unions and Academic Senates


By: Dean Murakami, President of the LRCFT

The recent indictments of Leland Yee and Ron Calderon remind us of the power of money and corruption.  Unfortunately, recent Supreme Court decisions may open the floodgates to an unprecedented level of spending in the 2014 and 2016 elections.  The Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that limiting money spent by corporations, associations, and unions on independent expenditure campaigns for communications to support political candidates, such as those endless TV commercials and flyers in our mailboxes, was an unconstitutional ban on free speech.

In a second ruling the Supreme Court decided that limits on campaign contributions of $5,200 to a candidate for Federal office (e.g. Congressional Representatives) was an unconstitutional limit on a person’s free speech.  Now a person can directly contribute $5.9 million to an individual federal political campaign.   As Chief Justice Roberts concludes, “No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable government objective to ‘level the playing field’.”

If we thought that spending on political campaigns was outrageous before, I think the recent Supreme Court decisions make money an even bigger factor in the future.  While former President George W. Bush once quipped that the super-rich were his base that may become true for both the Republican and Democratic Parties than ever before.

The increasing influence of money in California politics is also not new.  This past election the Los Rios Federation of Teachers (LRCFT) was in the middle of two initiative campaigns.  Prop 30 was our tax initiative for education and Prop 32 was an initiative that would specifically exclude unions from being a part of the political process.  Charles Munger personally spent $35 million to defeat Prop 30 and support Prop 32.  In addition, an Arizona group called Americans for Responsible Leadership contributed $11 million and America Future Fund spent $4 million to oppose Prop 30 and support Prop 32.  The Americans for Responsible Leadership group headed by Sean Noble was fined $1 million by the Fair Political Practices Commission for not disclosing its donors.  Sean Noble did not seem to care because there was plenty of money to pay the fine and if his effort succeeded it would have been money well spent.  One of the major donors to the Americans for Responsible Leadership group was Eli Broad who publically stated to Governor Jerry Brown that he would not oppose Prop 30.  In addition, the Koch Brothers settled a $16 million fine with Attorney General Kamala Harris for their undisclosed contributions to Americans for Responsible Leadership.

Another issue of money involves the attempt to get rid of seniority rights in public education.  While it has been focused in K-12 there is every reason to believe that this could be extended to community colleges.  Ron Calderon was approached by Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst, to introduce a bill (SB 441) that would eliminate seniority rights and have student test scores be at least 50% of a teacher’s performance review.  As a result, StudentsFirst contributed $378,000 to Ian Calderon’s campaign, the 26 year old nephew of Ron Calderon.  Ian Calderon won the primary election over the teacher’s union backed candidate Rudy Bermudez by 337 votes.   While this bill did not pass, a StudentsFirst consultant has filed an initiative this year called Americans for Responsible Leadership to the Attorney General’s office and Michelle Rhee is expected to fully support it.   This initiative would also eliminate seniority rights of faculty.

Another way that the seniority rights of teachers is being attacked is through the lawsuit Vergara versus California. The Vergara suit seeks to change or eliminate five statutes that protect teachers during layoffs and dismissal (i.e., due process).  This lawsuit is led by David Welch with his organization Students Matter and Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst.  Both the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association has had to spend several million dollars fighting the lawsuit.

Another example of money and influence is Robert Shireman who heads California Competes.  Shireman believes that the regulations of faculty senates are inconsistent and provide academic senates too much power over the decisions made by college trustees.  Shireman filed a lawsuit against Chancellor Harris and the Board of Governors to make significant changes to the 10+1 regulations.  Fortunately he lost that ruling, but he has now filed an appeal.   California Competes is supported by the James Irvine Foundation, the Gilbert Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation for Education which has traditionally promoted a privatization model of education that seeks to reduce or eliminate the role of faculty in governance.

Money, money, money means the cost of fighting bad education policy and faculty rights gets more expensive every year.  Each battle costs more to fight and as you can see even if they lose, they just do it again.  The fight against Prop 32 is the third time we have had to defeat this same initiative at tremendous cost.  The battle against our seniority rights will continue no matter how many times Michelle Rhee loses, she will continue until she at last wins.  Robert Shireman will continue his attack against the academic senate, he needs to justify all that money those private foundations have contributed to California Competes.  If we value our profession as educators we need to remain together and LRCFT along with all of our faculty organizations will be at the forefront fighting those battles.