The California Teachers Association announced this evening that they're launching a new campaign TV ad attacking the GOP nominee for her budget plans that, they say, would amount to a $7 billion cut in funding for public schools.
The ad drew an instant rebuke from the Whitman camp, with spokesperson Andrea Jones Rivera emailing to say that "the CTA gets an F for accuracy on this ad."
And it does seem that the teachers union is doing a bit of interpreting about how Whitman's calls to trim state spending would impact education.
The ad sinks or swims on Whitman's campaign pledge that she can reduce state spending by $15 billion; when pressed about this earlier this year, she said that the $15 billion is a savings over the course of four years, not one. But CTA spokesperson Sandra Jackson said in an email late this afternoon that "since public education is about half of the state budget," then the candidate's $15 billion trimming should be considered to equal a $7 billion hit to schools.
"Any cuts after $17 billion over [the last] two years is too much, whether it's spread over four years or not," wrote Jackson.
The trouble with the $7 billion figure is that Whitman has never said she'll cut school spending, though the ad says she has. When I interviewed Whitman in May, the statement she made that drew ire from the education community was that she thinks schools have enough money, but aren't spending it properly. But that's different than actually advocating for less school funding. Granted, shrinking the state budget by about $3.5 billion a year through 2015 would be tough to do without touching schools, but there's no mandate that any such reductions be made in the same proportion as is existing spending.
Such a cutback would also likely require the formal suspension of the school funding guarantee, Proposition 98. Whitman has not advocated such a move (which, coincidentally, is under discussion this year for only the second time since Prop 98's enactment by voters in 1988).On the other hand, Whitman hasn't offered a fully detailed proposal to back up the $15 billion reduction, choosing instead to proclaim that large savings can be found through rooting out waste, reforming welfare assistance, and reducing the state workforce.
Her education plan includes more charter schools and a new A-through-F grading system of public schools, proposals which no doubt make the CTA and other education interest groups leery. Meantime, the conclusion of the ad does touch on an issue not well fleshed out by the candidate: how her proposed elimination of the capital gains tax would impact state revenues in the short-term... a large percentage of which are earmarked (by Prop 98) for schools.
But stepping back just to examine the politics, the CTA ad could be another phase of the independent expenditure campaign against Whitman. While we don't know the size of the initial ad buy, it's a less salient question when you talk about the teachers union, which is one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- player in state politics in recent years. If they want to blanket the airwaves, they've got the cash in the bank. Whitman's campaign has taken to calling the union-backed efforts against her "Jerry, Inc." -- a reference to Jerry Brown's many allies in organized labor who've stepped forward to critique the former CEO over the summer. And Team Whitman is already lumping the CTA into the 'incorporated' lot of the candidate's union critics.