For immediate release: Wednesday, March 23, 2015
Meeting spotlights education funding, divesting STRS from gun manufacturers, education reform, state of labor movement
March 20-22, 2015, Manhattan Beach—More than five hundred teachers and school support staff gathered at the Manhattan Beach Marriott over the past weekend for the 73rd annual California Federation of Teachers convention. This year’s theme of “Organize, Fight Back, Win the Future” laid out the challenges facing public education and how the CFT plans to respond to the anti-teacher, anti-union education reform agenda driven by corporate interests. Featured speakers included State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Controller Betty Yee, professor and author Jeff Duncan-Andrade, and CFT president Joshua Pechthalt, who delivered his annual State of the Union address.
In his State of the Union, Pechthalt highlighted the improvements in education generated by CFT-supported Proposition 30, the 2012 progressive tax measure that brings in more than $6 billion a year for schools and services. Pechthalt warned that the measure, which is a temporary tax, only restores part of the funding lost during the Great Recession, and that California still has a long way to go before reaching the national average in per-pupil spending. He called for extending the measure, or putting in place a similar tax. According to Pechthalt, the CFT is also part of a labor-community coalition working on tax reform to assess large commercial property based on fair market value. This reform, said Pechthalt, could generate up to $9 billion dollars annually for education and vital social services.
Pechthalt was re-elected president of the CFT by 93 percent of the union in a contested election. Secretary Treasurer Jeff Freitas and Senior Vice President Lacy Barnes were reelected by acclamation, and twenty three of the twenty four vice presidents were likewise re-elected. “I am humbled and honored by this support,” said Pechthalt. “Our membership clearly embraces the direction set by this union’s leadership, and we intend to move full speed ahead with an agenda of action to fully fund the best quality education possible for California’s students.”
Keynote speakers and members alike spoke of the need to push past the divisive anti-teacher, anti-union narrative driven by corporate dollars and billionaires to more constructive support for public education. Torlakson chastised those who “unfairly blame teachers for the problems in public education.” Convention discussion and resolutions presented a picture of growing frustration with the two major political parties that, as Pechthalt said, “offer no vision or program in support of working people.”
The delegates also discussed plans to push the State Teachers Retirement System to implement policy, put in place by the retirement fund two years ago in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre but never acted on, to divest from gun manufacturers.
The California Federation of Teachers represents 120,000 education employees, from Head Start through the University of California. It is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.