Capitol Alert

California’s largest teachers union spent $1 million a month to restrict charter schools

The state’s biggest teachers union spent more than $1 million a month since April to influence lawmakers as it pushed bills aimed at cracking down on charter schools, financial disclosure forms filed ahead of a Wednesday deadline show.

The California Teachers Association has spent a total $4.3 million on lobbying this year, the most of all groups employing lobbyists at the state Capitol. That’s about as much as the union spent during the entire two-year legislative session from 2017-2018, when it was the 10th biggest spender.

The bulk of this year’s total comes from April through June, when CTA spent $3.6 million lobbying on bills including a legislative package that would dismantle charter school power in California.

The teachers’ top priority bills were aimed at holding charter schools accountable, spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said.

The first, Assembly Bill 1505, would hand greater charter authorization and oversight to local districts and county offices. The second, Assembly Bill 1507, would limit a charter school to operating within the boundaries of its authorizing body.

The Assembly proposals are the last two standing from a bundle of bills introduced this year to restrict charter school growth across California.

Another Assembly effort to cap the number of charter schools in California and a Senate attempt to place a moratorium on new charters until 2022 never made it out of their respective chambers.

In addition to employing lobbyists at the Capitol, the group also bought television and radio ads promoting the bills, Briggs said.

“All of this is to ensure that all students have a quality school and a quality education,” she said.

CTA has surpassed last session’s two biggest spenders: the Western States Petroleum Association, which represents oil companies, and Chevron. Those groups spent the second and third highest amounts this year at $4.1 million and $3.7 million, respectively.

California State Council of Service Employees, a statewide union representing more than 700,000 members, filed as the 4th biggest spender, with $2.2 million going toward a list of powerhouse bills.

One of the union-backed legislative efforts would codify a California Supreme Court decision to label independent contractors as employees in most circumstances.

The union also supported a proposal to limit rent increases across California and advocated for a handful of healthcare- and immigration-related bills.

The American Civil Liberties Union also secured a top five spot in big spending during the second quarter. The nonprofit spent nearly $2.2 million on dozens of bills, but most notably is a co-sponsor of a proposal that would elevate the legal standard for when police officers can use deadly force.

The legislation is awaiting signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom, and was one of the most closely watched efforts in the Capitol this year.

Another $1.5 million was spent by the California Chamber of Commerce in lobbying for and against some of the Legislature’s most controversial measures, including the bill to change the status of independent contractors. The chamber testified during committee hearings in a “support if amended” capacity for the bill.

The California Hospital Association, the seventh biggest spender, successfully lobbied against a bill that would have set payment rates for out-of-network emergency room care in an effort to prevent patients from receiving surprise ER bills. That bill, AB1611, has been shelved for the year.

The hospital association spent more than $1.5 million lobbying in the first half of 2019.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.