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California Editorial Rdp

April 16

Orange County Register on anti-charter school bills scuttling competition, limiting choice:

California's charter-school movement has made remarkable progress in providing a quality education for some of the state's neediest students.

However, its long, successful journey — sparked by landmark 1992 legislation that made it relatively easy to start charter schools — has run into an existential threat that has rightly been referred to as "Charter-mageddon" by one news publication.

The Assembly Education Committee, dominated by lawmakers who are allied with the state's teachers' unions, recently passed three union-backed bills that would put the kibosh on the continued growth of these alternative schools. Their final passage is not a certainty, but the California Teachers Association is flexing its muscle after November's election shifted the political tide in an anti-charter direction in a variety of statewide and legislative races.

In eight years as governor, Jerry Brown, who helped found and raise money for two Oakland-based charter schools, was such a staunch supporter of charters that legislative attacks on them were non-starters. But his successor, Gov. Gavin Newsom, is more amenable to the union position — and has already signed a law that would impose new open-meetings requirements on charters. The new Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond at a forum in March suggested that education is not the proper place for competition.

Meanwhile, union-friendly Democrats expanded their numbers in the Capitol, and this series of bills is the latest evidence. They aren't the only legislative dangers charter schools will face. There's no sugarcoating it. These bills pose a serious danger to the future of charters schools as a meaningful educational option.

Assembly Bill 1505 would remove the process by which charter schools can appeal to the state Board of Education if their application is denied by a local school board or county board of education. This would leave the decision in the hands of local school board members who often are elected with the help of teachers' unions. Assembly Bill 1506 would cap the number of charter schools as of Jan. 1, 2020. Assembly Bill 1507 would stop charter schools from opening new campuses outside of the school districts where they received their original charter.

AB1505's author complains the current system "has led to unprecedented growth of charter schools in California." The clear intent of all these bills is to stop their growth and leave parents with no alternative other than their local public school.

Charters may be victims of their own success. In some big, urban school districts charter students account for 20 percent of the total student population. Charters receive far less public money per capita than traditional public schools, but state education dollars follow the student. The public school establishment therefore views them as an ongoing and growing threat. Unions are upset that charter schools aren't required to be unionized. They don't want to reform their encrusted bureaucratic system. Yet to be more competitive and successful, traditional public schools must lose the inflexible, seniority-based rules that enable large numbers of "grossly ineffective" teachers to remain in the classroom.

Hundreds of charter advocates showed up at the five-hour Assembly hearing to voice their concerns. We hope that other lawmakers and the new governor are listening — and realize that gutting the state's charter law will hurt California's poorest residents the most.

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April 12

The Fresno Bee on Rep. Devin Nunes' lawsuit against McClatchy and The Bee:

The McClatchy Company started in California's Central Valley in 1857 and began publication of The Fresno Bee in 1922.

When Rep. Devin Nunes filed a lawsuit against McClatchy and The Bee last week, he didn't do it here at home.

Instead, the nine-term Republican congressman from Tulare filed the lawsuit 2,600 miles away, in Charlottesville, Virginia. It's unclear whether Nunes believes suing in Virginia rather than California affords a strategic advantage, but this curious decision highlights the strange nature of his latest attack on the press.

Efforts to make his claims seem relevant there smack of desperation and lies. For example, he claims McClatchy "is at home in Virginia" and prints newspapers there. But the nearest McClatchy newspaper is 200 miles away in Durham, North Carolina.

Of course, McClatchy also publishes the Charlotte Observer, leading us to wonder if perhaps Nunes has confused Charlotte with Charlottesville. Hopefully, Virginia's judges will see through his transparent attempt to abuse their courts for free publicity.

The Fresno Bee is "at home" in California. That's more than can be said for Nunes, who avoids his constituents like a plague. His family moved its dairy farm to Iowa years ago, according to Esquire Magazine's Ryan Lizza. Since his first election in 2002, Nunes has transformed into an absentee politician who prefers the Washington swamp to the Valley communities he's supposed to represent.

Even the scandal at the heart of his defamation lawsuit takes place somewhere else. Nunes' lawsuit hinges on a May 23, 2018, Fresno Bee story headlined: "A yacht, cocaine, prostitutes: Winery partly owned by Nunes sued after fundraiser event."

Nunes says the story unfairly links him to a scandal at a Napa winery he partially owns. Yet the story — which details how the Alpha Omega winery yacht was allegedly sailed in San Francisco Bay while a group of men held a cocaine-fueled party with sex workers — never alleged Nunes was on the yacht. It did accurately name him as a partial investor in the winery.

Nunes may not like it, but when a company partially owned by a member of Congress gets caught up in a scandal involving illegal drugs and prostitutes, it's news. He declined to comment for the story, and he never asked The Bee for a correction or retraction under California law. He now complains that he had to "spend hundreds of thousands of dollars (with mailers, radio, television and digital ads) defending himself from the malicious attacks that went on for months through the 2018 Congressional election."

Nunes' attacks on the press won't affect McClatchy's mission to report the truth as a champion for local news. In the United States, the First Amendment protects press freedom, including criticism of public officials. And in American law, "the truth is an absolute defense" in defamation cases.

It's a different story in authoritarian countries where government critics face punishment.

In 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law to criminalize "libel," especially criticism of public officials, according to Human Rights Watch. The change meant any press outlet or citizen could face steep fines for criticizing a public official.

Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed interest in following Putin's example and cracking down on press freedom. He has yet to try, though he often raises the prospect of suing journalists on Twitter. His political rise has also been accompanied by a disturbing trend of high profile lawsuits against media organizations.

Wealthy individuals — most of them connected in some way to the Russia investigation — have sued the Associated Press, Buzzfeed, the Guardian and National Public Radio for their reporting. In fact, the lawyer who sued NPR on behalf of a billionaire Trump supporter is the same lawyer Nunes hired to sue McClatchy.

Before pleading guilty and becoming a star witness for the Mueller investigation, former Trump Attorney Michael Cohen also sued Buzzfeed, though he later dropped the suit.

Nunes, who drew national attention for his bizarre attempt to undermine the Mueller investigation last year, has now adopted this bullying lawsuit tactic. Last month, he sued Twitter. Now he's suing the local paper. What's going on here?

These lawsuits serve a purpose. First, they scare critics who can't afford legal costs. Second, they force news organizations to waste precious time and money on defense. Finally, they're designed to confuse the public about reality by attacking the credibility of media organizations.

Before 2016, Nunes was a run-of-the-mill congressman mostly unknown outside of his district. The Fresno Bee Editorial Board endorsed him in every election. Since 2016, he's morphed into an erratic and feverish political bomb-thrower who's more at home in a Fox News studio than in Fresno.

The people of California's 22nd congressional district deserve better. No amount of frivolous lawsuits filed in faraway states will stop us from reporting the truth and holding our local elected officials accountable.

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April 12

The San Diego Union-Tribune on Gov. Newsom's fire strategy plan ducking biggest issues of all:

With 15 of California's 20 most destructive wildfires occurring since 2000, the question of how to pay the enormous bills that result is of crucial importance. Under laws written before massive wildfires became common, if fires are touched off by power lines and other energy infrastructure, utilities must pay for fire damages — even if they can establish that their equipment was properly maintained.

In a dry, hot era that's likely to keep getting dryer and hotter, an argument can be made that this standard is not only no longer fair to utilities, it's sure to bankrupt them and potentially disrupt power service to millions of Californians. Such a fate could already await the state's largest investor-owner utility. Facing an estimated liability of $30 billion from recent fires, Pacific Gas & Electric filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January.

Complicating this picture dramatically is the fact that any PG&E claim about the safety of its equipment is simply not credible. After a huge explosion in San Bruno in 2010 killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes, the utility was found guilty of six federal felonies for its failure to properly maintain gas pipelines and for its obstruction of an official investigation. Any assumption that the 2010 disaster led PG&E to clean up its act was dispelled in December with the revelations that the utility had from 2012 to 2016 falsified thousands of records related to natural gas safety inspections. This new scandal led the California Public Utilities Commission to openly debate whether PG&E should be taken over by the state and made into a public utility or broken up into several smaller utilities.

Given this backdrop, the expectations were high that the Friday release of the final report of Gov. Gavin Newsom's wildfire strategy "strike team" would offer bold proposals. Instead, the 52-page report ducks the toughest issues. It says the question of whether utilities should be held liable for fires caused by properly maintained equipment needs further study. Newsom said Friday that he expected state lawmakers to come together in consensus on the best approach before their July break.

On the question of what should be done about PG&E, the report was also vague. It cited the same options that the CPUC did in December.

Yes, the report made many substantive, constructive points. Its suggestion that it may be time to create a catastrophic wildfire fund is smart. So are its calls for the federal government to do a much better job clearing its forests, for local building codes to emphasize having defensible space around homes and for local authorities to identify evacuation routes in fire-threatened areas.

But any argument that it is premature for Newsom's team to offer specifics on the biggest issues depends on the notion that authorities still have much to learn about the fire crisis. Instead, the basics are clear: The utilities want a change in fire liability standards. The Legislature offered some help paying for wildfires in 2018, but not nearly enough for utilities to stop worrying they're doomed. Credit-rating agencies believe the utilities are right to worry. But the public appears hostile to anything resembling a bailout — especially for PG&E.

These are not differences that will somehow magically be resolved after three more months of negotiations. They can't be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. That's why Newsom should have taken the lead. When it comes to developing a sustainable strategy for living with constant fire threats, California needs a quarterback — not a punter.

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