Former Los Angeles mayor, California Assembly Speaker, and importantly, teacher union organizer, Antonio Villaraigosa had some sharp words for teachers unions in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. Reacting to rhetoric at two recent teacher conventions, Villaraigosa asked why the teachers unions were so resistant to change.
“As a former union leader and a life-long Democrat who supports collective bargaining, I am deeply troubled by the rhetoric and strategy we heard at both national conventions. They attacked an administration in Washington that helped protect 400,000 teaching jobs during the recession …” Villaraigosa wrote. “Others are in full-throated denial over the recent California court ruling striking down the state’s public school teacher tenure and seniority laws — despite compelling evidence that it is nearly impossible to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom and that the least effective teachers disproportionately end up in classrooms with low-income children.”
In his essay, the former mayor also seem to support charter schools and merit pay, writing at one point, “Teachers should be better paid and the best should be recognized for their excellence.”
He also pointed to surveys that showed minority parents support vouchers. Both merit pay and voucher systems are anathema to teachers unions.
Bringing the politics of his stand back to California, does this no-hold-barred expression of frustration with the Democratic Party’s biggest financial backer undercut future political prospects for Villaraigosa?
Some might argue he is taking a principled stand in the true spirit of courageous action that ignores politics – ‘damn the torpedoes full speed ahead.’
California’s teachers unions have been known to lavish their friends with financial rewards during political campaigns and be just as unstinting in funding campaigns against their perceived enemies.
Villaraigosa’s name has often been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in the 2018 election. Political calculations might assume a multiple candidate race would limit the effect of special interest involvement in the campaign. The top-two primary scenario could also play a role in the calculations with Villaraigosa’s tough union talk position appealing to centrist and even Republican voters.
Forgetting for the moment the politics involved, Villaraigosa stance is an important one. The reform movement in education is on the march, and Villaraigosa’s commentary, given his history, is an important marker on that road to reform.