SACRAMENTO, Calif. – President Obama and the California teacher unions are engaged in a battle of wills, but the only losers in this very public stare down will probably be the state’s public schools and their underserved students.

ObamafingerLast week, U.S. Department of Education officials informed California leaders they had been turned down in their request to be freed from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind federal education law in return for promised reforms, reports the Associated Press.

The reason?

“California was denied because – at the behest of the half-million-plus members of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers – it refused to commit to evaluating teachers based on their students’ performance on standardized tests,” writes in an editorial.

Thirty-three other states have already won a federal waiver by tying teacher evaluations to student learning (among other things), as President Obama has requested. But when California officials filed their last-minute waiver application in June, they made it clear they were committed to using their own teacher evaluation system.

The Obama administration wasn’t impressed, and will hold the Golden State to No Child Left Behind requirements that say all students must be proficient in English-language arts and math by 2014, according to the AP.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson predicts that more than half of the state’s public schools will end up being labeled as “failing.”

If schools don’t reach those goals – which critics describe as impossible – “then schools must offer the parents the option for their children to transfer to other schools within their district, and they must set aside money for tutoring, transportation and teacher training,” reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The likely fallout is that much of the $7.3 billion in K-12 funding the federal government sends to California will be directed to teacher improvement programs, instead of other needs, notes the editorial.

That could result in a new financial crisis for California’s public schools just weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown and his teacher union allies successfully convinced enough voters to raise the state’s income and sales tax to increase funding for schools.

Erin Shaw, spokeswoman for the pro-education reform group Students First, told the AP that this financial mess comes after California officials “left millions of badly needed federal dollars on the table by failing to submit competitive applications for ‘Race to the Top’ funding.”

The state’s teacher unions played a huge role in nixing that, too.

Taxpayers should give President Obama credit for taking a hard line with the teacher unions, which have been among his staunchest political defenders.

But taxpayers should also view this latest episode as further evidence that teachers unions produce failing schools, higher taxes and stubborn resistance to even the most basic accountability measures.

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