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Guest Contributor
Xiaochin Claire Yan

Xiaochin Claire Yan is a Policy Fellow in Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco.[Yan index]

The CTA Goes Radioactive

The unrelenting campaign to clinch unchecked spending…

[Xiaochin Claire Yan] 3/14/05

The 335,000-member California Teachers Association (CTA), the state's most powerful union, is airing radio spots claiming that Governor Schwarzenegger wants to “stiff our kids for $2 billion every year!” Does he?

The most recent ad starts with a first-grade teacher saying: “Last year Governor Schwarzenegger borrowed two billion dollars from the public schools. But now he says he’s not going to pay it back.” Another voices chimes in. “Our schools need more resources, not less.”

A previous spot features a mock phone call to the governor’s office. A man tells the operator that he’s concerned schools “just aren’t getting the funding they need.” Yet another ad features CTA president Barbara Kerr saying that the governor “will cut school funding by billions.” In the Spanish version, CTA vice president David Sanchez adds, “Starving our schools starves the future for our kids. Overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers hurt a child's chance to succeed.”

These spots leave the impression that the governor is not only robbing the children but also cutting life support to what would otherwise be a stellar education system. Actually, the governor's proposal would give schools $7,377 per student, 5.2 percent more than in 2004-05. Even after adjusting for inflation, per-pupil spending still lands an increase of 2.5 percent. The ads don’t tell you that the governor proposed an overall $3-billion increase for education. K-12 spending alone will get $1.6 billion more, up three percent from current levels and hardly a plan to “starve” schools.

The two billion dollars? Not so much “borrowed” money as a delayed spending increase. The governor simply didn’t increase spending as much as the unions would have liked. Instead, Governor Schwarzenegger chose to use the $2.3 billion for other needy areas, such as health care for kids.

With half of the state’s entire budget – almost $50 billion – spent on education each year and the highest average teacher salary in the nation, it’s time to pause the spending spree and ask what we’re getting for such an expensive purchase.

Teacher salaries, the largest portion of education spending, are distributed to the detriment of the most needy students. Senior teachers cluster around wealthy schools with good environments, loading more resources at already well-off schools. The newest and least qualified teachers are left with the toughest schools. No amount of additional spending under the status quo will get more qualified teachers to the kids who need them the most. Our schools don’t just need more resources; they need serious reform in how the resources are being used.

In an effort to address this and other serious problems in the public schools, Governor Schwarzenegger has offered a host of reforms – performance pay and ending tenure for teachers, expansion of charter schools, and giving local districts more control over funds. All have drawn heavy opposition from a union striving to maintain the status quo of unexamined, uninterrupted spending.

If the governor is serious about reform in the months ahead, he will need to combat CTA misinformation. But CTA militancy turns out to be bipartisan.

When Senate President Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat, gave his frank opinion that school spending via Proposition 98 mandates was “an escalator without pause,” the CTA blanketed his home district with fliers and yard signs. CRO




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