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California Teachers Association is flush with campaign cash to advocate for its 2020 agenda

Mike Antonucci | September 18, 2019

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report

There isn’t much to occupy California’s teachers unions politically for the rest of 2019, but that only allows them to accumulate more funds for what promises to be a very busy 2020 on the campaign trail.

Choosing a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President, as well as controlling seats on the LA Unified school board, will head the list in the spring. Next fall’s campaign will feature drumming up votes for that Presidential nominee, and promoting the split-roll property tax initiative, should the latest version qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

Pair these with whatever legislation is in store for charter schools, collective bargaining, and teacher hiring, and the unions have a full political plate.

All of this activity requires a lot of money. The California Teachers Association, being the primary source of school campaign funding in the state, is well situated to throw it around.

CTA has a handful of segregated funds for political purposes, infused by the dues contributions of its 325,000 members. While each fund has a specific objective, they mutually support each other and the political goals of the union.

Political Allocation Fund: This fund contains monies for the union’s political action committee, to be donated to candidates for state and legislative office. Member contributions are voluntary, but teachers have to check an opt-out box on CTA’s membership form to instead divert their portion to the union’s general fund. CTA expects to collect about $4.4 million annually for this fund.

Independent Expenditures Fund: As the name indicates, this fund allows the union to spend money on behalf of candidates, without contributing to them directly or coordinating with their campaigns. Members must opt out from this contribution also. CTA expects to collect about $2.5 million annually for this fund.

Initiative Fund: Each working CTA member contributes $36 annually to this fund, which supplies money to support or oppose certain ballot measure campaigns. The union collects about $9.4 million annually for this fund, but since major ballot initiative campaigns happen infrequently, there is a significant rollover of funds. At the end of last year, the fund’s balance was just short of $23.4 million.

Media Fund: About $16 from each working CTA member is allocated to media advertising and promotion, which comes to almost $3.9 million each year. The funds from this account are not all used for strictly political purposes, though the back-to-school ads, such as this one, often precede media campaigns for more funding. This fund also tends to accumulate more money than it normally spends. At the end of last year, its balance was $5.8 million.

Advocacy Fund: This fund is filled with another voluntary $20 member contribution, though getting it refunded or redirected requires obtaining a “voluntary contribution change form” from CTA and returning it within 30 days of joining. Half of it goes to the CTA Institute for Teaching, which, the union explains, “provides scholarships to members and supports teacher-led efforts to improve public schools.”

It doesn’t mention that out of the $2.8 million it collected last year, only $380,000 went to scholarships.

The other $10 goes to the Advocacy Fund. CTA describes its purpose only in a general way. The fund is meant to promote “policies to improve public education, such as additional funding for our public schools, smaller class sizes in all grades, and affordable college for all students. It also includes fighting back attacks on teachers and public schools, such as massive budget cuts, voucher programs, and legislation to decrease education employee’s pensions or attack teachers’ professional rights.”

At the end of last year, the Advocacy Fund contained $6.8 million. CTA doesn’t specify exactly how that money is spent, but we can presume that it is the primary source for union-sponsored campaigns such as Kids Not Profits.

All Told: CTA has more than $40 million available for various aspects of its political agenda, with more on the way at the end of every teacher pay period — and it can be supplemented by grants from the National Education Association.

Money doesn’t always guarantee success in the political arena, but CTA will never be able to credibly complain it couldn’t raise enough cash.

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