You've probably seen the stories about the arrest Thursday of several teachers, including California Teachers Assn. (CTA) president David Sanchez, for refusing to leave the Capitol during protests against Republican legislators who won't support temporary tax extensions that teachers unions want.
But the real news is how Assembly Republicans handcuffed teachers -- and demonstrated how the state's powerful teachers' unions have trapped themselves in a prison of their own making.
The Assembly Republicans did this by releasing a budget that proposes to fund fully the state's education funding guarantee, known as Prop 98 for the successful ballot initiative that established it in 1988. That ballot initiative was sponsored by the CTA, the state's largest teachers union, out of a well-intentioned desire to protect education funding from cuts.
Unfortunately, the guarantee has not worked as advertised. Despite the Prop 98 protections, education spending has declined in California compared to other states. Why? Because Prop 98 has shortcircuited debate about school funding. California never has a debate about what schools need to educate people; the debate instead is whether the Prop 98 funding guarantee has been met.
Republicans, by embracing the guarantee in their funding proposal, are cleverly cutting off the conversation the teachers had hoped to spark with their protest. The GOP is saying: we're meeting your guarantee, so what's the problem?
CTA has long defended the guarantee by saying education funding would be even less generous without it. But that argument seems weaker with each new cut in the state education budget. The teachers would be better served to give up the guarantee -- and spark more debate about what our schools need. If California had such debates, protests like the ones the teachers staged this week would have real value.