Two and a half years ago, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa left his office steering the nation’s second-largest city with a legacy of pushing the kind of changes in the school system that education reformers relish.
Trying to make good on a campaign promise to fix the city’s schools, he fought the teachers union in court to limit seniority-protected layoff policies (he won) and supported another court challenge that sought to incorporate student test scores into teacher evaluations (no clear victory yet on that one).
He successfully lobbied lawmakers to wrest control of the school district from its elected school board (the courts turned him down), aggressively expanded choices for parents, including charter schools, founded the non-profit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools to take over the city’s lowest-performing schools and raised a boatload of money to help elect reform-oriented school board members.
Since leaving office Villaraigosa, 63, who drew national attention as the city’s first modern-day Hispanic mayor, has been stumping for Hillary Clinton, teaching at USC and traveling the country giving corporate speeches. Most recently, the man who tried to remake the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School District while in office has been singled out as a likely gubernatorial candidate.
In an extensive interview last week, we spoke with the former mayor about the political challenges he faced, what he told Eli Broad about his foundation’s $490 million proposal to dramatically expand charter schools (he’s for it with some caveats) and national education controversies. Take, for example, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case before the Supreme Court in which justices are weighing whether charging mandatory union dues to cover costs for activities like collective bargaining violates teachers’ free speech rights. The justices heard oral arguments in January and will have to issue a decision by the end of their term in June. If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs, their ruling could severely hamper a major fundraising vehicle for teachers unions across the country but also support educators who feel union leaders use their money on political causes they don’t agree with.
Here’s what Villaraigosa had to say about Friedrichs:
I do not support the appellants in this matter. … In a democratic society, it’s critical that workers have an opportunity to organize and collectively bargain their wages, their hours, their working conditions. … I believe the agency fee issue that is particularly in question is one that is very important. Unions have a duty (to provide) fair representation. I worked for them for eight years. They are, by law, required to represent people, even if they are not union members. I think it’s important that those non-union members pay their dues so that they can be represented fairly. I do not support the plaintiffs in that matter at all. … In fact, I am vehemently against it. … At the same time I am vehemently against the status quo where African-American children and English language learners are relegated to the bottom. … We have to stand up for these kids too. You can be pro-union while at the same time stand up for the civil rights of these kids. Continue reading