Illustration by Kai Henthorn-Iwane
In 2018, California will elect its next Governor. As both the Assembly and Senate have a democratic supermajority, it’s no surprise the primary standing candidates identify with the blue party. That being said, the two highest polling candidates — former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom — seem to have vastly differing stances on education. With today’s political climate, any stance on education ought to be scrutinized. After all, students grow up to be the policymakers of the future.
Gavin Newsom leads in the polls by eleven percent and is endorsed by the California Teachers Association (CTA), a body which holds a tremendous amount of influence on education. The endorsement is no surprise, as Newsom has backed many CTA ventures in the past. He was a firm supporter of both Proposition 30 and 55 (in 2012 and 2015 respectively), which funneled billions of dollars from California’s wealthiest to education, and his support for increased per pupil spending also benefits teachers.
During the 2008 recession, many teachers were laid off statewide due to lack of proper funding. Fortunately, the teachers of San Francisco experienced no such thing, as then-Mayor Newsom initiated an innovative “rainy-day fund” that would continue to pay teachers when government funding was scarce, and ultimately empowered teachers of his constituency throughout the economic downturn.
Much less can be said for former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. While he also spent his career raising funds for the education system, he was less concerned about helping improve the lives of teachers than he was “boosting their performance.” Villaraigosa supports the plaintiff of Vergara vs. California, a lawsuit allowing districts to bear more rights in firing and disciplining teachers. His rationale is that it will eventually give students access to “better” teachers. However, that is hard to justify, and ultimately demeans the teachers who serve in our education system today. The CTA, who strongly opposes the lawsuit, holds that California’s state constitution already outlines the rights of teachers perfectly well, and that anything extraneous would be unconstitutional.
The fact of the matter is that lifting protectionary provisions that teachers currently hold would make it harder for them to speak up on behalf of their students, or to teach something a district deems “controversial.” This would abruptly stop the free flow of ideas that educational institutions ought to be entitled to. Ultimately, the case sets a dangerous precedent for district discipline of teachers. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the fear it incites in teachers harms students. Instead of negative feedback loops, government officials ought to look at ways to incentivize teaching and create a more positive school culture. Then and only then, will students receive the education they truly deserve.