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Byline: Alan Bonsteel

THE California Teachers Association is the 800-pound gorilla of California education. As the largest teachers union in the state, it has succeeded for years in blocking teacher-testing, merit pay, an end to teacher tenure - and, most importantly, the right of parents to choose better schools for their children.

Despite its efforts at derailing some of the most obvious and desperately needed reforms of California's catastrophic public schools, its unending PR machine has masked its anti-reform mission from most of the public. Indeed, many California voters fail to recognize the CTA as the special interest group it is.

The CTA has grown arrogant, however, and, given enough rope, it may hang itself. In recent weeks, two simultaneous developments have put the CTA on a collision course with its own falsehoods, and its efforts to explain away the unexplainable may open the eyes of many.

In late November, the Internal Revenue Service announced an audit of the National Education Association, the CTA's national parent. For years, the NEA has claimed to be a nonpolitical organization - and therefore tax-exempt - despite giving millions to political candidates and other political causes.

In 1993, the NEA got a ``get-out-of-jail-free'' card from the Clinton administration after an IRS audit, presumably because it had been a big donor to the Clinton-Gore campaign. The Bush administration, however, isn't going to cut it any slack, and if the IRS finds the obvious - that the NEA and the CTA are pervasively political - the unions could be slammed not just with back taxes to 1993, but with criminal indictments.

Under this kind of pressure, one would think the CTA would be keeping a low profile on the political front. But just days after the IRS announced its audit, the CTA filed an initiative called the ``Improving Classroom Education Act'' for the November 2004 ballot that would raise property taxes to pay for higher teacher salaries.

At a time when the state is staggering under a record deficit, the initiative would mandate spending $3 billion more per year on K-12 education, 88 percent of that on teacher salaries - or an $8,800 yearly increase for every teacher in the state. It would establish criminal penalties for noncompliance, putting an administrator rash enough to use the new tax money to fix a broken toilet at risk of being thrown in the slammer.

The initiative would also coerce charter schools and publicly funded preschools to force their teachers to join the CTA.

In 1988, the CTA was able to pass, by a slim margin, Proposition 98, which mandated a minimum spending floor for California public schools. That initiative was widely perceived as a unifier that brought to the same table numerous factions with an interest in California's public schools. The new initiative, however, would pit the CTA against every other stakeholder in California public education. It is such a blatant political power grab that one can only hope it will be transparent to the public and roundly rejected.

Equally important is what this initiative says about an organization that claims to be nonpolitical and therefore deserving of tax-exempt status.

So, which is the real California Teachers Association?

Is it a professional organization dedicated to better education for our children? Or is it a highly politicized, tax-evading labor union bitterly opposed to the most basic education reforms? The actions of the CTA seem almost calculated to convey to the public that it's the latter.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 9, 2003

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