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It’s Never Enough
How’s Prop 98 education money being spent?…

[Xiaochin Claire Yan] 12/27/05

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have thought he was extending the olive branch when he called for immediate repayment of $1.67 billion in Proposition 98 education funding and showered an additional $4 billion increase on K-12 education in his 2006-2007 budget. But the governor should know by now that no amount of spending is ever enough for those who believe money can solve every problem in education. Take the California Teachers Association (CTA), for example.

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 governor has proposed the largest funding increase in the state history, bringing per-pupil spending to nearly $11,000. K-12 spending by the state is now $49 billion, skyrocketing 16 percent in just the last two years. Yet CTA president Barbara Kerr says this is not enough. She claims the governor is still falling short of fully funding our schools. California State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez says it’s a “step forward, but only one slice of the pie.” One very large slice of the pie. Currently education spending takes up about half of the state budget.

Other groups say they will demand even more money once the budget is submitted to the legislature. Superintendent of public instruction Jack O’Connell, state treasurer Phil Angelides and Parent-Teacher Association president Brenda Davis wasted no time criticizing the governor’s budget at a joint conference, saying it “shortchanges our students.”

Our students are being shortchanged, but not by a lack of funding. They are shortchanged by failing schools that year after year promote students who can barely read. They are also shortchanged by an education establishment whose only response to dismal student achievement and a high dropout rate is to lower standards, abolish exams, and offer excuses.

O’Connell sees the recent increases as the beginning of a conversation that will end with more funding for public schools. Angelides goaded the governor by saying that state “can do better.” Perhaps the governor can do better. But not by spending more money.

“Nothing is more important than education because how we prepare our children today will shape California tomorrow,” said Governor Schwarzenegger in his State of the State address. Yet his proposed torrent of new funding came with no major reforms attached. The funding includes no demands that more of our teachers be highly qualified, for more fiscally responsible school districts, for a more rigorous curriculum based on high standards, and for better tracking of student progress. In short, there was no demand that we get better results for our money in the form of high student achievement, graduation rates, and SAT scores.

After taking a beating in the special election, and facing a re-election bid just ten month away, the governor is naturally desperate to make peace with the unions and the legislature. But if there’s any lesson he should learn from his time in office so far, it’s that he should not try to win the “who can spend more” game. Not only would he lose, he would squander the last of his principles and miss the point completely.

The important question is how the money is spent, not how much. CRO




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