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Bill Leonard - Contributor

Bill Leonard is a Member of the State Board of Equalization

A Week Under the Dome
Education failing, Workers comp, Oracle, Voting fiasco...

[Bill Leonard] 3/9/04

Public Education Failing a Generation

One big challenge that public schools in California have is convincing the public that more money will result in better student performance. I do not see what they can point to that is going to make voters believe this. Forty-eight percent of freshman enrolled at CSU last year got out of California high schools without basic English skills and 40% lacked basic math skills -- and these are supposedly the good students. It is true that the high number of limited-English speaking students in California is a great challenge. Still, it is obvious that California public schools need bold change, and before they get more money, the California Teachers Association, and other education advocates, will need to offer evidence of a reform agenda that will dramatically improve student performance. Lance Izumi and the staff at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco released a study last fall, The California Index of Leading Education Indicators, which shows that the performance of our schools is at an intolerable level. According to the report:

From 1987 to 1995, verbal SAT scores for California public high school students dropped from 421 to 412, while those for parochial school students increased from 432 to 442.

From 1990 to 1994, the percentage of students taking first- year chemistry in California was the lowest of all states, and only Delaware and Hawaii had a lower percentage of students enrolled in second-level algebra.

California ranks near the bottom in both math and reading based on National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, with 59 percent of California students reading below the basic level.

As many as one-third of California's high school students drop out.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, per-pupil spending in California was 60 percent higher in 1994-95, than in 1969-70.

Jobs Held Hostage

The Legislature failed to act on workers' compensation reform by the Governor's March 1st deadline. Assembly Republicans had been counting down the days to the deadline, but with it now in the rearview mirror, they have launched a Jobs Held Hostage campaign. One of the first featured companies is Partytime Ice Company in San Pedro, which has cut its employees' workweeks from 40 hours to 20-25 because of the rise in workers' comp premiums. Such public education efforts will help the Governor's plan to move forward a ballot measure on the matter and may put sufficient pressure on legislators to move more quickly.

Taking the Oracle Fall

What if you wanted to low-ball the news that your political ally was involved in corruption? Well, if you are Attorney General Bill Lockyer, you announce the indictment of a former Governor Davis staffer on election day, thus guaranteeing that all reporters are too busy with election news to cover the story. The Oracle scandal occurred in 2001. The legislative investigation took place in 2002. Now the fastest the "Justice" Department can bring an indictment is Primary Election Day 2004. I was a member of the investigating legislative committee. We interviewed Kari Dohn, who is now facing charges of altering evidence. I am convinced she was following orders. Somebody in the Davis Administration told her to do this. Yet our Attorney General finds no other evidence of crime! Why would anyone alter evidence if there is nothing to hide? By the way, the evidence she is accused of altering relates to the real question that has never been answered: What did Gray Davis know and when did he know it?

Data for 2003 Looking Strong

The data have been crunched for the first quarter of 2003. Taxable sales in California rose 3.5% during the first quarter last year from the same period. Retail stores posted taxable sales of $72.1 billion, a 5.5% increase. Last year most people viewed the economy as anemic, at best. Given how things seem better now, I am confident that the revenue side is going to continue to improve. AROUND THE STATE

The Leader Board

Congratulations to Assemblymembers Loni Hancock and Tim Leslie for not only winning their primaries with no opposition but for leading the Democrats (Hancock - 82,881) and the Republicans (Leslie - 56,368) with more votes than any other Assembly candidates last Tuesday. The Senate "winners" were Democrat Don Perata at 100,438 and Republican Dick Ackerman at 93,580.

Voting Fiasco

In the January 20th edition of Leonard Letter I summarized Johns Hopkins University research about electronic voting systems. The professors criticized electronic voting systems for their susceptibility to hackers and their inability to be verified by auditors. Unfortunately, another problem with electronic voting was demonstrated in my hometown of San Bernardino last Tuesday. Voters seemed pleased with ease of the touch-screen voting system, but candidates were less-than- pleased with the time it took to calculate and report results. The Registrar of Voters staff neglected to follow the advice of Sequoia Voting Systems, which recommended synchronizing the 1,700 voting machines to the main system much earlier than when the Registrar began the process. This alone makes the process more open to ballot fraud. When he finally tried to load everything in one large batch, the system bogged down and could not process everything. Ballot counting did not begin until 12:30am and results were not reported until 5:30am. Candidates were frustrated to not see results sooner and the delays called into question the integrity of the system, no matter what the county officials say. People are already skeptical about the validity of the electronic systems, the Johns Hopkins researchers documented those doubts by demonstrating the frailties of the system, and a major error on its first use in San Bernardino County only exacerbates the concerns.




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