Are Backroom Deals by Teachers Unions Bankrupting California’s Schools?

Chris Bertilli:

Based on historical spending patterns and Gov. Jerry Brown’s most recent budget proposal, California is poised to spend approximately $40 billion next year on teacher salaries and benefits. To put that number in education context, the state will likely spend less than $3 billion on books and supplies for the entire K-12 public school system.

That $40 billion figure is more than 2½ times as large as the entire state higher education budget. It is more than the state spends on the legislative, judicial, and executive branches, transportation, natural resources, environmental protection, and prisons. Combined. It is more than is spent on the combined total of every state health and human services program. If teacher salaries and benefits had their own budget line item, it would be the largest single item in the entire state budget.

Here’s the kicker: How that $40 billion in public dollars is spent is negotiated out of public view.

In over 1,000 school districts across the state, negotiations on spending this money take place behind closed doors. There is no transparency in how these deals are done. No public scrutiny or debate. No opportunity for the community or parents of children in the schools to impact the process. An amount of money equivalent to 30 percent of the entire budget for the state of California is divvied up by a relative handful of people out of sight and without accountability to parents and the communities that are affected.

The union’s ability to secretly self-deal doesn’t stop in the back rooms of local school districts. In 2011, as California was trying to drag itself out of the Great Recession, the state budget deal was being finalized in a room with only four people in it: Brown, the Assembly speaker, the leader of the state Senate, and the union’s chief lobbyist.