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Jon Coupal- Columnist

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

Good Money After Bad
The truth is coming out…
[Jon Coupal and Tim Bittle] 2/21/05

At a press conference earlier this month, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell once again called for higher taxes on parents as the putative remedy for California's lagging student performance. In so doing, he attempts to perpetuate the myth that more education dollars will mean a better education product for California taxpayers. The bad news for Mr. O'Connell is that taxpayers and voters are wising up. The education establishment has, in the past, repeatedly asked for more money with promises of better performance and they have been consistent only in disappointing us.

As to the current condition of California's educational product there is little debate. A recent study by the Rand Corporation analyzed national standardized testing and ranked California public schools at the bottom of the 50 states. Asked for an explanation, Superintendent O'Connell blamed Proposition 13, asserting that if his agency had more money, schools would improve.

The Rand study found that the amount California spends on public education falls in the top half of the 50 states. California is one of the highest taxed states, and public education consumes $50 billion of the state's $109 billion total budget. If there were a correlation between government spending and student performance, then California schools should at least score in the top half of the nation, not last.

In his press conference, Superintendent O'Connell announced his plan to improve California school performance in response to the Rand study. Does his plan have anything to do with the curriculum, accountability, grading policies, student discipline, or reducing state bureaucratic and union control over local schools? No. Instead Mr. O'Connell said he "will focus on increasing state money ... (by a) campaign to reduce the threshold necessary to pass local parcel taxes."

In other words, he wants to gut Proposition 13 by making it easier to raise property taxes, and send the money to Sacramento. What is so infuriating is the disingenuous spin he put on the schools' budget picture and his parcel tax proposal. He said Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed budget will cut school spending, and he criticized the governor for framing the budget debate as a choice between competing public programs such as health care and education. Rather, said O'Connell, "It is a choice between tax relief for the wealthiest Californians ... and funding for health and schools."

First, the governor's budget does not shortchange schools. The budget proposes a 7.1 percent increase in state spending on public education. That is almost triple the 2.4 percent that the Consumer Price Index increased for the year.

Second, how does Mr. O'Connell figure that parcel taxes will impact only "the wealthiest Californians?" A parcel tax is a flat dollar amount, say $400, that is added to the annual property tax of every parcel regardless of its size or value. Parcel taxes are particularly regressive because they impose the same tax on the poor that the wealthy are paying.

Mr. O'Connell should stop trying to increase the cost of education, and turn his attention to the quality of education. Moreover, Californians are rightly suspicious of the claims by the education establishment that more money will solve the problem. That is the claim they made in 1988 when they convinced voters to pass Proposition 98, and the claim they made in 2000 when they convinced voters to pass Proposition 39 -- lowering the two-thirds vote for local school bonds. We won't be fooled a third time. CRO

This column appeared in The Orange County Register

Jon Coupal is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Tim Bittle is the association's Director of Legal Affairs.

copyright 2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association



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