California schools debate pins Newsom between allies and GOP recall backers

Governor Gavin Newsom looks on during a press conference at the California State Capitol on August 16, 2019 in Sacramento. | Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

HAYWARD, California. – Unions to his left. Republican challenger right.

While Governor Gavin Newsom is keeping an eye on a possible recall election, the reopening of the California school has got him caught in political pincers.

Most California public schools remain closed even though classrooms in other states welcomed students months ago. The lengthy shutdown poses one of the biggest threats to Newsom, as a surge of recall last month of signature gathering added to growing frustration among parents and voters.

This dynamic has placed Newsom in a precarious position. Republicans who want to replace Newsom pound him over the school issue and try to put the Democratic governor into the face of school closings. On its other side, the state’s powerful teacher unions, almost vetoed locally at the local level, are pushing Newsom’s efforts to hasten the reopening and straining his relationship with a key ally whose support would help fight back a recall.

“On the one hand, he’s under tremendous public pressure,” said Theresa Montaño, a former CTA director and professor of education at California State University in Northridge. “And on the other hand, there are class teachers who want nothing more than to be closer to their students, but who are also in more vulnerable positions.”

“I think this has become a politicized issue,” added Montaño, and supporters of the recall used this as an opportunity to investigate the governor.

It’s the same balancing act that President Joe Biden faces nationally with his 100-day commitment to reopen schools. Its top medical advisors took up positions this month that contradict teachers’ union demands for vaccines and stricter reopening requirements. But Biden’s work is not in immediate danger.

The pressure to equalize on Newsom was clearly felt last week. On Wednesday morning, the California Teachers Association launched a six-digit television advertisement warning of schools reopening before it was safe, “including prioritizing vaccines for educators” – a critical sticking point in negotiations. While the spots didn’t mention Newsom, they ended up as the governor increasingly confidently claimed it was safe to open schools without fully vaccinating teachers – and as behind-the-scenes conversations have stalled. Soon after, lawmakers defied the governor by tipping a bill that was more in line with the CTA’s position.

While these ads were playing, former San Diego Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer continued to build his gubernatorial campaign to reopen the school. Faulconer stood outside a school in San Francisco that was recently renamed but not reopened as a sign of a disorder in the district. He beat Newsom for “failed leadership” that “left a generation of children behind for not advocating for children. Another Republican challenger, businessman John Cox, tweeted that the national teachers’ union is “holding a generation of public school students hostage for money.”

While local control over schools limits Newsom’s power, the governor’s efforts to create a statewide incentive plan have failed in legislation this week pushing their union-friendly blueprint forward without waiting for Newsom’s blessings. The governor was quick to criticize the proposal, saying, “It doesn’t go far enough or it doesn’t go fast enough.”

“Unfortunately, what was printed would slow the process of reopening our schools, and I can’t support that,” Newsom said Friday, adding that the bill would make California “an extreme outlier” by being one of the The following sets the nation’s strictest reopening thresholds. He signaled that he could veto in its current form.

Newsom suggested Friday that its relationship with CTA would stay strong despite their current disagreement, saying “Good people may disagree.” However, the governor and unions are at odds over timing, vaccines and the appropriate infection rate threshold .

In the course of this debate, Newsom has increasingly broken with teachers’ unions by reiterating a point made by other democratic elected officials: If we wait to open schools until vaccines are available to all educators, it will not happen this year. A similar consensus took hold in California when San Francisco Mayor London Breed backed her city and sued her school board to open the schoolhouse doors and a councilor from Los Angeles considered doing so.

Newsom received political coverage from Democratic health leaders in Washington this month. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky and the nation’s leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci both said schools shouldn’t wait for teachers to be vaccinated before opening their doors.

Yet those words have been virtually ignored by much of California’s political class and influential labor movement, where “Teacher Vaccines” have emerged as a new rallying cry as the school is imminent.

Newsom has been outspoken about its vaccine since POLITICO announced it told school administrators last month that “if everyone needs to be vaccinated,” it means there will be no face-to-face tuition in the state of California. He reiterates almost daily that conditions should allow a gradual return to begin.

“With many of our members before they were as frustrated as other people with the governor’s approach to reopening,” said Edgar Zazueta, lobbyist with the Association of California School Administrators. “But we’ve noticed a noticeable change, not in politics as such, but in the way he’ll use his bully’s pulpit.”

In a potentially crucial concession to teachers’ concerns, Newsom said Friday that California will be rolling out 75,000 vaccines per week to educators starting March 1.

The political incentive for Newsom to bring children back into the classroom is clear. The recall advocates are hammering the problem as they attempt to collect 1.5 million valid signatures. Organizer Anne Dunsmore said in an interview that simmering frustration at school has brought more parents to their knees, including desperate suburban mothers who have been “a politically sought after demographic” for decades. “

The governor also seems to have a real interest in fathering four young children, often using his own children’s struggles with distance learning as an example of why students need to return. In this call from the school administrator in late January, which was supposed to be private but later published after POLITICO reported on it, Newsom expressed clear frustration at the opposition of the unions and the district to the reopening.

His children’s private school in Sacramento has since returned to face-to-face tuition, a point that has been stressed by recall proponents – but also highlighted the inequality in campus opening in California. The state released maps this month showing that the vast majority of private elementary schools have returned their students with more resources and without labor negotiations.

Parents organized one Open Schools California group with hubs across the state to push their agents into action. Republican elected officials from other states have underscored national interests and are with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) A vocal parent and rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) To win a member of Open Schools California for a call for action.

While organizer Megan Bacigalupi, who joined the call with Scalise, increasingly realized to members that Newsom was “more accessible” of the belief that schools are now safe to reopen, he is still a source of dissatisfaction.

“I think more anger is certainly directed against Newsom than against your congregation member or your senator, and that’s because people know Gavin Newsom,” Bacigalupi said. “Governor Newsom is the easiest target, but he may not be the right one.”

A school opening contract could counteract this criticism. But Zazueta warned of a pact that purports to get kids back into class and then falls short – something that could open Newsom to criticism of making and breaking promises.

“I think the biggest danger that all of our heads of state face is that we have a deal that will make a lot of headlines and the expectation of the average parent is, ‘Oh, Sacramento figured it out, that is, my school becomes reopened. ‘To find out that you are in the status quo and that your child is still at home, ”said Zazueta. “I think there is a political risk there.”

There is also a risk that Newsom could violate its relationship with a loyal ally. The California Teachers Association is an excellent player in California. The CTA and other education labor organizations spent large sums to kickstart Newsom’s governance in 2018, when charter-centered interests poured millions into promoting fellow Democrat and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Newsom prevailed, and during his first year in office he signed laws to tighten regulation of charter schools, a long-standing goal for teacher unions.

The Service Employees International Union, which represents bus drivers, food service workers and other school staff, has also joined the battle for vaccines and working conditions on campus. SEIU and CTA are two of the most powerful unions in the state, and Democrats routinely rely not only on money, but also on their organizational power to win voters.

However, Newsom’s employment relationship has come under pressure as it is increasingly willing to question the unions’ position on schools. While Newsom has proposed billing billions of dollars to reopen and secure the protective gear it needs, unions are keen to make vaccination a requirement and set up one of the highest bars in the country for reopening – an infection rate below 7 daily cases per 100,000 people . Currently only six rural districts are at the same level. The CTA’s ad blitz underscored its security concerns.

“Obviously, the safe reopening of schools was an important priority for educators and that is precisely why they have been calling for security measures since the beginning of these talks,” said CTA spokeswoman Claudia Briggs in an email. “We’re just sketching out what educators and many parents think is important in order to safely open schools to personal teaching. We’re committed to teaching and learning and safe public schools for all students!”

A source familiar with the negotiations dismissed concerns that the ongoing stalemate could harm Newsom and benefit the recall, saying the workers’ position has remained consistent as the recall gained strength and sharpened its message over the past few months .

“I think the people who support a governor’s recall will use whatever they think works every weekday,” the source said. “It didn’t start with” opening schools “, but not with” opening schools “.

The overall result could be a split decision. While the school debate might now spark Newsom’s opponents, the source predicted that if campaigned, workers would have little interest in a challenger and rally behind Newsom.

“We’re not looking for anyone else,” the source said. “He’s the governor.”

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