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RP RALLY TORLAKSON.JPGCalifornia Democrats took aim at efforts to overhaul the state's education system and environmental review laws, issuing sharp words and resolutions on both topics during the final day of the state party's convention in Sacramento.

Much of the fiery rhetoric during Sunday's general session was focused on StudentsFirst, the education policy advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee, and Democrats for Education Reform, which has backing from former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero.

"They sound like good names, but let's be perfectly clear. These organizations are backed by moneyed interests, Republican operatives and out-of-state Wall Street billionaires dedicated to school privatization and trampling on teacher and worker rights," California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel told delegates Sunday. "And we're not going to stand for that."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson criticized the same groups by name, saying they do not "lift a finger to prevent the cuts to education."

"In my book, you're not a reformer, you're not helping education and you're sure not much of a Democrat," he said.

StudentsFirst and the CTA have clashed in the Capitol and on the campaign trail in the last year. The nonprofit poured $2 million into an independent expenditure committee last year that was used to back several state legislative candidates, including a Democrat and former charter school executive who lost to another Democrat backed by the CTA in a very costly Southern California Assembly race.

A resolution approved by voice vote accuses the group of "supporting candidates and local programs that wold dismantle a free public education for every student in California and replace it with company run charter schools, non-credentialed teachers and unproven untested so-called 'reforms.'"

StudentsFirst responded with a statement saying the group "believes strongly that fixing our broken education system should be an issue that people in both political parties can agree on."

"The heated rhetoric coming out of the California Democratic Party convention today is especially disappointing because it reveals an abject refusal to tackle the most important issue: ensuring that every California student goes to a great school and has a great teacher," Jessica Ng, a regional spokeswoman with StudentsFirst, said in the statement.

Romero, state director for Democrats for Education Reform, said the resolution's backers "drank some Kool-Aid that has been fresh squeezed for them by the most powerful political interest in California, the California Teachers Association."

"The backers of the resolution beat their chest, they get some money into their campaign coffers, but they walk away having abandoned the call for quality education for children of color," she said in a statement. "While pleasing an influential group of adults may benefit certain politicians, it certainly does nothing to help the millions of California children stuck in failing schools."

Another resolution affirmed the party's support for the California Environmental Quality Act. Critics of the law have launched a renewed push to rewrite that law, saying aspects are delaying development and economic growth. While their main Democratic ally, former state Sen. Michael Rubio, left the Legislature suddenly this spring, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is continuing to work on legislation that would make some changes to the law.

California Labor Federation Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski listed CEQA one example of how labor will "take the victories we had in November into victories with bills and laws in California."

"The labor movement is strongly behind working with you to ensure that we protect (CEQA) to protect our families and the environment in our great state."

Other resolutions approved by Democrats urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, called for changes to Proposition 13 and condemned the use of drones for targeted killing and domestic surveillance.

RELATED STORIES:
Michelle Rhee just getting started on shaping California education policy

PHOTO CREDIT: Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, in 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench



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