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Many see influence of teachers union in Gov. Jerry Brown's shakeup of California Board of Education

Proponents of charter schools are among the seven people removed from the board. The action portends a shift in the state's approach to reforms.

January 08, 2011|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

He said that although there was no quid pro quo, "we did work our butts off with getting the word out" about Brown's candidacy, adding that he had told Brown of his concerns about the board numerous times. Sanchez also said that if Brown proposes June ballot measures to help fund schools, "we're going to invest time and money in it."

Critics say the string of appointees was more than payback for the union's support during the election, it was an effort to keep them and their coffers in Brown's corner. The union is a powerful voice in California politics and was instrumental in foiling several Schwarzenegger ballot measures in 2005.

A spokeswoman for Brown declined to comment on whether the appointments were politically motivated.

"As with all appointments, the governor consults with a variety and wide range of individuals to select the best qualified person for the job, and he's working to put his team together quickly," said spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford.

The state board took on a more prominent role in the reform movement when the Obama administration began pushing its education agenda in 2009, using the Race to the Top competition as leverage. That competition for billions of federal dollars, at a time when many states were facing budget deficits, prodded California and other states to implement legislative changes aligned with the reforms.

California failed to qualify for the money, but one legacy of its effort is the "parent trigger," a school-turnaround law used for the first time in December by parents in Compton when they petitioned to convert an elementary school into a charter.

The state board is scheduled to finalize the regulations for the law on Friday, but the vote is expected to be delayed.

Romero, author of the legislation, said that although the law cannot be repealed by the new board, it can be harmed.

"They can put poison pills along the way, they can water it down and of course, they can delay, delay, delay," she said.

Brown has expressed skepticism about many elements of the reform movement, and education experts said this was evident in his shake-up of the board.

"The governor has selected some of the smartest policy thinkers in California. They're experienced, they're thoughtful and they're largely independent minded, with the exception of the CTA staffer," said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at UC Berkeley.

"But the move does signal that the governor is breaking from President Obama's reform agenda quite sharply.... The downside of that is, if not the Obama reform agenda, what is the governor's specific plan for lifting public schools? It's an independent, smart and sage group, but will they coalesce around a pointed and aggressive plan?"

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