Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bob Huff, School Choice, and the Crisis of the California Democratic Party

California Republican state senate minority leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) just introduced an "open enrollment" bill which would permit California students to enroll in any school that they want to. State Senator Huff has done much to improve public education in California. He authored the school choice parent-trigger law, which allows parents to take over the operations of their children's local school should the test scores and the achievement of the students suffers. Adelanto families successfully implemented the program with rave reviews from all over the country supporting the parents. Parents in Lynwood, Compton, and even Los Angeles are taking steps to take back their local schools and take control of their children's learning from bureaucrats and union influences. Huff has a long and legacied history stumping for education equality and access in the Golden State.

Before his bold "open enrollment" initiative, Huff pressed for ending the excessive "pink slip" culture which harms our teachers with fears of early layoff notices every year. Instead of forcing schools to inform teachers of potential layoffs by the middle of March, Huff wants to give school districts more time before informing staff of potential reductions in force. Teachers deserve more stability on the school site, and districts can save money from the costly arbitration which often ensues from the annual March 15 pink-slip tsunami.

It's amazing that the Democratic Party leaders in Sacramento have not taken a lead on improving the quality and the culture of students or their teachers in public schools. Of course, this should come as no surprise, since four assembly members helped kill SB 1530, which would have empowered school districts to fire incompetent, improvident, or immoral teachers more quickly.

Huff also submitted a resolution on school choice last December. He then submitted a "name change" bill, SB 172 which would remove the "low achievement" stigma from schools which are improving, and cast them as "open enrollment" schools, instead. He also submitted a resolution recognizing "School Choice Week" earlier this year. Senator Huff's latest bills including SB 451, which will extend open enrollment to every school, every student in the state of California. SB 452 will empower parents to demand reforms from their local schools, in compliance with President Obama's "Race to the Top" legislation.

"Open enrollment", or "school choice", is anathema to union-backed Democrats, since allowing parents to choose where they enroll their children, regardless of the status or the quality of the school, will take power and funding away from the school bureaucracy and union leadership in public education, and put the power of the purse and the pupil back in the hands of the parents, where it belongs.

Despite their negative influence in the public sector, unions have become the dominant force in Democratic politics over the last ten years, but Huff's bill can put an end to their immoral imposition. Over the past two years, union influence has been waning, which may assist a minority bill getting more attention. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker signed into law "Act 10", with its collective bargaining reforms. Cities and school districts saved millions of dollars, and union membership declined considerably since Act 10 enacted paycheck protection. President Obama did not bother to campaign for recall challenger Tom Barrett in 2012. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law right-to-work legislation, which will permit individual employees to choose whether they join a workplace union or not. In California, where Democrats have just obtained supermajority in the legislature, the union dominance is coming to the forefront like never before. Even failed mayoral candidate Jan Perry complained about union influence in state politics. Because of Perry's staunch Democratic status representing liberal constituencies for nearly two decades, her statements are a refreshing admission for voters frustrated with the special interest status quo, and an alarm for those who like to maintain the special interest dominance of the union hall in city halls and the state house.

School choice is a losing proposition for unions, and threatens the hegemony of the California Democratic Party, the open enrollment bill represents a win for everyone else, and a winning issue for Republicans. Democratic leaders now have a crisis on their hands. Will they support the people, or will they support the payouts? The Republican Party is demonstrating resolve to move on what should be a bipartisan issue. Of course, Republicans must lead not just on school choice, but also on right-to-work legislation, as well as comprehensive pension reform, issues which affect every voter in the state of California, regardless of their political affiliation.

Republican State senate minority leader Bob Huff should be commended for leading on education reform, whether his party was in power or not, because the best interests of our students rise above the politics of the moment. The Democratic Party has a choice: represent the people, or keep suppressing the best interests of the state, her citizens, and especially her students in order to further their diminished support from the overextended union lobby.

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