Third part of a five-part series. Read the previous day's installment at this link, and see the entire series, including video and graphics, at this link.

"Nothing is more determinative of our future than how we teach our children," California Gov. Jerry Brown said in his January State of the State address. "If we fail at this, we will sow growing social chaos and inequality that no law can rectify."

Bad news, governor: California is already failing its children. And it wasn't always this way.

According to RAND Corp., as late as the 1970s California's public schools still had an "excellent" reputation. Then, in 1975, Brown (in his first stint as California's governor) signed the Rodda Act, giving government unions the power to take money directly out of government employees' paychecks.

The California Teachers Association quickly poured this new revenue stream into an organizing drive, more than doubling the union's ranks. The Golden State's politics have never been the same since -- nor has the quality of its public schools. Between 2000 and 2010, the CTA spent more than $211 million to influence California voters and elected officials. That is more money than the oil, tobacco and hospital industries combined.

The CTA's first big political victory came in 1988, when it helped pass Proposition 98, which amended the California Constitution to mandate that at least 39 percent of the state budget be spent on K-12 education spending. Since then, California teacher salaries have skyrocketed and are now among the highest in the nation (only Massachusetts and New York pay more).

Monday: What happened to the Golden State?
Tuesday: The California spending rush
Today: Big Ed's big fail: How teachers union's are destroying California's schools
Tomorrow: How the environmental lobby destroyed California's infrastructure
Friday: Golden Geezers: Thanks to open borders, a generous welfare state, high taxes, land use regulations, failed education system, California is bleeding middle class families
Read the entire series at this link

At an average salary of $69,434 per year, a family of two teachers would bring in almost $140,000 in income per year. That is almost triple the state's $57,000 median family income -- and teachers get summers off.

But all of that money for teachers salaries hasn't helped students in the classroom. By 1992, the first year for which state-by-state comparisons are available, California ranked second to last among states tested (ahead of only Mississippi), in reading proficiency among fourth-graders.

Since then, California per pupil education spending has continued to rise, and student test scores have not. In 2011, the most recent year available, California eighth-graders finished 48th in reading, ahead of just Louisiana and Mississippi, and 48th in math, ahead of just Alabama and Mississippi. Perhaps California should change its state motto to "Thank God for Mississippi."

One big reason California's highly paid teachers are failing to educate California's public school students is that their pay has nothing to do with their ability to educate kids.

Thanks to union contracts, teacher pay is based on seniority, not performance. Well-performing teachers cannot be rewarded. Regardless of how well a teacher performs on the job, pay is strictly based on time served. Even worse, on those rare occasions when California schools do have to cut staff, firings are based on seniority too. Many effective young teachers got the boot during the state's latest economic downturn, whereas older ineffective teachers were allowed to hang on.

The CTA has fought every effort to reform how California teachers are paid and held accountable for their performance. The union resists even modest and reasonable changes as the proverbial camel's nose under the tent. In 2012, CTA blocked a bill that would have made it easier to fire teachers accused of "serious and egregious" conduct involving sex abuse, drugs or violence toward children. Currently, teachers accused of such offenses are sent to "rubber rooms" where they are paid to do nothing, and can drag out an appeals process for years before being fired.

California's failing education system is also beginning to have a noticeable effect on the state's economic competitiveness. Yes, California still has one of the nation's most educated elderly populations -- it ranks No. 6 in the nation for its percentage over age 65 with bachelor's degrees. But the percentage of Californians age 25-34 with a bachelor's degree is actually a full point below the national average of 31.5 percent. California is better known for its recent demographic changes in terms of ethnicity, but this demographic change may be far more significant in the long run.

According to a 2010 report from the Public Policy Institute of California, for the first time ever, young adults in California are less likely to graduate from college than their parents.

By 2025, a projected 41 percent of all jobs in California will require a college degree, but only 35 percent of California adults will have one -- an expected gap of 1 million graduates. What this projection really suggests is that the jobs won't be created at all -- they will instead go to other states that are producing college graduates at a fraction of California's cost.

California already has one of the most unequal income distributions in America. In relation to the highest-earning percentile, the middle-earning 20 percent of California families fares worse than the middle earners of 48 other states. California's failure to reform and improve its education system will only make that situation worse.

Conn Carroll ( is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.