A ballot measure submitted by a political consultant for education advocate Michelle Rhee seeks to remove seniority as a factor when California school districts lay off teachers, requiring that they instead base decisions on performance ratings. Performance, under the proposal, would be determined in part based on student test scores.
Those policy proposals have been at the core of Rhee's advocacy efforts as head of StudentsFirst, a national group headquartered in Sacramento. Rhee, who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, has said she established the group to try to counter the influence that teachers unions have in decisions about public education. Unions generally reject the idea that teachers should be rated based on their students' test scores, and prefer contracts that call for the most recently hired teachers to be the first let go during layoffs.
The California ballot initiative was submitted Monday by Matt David, a political consultant to StudentsFirst. David was communications director to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and worked on the presidential campaigns of Republican Senator John McCain and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr.
David said he submitted the measure on his own behalf and that StudentsFirst has not yet endorsed it.
"I would hope to get their support on this, assuming the language isn't changed (by the attorney general)," David said. "But they haven't taken a position yet and I've advised other groups not to take a position until we get the language finalized."
StudentsFirst spokesman Francisco Castillo said the group has been in talks about advancing a ballot measure in California next year, but hasn't yet decided if this will be it.
"We're currently reviewing the language for this one, and we generally support the concepts behind it, but it's premature to say whether we will take a position on it right now," Castillo said.
The proposed initiative for California's 2014 ballot must receive a title and summary from the Attorney General's Office before proponents can begin gathering signatures from the public to qualify for the ballot.
The measure also would streamline the firing procedures for teachers convicted of sex crimes, setting up a possible conflict with another ballot measure recently proposed by an advocacy group called EdVoice, which generally shares StudentsFirst's anti-union approach to education.
StudentsFirst has been active in several states but has made little headway so far in California, where public employee unions hold big clout in the state Capitol. The organization recently hired labor lobbyist Jovan Agee, who previously represented the AFSCME union, to head up its California operation.
Students First pushed for a bill to add student test scores to teachers' performance evaluations earlier this year, but Senate Bill 441 died in its first committee.
The bill was carried by Sen. Ron Calderon, the Montebello Democrat whose office was raided this summer by the FBI. A sealed FBI affidavit made public by Al Jazeera America alleges Calderon accepted $88,000 in bribes from a hospital executive and an undercover agent posing as a movie studio owner.
In 2012, StudentsFirst pitched a bill in California that sought to remove seniority as a factor in teacher layoff procedures, instead basing layoffs largely on job performance, according to a confidential draft The Bee obtained last year. The bill also would have changed the teacher evaluation system so that at least half the ratings were based on student test scores.
Calderon's brother, Charles Calderon, who was an assemblyman at the time, said he was interested in introducing the bill, but ran out of time during the 2012 session.
StudentsFirst poured more than $1 million into legislative races in 2012, including support for Ian Calderon — the son of Charles Calderon and nephew of Ron Calderon — as well as Assembly candidates Cheryl Brown and Brian Johnson. All are Democrats who faced opponents backed by the California Teachers Association.
Ian Calderon and Brown won their races and now serve in the state Assembly.
Michelle Rhee at Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's State of the City address in January 2011. The Sacramento Bee/Bryan Patrick