- LOS ANGELES TIMES
Tuesday, February 24, 1998
- Educators Ponder Tactics Against 3 Measures
Schools: Propositions 223, 226 and 227 would shake up
state's system. Groups opposed to them must coordinate a
difficult and expensive fight.
By NICK ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
Three propositions on the June ballot are barreling at California's education
establishment, each with strong voter support and potentially profound consequences for
the state's public school system, the largest in the nation.
Many educators, though not all, view the measures as a radical, unwanted shake-up of a
system that they acknowledge is imperfect. One measure, Proposition 227, would
throttle bilingual education. Another, Proposition 223, would hamstring school
administrators. And a third, Proposition 226, would shackle political fund-raising by
advocates for public schools.
Defeating any one would cost millions of dollars. Defeating all of them could cost more
money than key opponents have. So this has become a season of political triage as
education groups--some at odds with one another--divvy up money among campaigns
clamoring for help.
The California Teachers Assn. is digging deep to fight an initiative that would limit how
unions and others can raise money for political campaigns through paycheck dues
deductions. Those behind the measure include prominent supporters of school vouchers,
who are bitter enemies of the California Teachers Assn. and other teachers unions.
The Assn. of California School Administrators is leading the campaign against another
initiative backed by the Los Angeles teachers union to cap the amount of money schools
can spend on overhead. At stake in this struggle are millions of dollars that proponents
say would be channeled into classrooms statewide and that foes contend would be gobbled
up by large urban districts in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
But it is not yet clear who will lead the attack for the education establishment against the
third, widely publicized initiative, sponsored by Silicon Valley businessman Ron K. Unz
and Orange County teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman.
Proposition 227 would channel students with limited English skills into mainstream
classes after one year of so-called English immersion, prohibiting bilingual classes,
with few exceptions. It would mark the most radical shift in policy in more than 20
years in how the state teaches its rapidly growing population of schoolchildren whose
first language is not English.
Opponents of the measure vow an all-out effort. They have across-the-board
endorsements from the education establishment in a lineup reminiscent of the successful
1993 effort to defeat a statewide school voucher measure.
But it's one thing to have endorsements and another to raise enough money to advertise on
television in a state with 14 million voters. For now, the anti-Proposition 227
campaign, which is far behind in statewide polls, is just one of several competing for
political funding from education groups.
"When you have so many initiatives, it spreads the resources even thinner," said
Michael Kirst, a Stanford University education professor. Education groups, he added,
"are divided and partially conquered. They have to pick their shots, and they have a lot of
tough choices. With so many things going on, some things get lower priority."
Other initiatives could land on the November ballot, each expected to draw close scrutiny
from educators wary of proposals for "reform" of the state's 5.6-million student
Analysts note that every dollar that education groups spend on defense is a dollar not
spent on the causes they support enthusiastically, such as school construction bonds and
the reduction of the two-thirds majority threshold for passing local bonds. There are
also contests for governor, the Legislature, Congress and state superintendent of public
instruction in a year in which education appears to be one of the top issues for
politicians at all levels.
Historically, the dominant financial player has been the teachers association, whose
officials say they anticipated an onslaught of education measures after the group spent
more than $12 million in 1993 to defeat an attempt to allow public funds, through
vouchers, to be spent on private schooling.
John Hein, an associate executive director of the 280,000-member union, said the
teachers association has collected more than $10 million to spend on this year's
initiatives and other political causes.
Hein said union leaders have pledged substantial sums to three causes: $750,000 for the
effort against Proposition 227; $3 million for the campaign against the paycheck
deduction initiative, Proposition 226; and $1.5 million for a possible measure to
accelerate the passage of local school bonds and boost state school construction money.
The last is still pending in the state Legislature. A Wilson administration official said it
might not make the June ballot.
The teachers association is neutral on Proposition 223, the so-called 95-5 measure
that attempts to cap overhead--including general administration, instructional
resources supervision and supervision of instruction--at 5% of each district's budget.
Hein insisted that the total amounts the teachers association will spend on each campaign,
decided by union leaders in late January, do not indicate that any one initiative is less
important than another.
"Our contributions are based upon a variety of factors," Hein said. "All three that we
have allocated money to are high priorities for the organization."
Although that may be true, it is also true that a measure's standing in the polls weighs
heavily in how much a group decides to spend for or against it.
The latest Field poll, released earlier this month, drew key distinctions between the
three education-linked propositions. Each was supported by a wide majority of likely
But the poll showed that many more likely voters--four out of five surveyed--had
heard of the anti-bilingual education measure. By contrast, only one third had heard
about the anti-union measure and even fewer had heard about 95-5.
"It's really early. We're still four months before the election," said poll director Mark
DiCamillo. "But there is a lot more awareness about the Unz initiative, and so people are
giving a more developed opinion."
That presents a formidable challenge for the campaign to defeat Unz. To win voters--who
now favor the initiative by a 2-1 margin--opponents will have to turn around notions
about how children with limited English skills should learn the language.
That obstacle leads to another. Potential donors to the campaign must be persuaded that
their money is not given to a doomed cause.
Richie Ross, chief strategist for the campaign, who says he has donations and firm
pledges totaling $1.3 million, said donors will redouble their aid once they see his
campaign chipping away at Unz's lead. That appears to be happening already with Latino
voters, now evenly split on the measure after supporting it by a wide margin a few
months ago, according to the Field poll.
"We're clearly more reliant on people's altruism," Ross said. "I think even given that,
what the educational establishment has stepped up to do for us already is extraordinarily
generous, given the severity of what they're facing" on other fronts.
Unz, a self-made millionaire, said he is anticipating a low-budget campaign. He said his
spending will depend on the degree of opposition his initiative faces. "I would suspect that
many of those [education] organizations will concentrate their firepower on issues that
are more crucial to their future well-being," Unz said.
School administrators acknowledge their top priority is defeating Proposition 223,
which they say would cripple small and mid-size school districts by imposing an unfair
5% limit on overhead. The statewide average, depending on who does the calculating, is
7% to 9%.
The measure, backed by United Teachers-Los Angeles and Los Angeles Mayor Richard
Riordan, would permit fines against districts that exceed the cap.
Bob Wells, assistant executive director of the school administrators' group, said it plans
to raise $1 million to defeat the measure. It's not clear how much will be spent on the
John Perez, a United Teachers-Los Angeles vice president, said the union affiliate spent
more than $100,000 to gather signatures needed to qualify the measure for the ballot.
But he said it is also committed to helping defeat other initiatives, including Proposition
That initiative, sponsored by three conservative Orange County education activists,
would require employers and unions to obtain annual permission from employees and
union members before withholding pay or levying dues for political use.
Organizers of the so-called Campaign Reform Initiative reported receiving $1.3 million
in aid through December, including a $441,000 in-kind donation from Americans for
Tax Reform, a conservative anti-tax group based in Washington.
Although Proposition 226 would affect many groups outside the school community, it has
become intertwined with California education politics because of the leading role of the
Whether or not this year's initiatives are part of a coordinated attack on the association
would be hard to determine. But the net effect is to throw the union--and by extension,
many players in the public school community--on the defensive.
"It is a bit overwhelming to see so many initiatives that have such harmful consequences
for our schools all on the ballot at the same time," said Wells, whose group is opposed to
the three June propositions. "Somebody described it as trying to take a drink out of a fire
hose. It's coming at us that fast."
* * *
Triple Threat Education leaders are battling three separate initiatives on the June
ballot: Proposition 223: Would prohibit school districts from spending more than 5%
for administration beginning with the 1999-2000 school year.
Proposition 226: Would require labor organizations to get permission annually from
individual members before using union dues for political contributions.
Proposition 227: Would require public school instruction to be conducted in English and
end most bilingual education programs.
- Copyright Los Angeles Times