An affiliate of the National Education Association, the California Teachers Association (CTA) is the Golden State’s largest labor union. Founded in 1863, CTA currently represents some 325,000 teachers, counselors, librarians, social workers, psychologists, nurses, office workers, bus drivers, and maintenance staff employed in approximately 1,000 K-12 school districts statewide. Other CTA members include community-college and California State University faculty.
As recently as the 1960s CTA was a politically moderate entity that eschewed labor activism, as reflected by then-executive director Arthur Corey’s 1962 declaration that: “The strike as a weapon for teachers is inappropriate, unprofessional, illegal, outmoded, and ineffective. You can’t go out on an illegal strike one day and expect to go back to your classroom and teach good citizenship the next.” The union began drifting leftward in 1975, however, when California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill permitting the state’s teachers to bargain collectively. Over the ensuing 37 years, CTA staged more than 170 strikes.
Among the most well-funded institutions in America today, CTA derives most of its revenues from mandatory annual dues that, in some cases, can amount to more than $1,000 per member. The Association’s income in 2009 exceeded $186 million, all of it tax-exempt.
For many years, CTA has used its massive resources to fund its ever-expanding political activism. In 1988, for example, the union helped win the passage of Proposition 98, an initiative that compelled California to spend more than 40% of its annual budget on public education. Because this mandate was not contingent upon merit or achievement, it eliminated schools’ incentive to operate in a fiscally responsible manner. More and more of CTA’s funds were directed toward pet causes whose overriding objective was to promote the growth of the union itself, rather than to improve the quality of education.
In the early 1990s, for instance, CTA spent $12.5 million on a massive negative-publicity campaign that helped defeat Proposition 174, a ballot initiative that would have given California families universal access to school vouchers. Some CTA members used physical intimidation to dissuade citizens from supporting the measure; others sought to throw into chaos the signature-collection process for the Prop 174 petition; and still others offered a $400,000 payoff to a key organizer of the Prop 174 campaign, in hopes that he would agree to give up the fight. In 2002, CTA spent an additional $26 million to help defeat yet another school-voucher proposal. To this day, the union contends that voucher programs “hurt students and schools by draining scarce resources away from public education.”
In 1996 CTA devoted $1 million to an ad campaign touting the benefits of smaller class sizes for children in the early grades. This effort led to the passage of a measure providing subsidies to schools with classes of 20 children or fewer. Not only did the program fail to improve student performance, but it arguably reduced the quality of education statewide by making it necessary for schools to hire many new teachers as quickly as possible (in order to maintain a low student-to-teacher ratio). According to City Journal, “The program cost California nearly $2 billion per year at its high-water mark, becoming the most expensive education-reform initiative in the state’s history. But it worked out well for the CTA, whose ranks and coffers were swelled by all those new teachers.”
In 1998 CTA spent almost $7 million to defeat Proposition 8, which sought to make student performance a criterion for teacher reviews. That same year, the union earmarked another $2 million for a bid (which was ultimately unsuccessful) to continue bilingual-education programs in the public schools.
In 2005 CTA spent $58 million to defeat a set of initiatives designed to cap the growth of state spending, require unions to get their members’ consent before using dues for political purposes, and make it easier to terminate incompetent teachers. Indeed, CTA has long used its influence to create a complex web of procedural roadblocks making it almost impossible to fire public-school teachers for any transgression short of outright criminality. Consequently, the cost of trying to terminate a single teacher in California is approximately $500,000. This expensive and laborious process dissuades most school districts from ever trying to fire anyone. For instance, the Los Angeles Unified School District—which employs 33,000 teachers—dismissed only four during the ten-year period of 2002-2012.
CTA also bankrolls a wide range of left-wing causes unrelated to education, such as the implementation of a single-payer health-care system in California; the prohibition of photo-identification requirements for voters; the placement of limits on the government’s power of eminent domain; and support for the legalization of gay marriage.
Between 2000 and 2010, CTA spent over $210 million on political campaigning—more than any other political donor in the state. In fact, this total exceeded the combined political expenditures of the pharmaceutical, oil, and tobacco industries during that same period. From 2003-2012, only eight-tenths of 1% of CTA’s political contributions went to Republicans. The rest went to Democrats, making CTA the largest supporter of the Democratic Party in California.
CTA contends that the state’s high earners are not “paying their fair share” in taxes and are thereby depriving the public-education system of much-needed revenues. Thus, in 2011 CTA organized a “State of Emergency” week to agitate for higher taxes on wealthy Californians. A CTA document encouraged teachers to promote this cause by means of such tactics as shadowing state legislators wherever they went; shutting down major transportation arteries; boycotting companies that backed school vouchers; and creating chaos in politically strategic locations. At a rally in Sacramento, a group of protesting teachers chanted: “Who do we tax? The rich! When do we tax them? NOW!” That same day, more than 300 teachers and students entered the rotunda of the California state capitol and repeatedly shouted: “Tax, tax, tax the rich, we can chop the deficit!”
In the spring of 2012, CTA president David Sanchez was among 100 demonstrators who were arrested for illegally occupying the California State Capitol in Sacramento.
In November 2012, California voters passed Proposition 30, a ballot initiative that substantially increased the tax rates) paid by state residents earning $250,000 or more. In response to the bill’s passage, CTA said on election day: “California students and working families won a clear victory today as voters clearly demonstrated their willingness to invest in our public schools and colleges and also rejected a deceptive ballot measure aimed at silencing educators, other workers and their unions.” But many of California’s high earners reacted to Prop 30 by moving themselves and their businesses out of the state. As a result, California’s total revenues for the month of November 2012 fell by $806.8 million, approximately 10.8% below projections.