Fixing K-12 Education in California

Supporters of education reform in California have never had a bigger opportunity than right now. More parents than ever have now witnessed the selfish overreach of the teachers’ unions, at the same time as they’ve experienced, by the millions, creative educational solutions that bypass the traditional public school system. At the same time, an activist army has been formed in California that has already logged one major victory – collecting 2.1 million signatures to force Governor Newsom to defend his record in a special recall election – and they are looking for new battles to fight. When it comes to fixing education in California, here are some battles that need to be fought.

Universal Education Savings Accounts: The reform that would change everything are universal Education Savings Accounts, where the money follows individual students to whatever K-12 school their parents choose for them: traditional public school, charter school, parochial school, private school, or even charter/homeschool and private/homeschool hybrids.

Unchaining the torrent of money that currently pours into traditional public schools without competition and with minimal accountability would be an unprecedented breakthrough. Many of the details of how this could be done have been worked out in SB 1344, introduced by then State Senator Moorlach in 2018. It would allocate education funds mandated under Prop. 98 into education savings accounts, assigning an equal amount for every K-12 student in California. Currently that is about $12,500 per student per year.

A group in California already working on adapting SB 1344 to become an initiative constitutional amendment to be qualified for the November 2022 ballot is the California School Choice Foundation, ran by Pasadena attorney Michael Alexander. Potentially joining Alexander’s group in this effort are people who volunteered on the Newsom Recall campaign, forming the nucleus of what could become a grassroots movement of extraordinary power. But reformers should be aware of the other approaches to fixing public education in California.

Empower Charter Schools: One of the biggest alternative ways to start fixing education in California is to empower charter schools. This could be accomplished by broadening the list of entities that can authorize charter schools, permitting charters denied initial opening or renewal applications to appeal to any authorizing entity, taking away the cap on how many charter schools can be opened, and prohibiting denial of charter applications or renewals for reasons such as the alleged negative financial impact they may have on traditional public school budgets.

These are big ideas, but there’s much more.

Limit Union Negotiations to Pay and Benefits / Outlaw Strikes: Equally big and disruptive and beneficial to public education in California would be to roll back the prerogatives of the teachers’ unions. Currently, to quote a well informed, very indignant reformer who prefers anonymity at this time, “these unions can control what color chalk you are allowed to use on the blackboard.” More to the point, the teachers’ unions include in their bargaining negotiations things that ought to be up to the district superintendents and the elected school board, such as what textbooks to use. A reform that could go a long way towards fixing public education would be to simply rewrite the education code so unions negotiate over wages and benefits, and nothing more. At the same time, take away their right to strike. Defang the unions.

Change Rules Governing Tenure, Layoffs, and Dismissal: Another reform, certain to attract bitter opposition from the teachers’ unions but not so explicitly and overtly targeting them would be to simply change some of the work rules. The Vergara case of 2016, which unfortunately failed in the California Supreme Court on a technicality, provides a roadmap. Lengthen a teacher’s probationary period before acquiring tenure to at least five years. Replace seniority with merit as the criteria governing which teachers to retain and which to let go in layoffs and downsizings. And greatly streamline the ability to fire incompetent or negligent teachers, so principals can hold them accountable, rewarding good teachers and terminating bad teachers.

Empower Parents to Opt-Out of Politicized Instruction: Not least, a major reform would be to empower parents to remove students from classes that the parents feel violate their beliefs and principles. The new sex education classes, which many parents feel are both inappropriately graphic and tinged with an agenda, are an obvious example, but there are others. Politicized curricula that teaches students according to the controversial 1619 Project, or critical race theory, are other examples. If it were properly formulated, a parent empowerment initiative could be successful. It would allow parents to prevent the indoctrination of their children.

Many of the experts around the nation that have been contacted for education reform ideas are against wholesale, sweeping changes. But in almost every case, these are activists and lobbyists who worked with legislatures to enact reform. In those situations, the legislature may not have had a sufficient majority of staunch reform advocates to support dramatic changes. Incrementalism was the only possible way forward.

California is a different case. California’s Legislature will never enact reforms. Pro-charter and pro-school-choice advocates in California’s legislature are so outgunned that their mission is merely to reduce the speed at which the teachers’ union accomplishes their always expanding agenda.

For this reason, the only thing that should matter to education reformers in California is what voters think. California’s ballot initiative process is the one final safety valve preventing a complete takeover of the state government by special interests.

Proponents of universal education savings accounts face objections from battle weary reformers who’ve tried it before. Their argument goes something like this: If you try to take on the teachers’ union, they will spend you into the ground, you will lose badly, and nobody will want to try it again for another twenty years. Do a little bit at a time, log some small victories, and gradually move towards bigger reforms.

The problem with that argument ought to be obvious. The teachers’ union will spend you into the ground whether you’re going for a big reform or a small reform. The question, and the only question, should be what are voters willing to support. Universal education savings accounts help everybody. Incremental reforms do not help everybody. By definition, broader reforms ought to have broader appeal.

The opportunity posed by the shameful behavior of the teachers’ unions during the pandemic, combined with the presence for the first time of powerful and effective statewide grassroots groups, can still be lost. Proponents should make something very clear: We are going to put this on the ballot in 2022, and if we fail, we’re going to put it on the ballot again in 2024, and again if necessary in 2026 and so on. And the way to accomplish this is to budget accordingly.

With the right combination of grassroots support and state-of-the-art outreach, the cost of getting an initiative on the ballot has come down for the first time in years. To qualify a statewide initiative, plan on spending $5 million in 2022, then again in 2024, and again in 2026. Separate the organizational and financial effort to qualify from the resulting independently ran campaigns that will spring up in support, because those campaigns cannot be controlled. Plan on a six year effort. Drain the unions dry. By 2026, if not sooner, they’ll be broke.

For an expenditure of $15 million over six years, the unions will spend at least $150 million. That alone makes this a compelling case. With an aggressive, creative, honest campaign that doesn’t pussyfoot around these unions, however, a universal education savings account measure will be approved by voters, meaning the teachers’ union will not only be financially broken, but their monopoly on our children’s futures will also be broken.

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Newsom’s Not-So-Full California Reopening

After suggestions that Newsom is planning to add a less-restrictive green tier to California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that, assuming the current COVID trajectory in California remains, the tiered system that has been in place since August will be eliminated entirely. According to Governor Newsom, it will be “business as usual” again.

Every Californian has been waiting for this day to come. While we now have June 15 circled on our calendars, Newsom’s announcement has led to more questions than answers.

One might assume a fully reopened, tier-free economy means Californians can finally throw away their masks. But Governor Newsom said in his press conference that the mask mandate will remain in effect after the reopening. The California Department of Public Health also stated that even when the state goes “beyond the Blueprint,” workplaces would still need to “promote policies that reduce risk and mask wearing in indoor and other high-risk settings as well as remote work when possible without impacting business operations.” These lingering restrictions don’t exactly scream “Back to normal!”

Another presumption with Newsom’s announcement is that schools would reopen in-person, five full days a week. This would be incorrect. According to the California Department of Public Health, “Schools and institutions of higher education should conduct full-time, in-person instruction, in compliance with Cal/OSHA emergency temporary standards and public health guidelines” (my emphasis added). “Should” is not the same thing as “mandated.” The Governor reinforced that message in his address on Tuesday that fully reopening schools is “an expectation but not a requirement.”

The slated reopening date of June 15 also raises questions. California’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, explained the timing for the June 15 reopening. This is based on the date everyone ages 16 and older qualifies to be vaccinated: April 15. It can take two weeks to wait for an initial dose, four weeks between first and second doses, and two weeks for the second dose to take effect for a total of eight weeks. 

The reasoning makes sense if COVID-19 affected all groups the same and the first dose does not offer any immediate protection. But, it has been well-documented that COVID-19 affects elderly people and those with pre-existing conditions far more than it does healthy teenagers. At least 70% of elderly Americans have already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. Delaying the reopening until those least-susceptible to catching COVID have received both doses is unnecessary. Plus, two weeks after the initial dose of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, those vaccinated will already have up to 80% protection.

Importantly, California’s current case rate is 22.5 times less than it was during the winter wave peak, and is currently one the lowest in the nation. Yet, Newsom’s reopening is not slated to occur until summer. 

Meanwhile, states across the country have created their own reopening plans. 

Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio said that once cases drop below 50 per 100,000 people for two weeks, all public health orders will be lifted. This equates to about 3.6 new cases per day per 100,000 people. To put this in perspective, many counties in California have already reached this benchmark (although not the state as a whole just yet).

Another option is the approach by Governor Greg Abbott. On March 10, he reopened all of Texas and eliminated the mask mandate. Texas’ COVID numbers have been trending down since the reopening.  

While each plan has its pros and cons, both of these plans have concrete action items and include a full reopening.

While there is cause for celebration as more people are getting vaccinated and the end of  public health restrictions is in sight, June 15 may not be the “Independence Day” we are hoping for.

Brandon Ristoff is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center.

Anti-Fracking Bill Could Severely Curtail Oil And Gas Extraction In California

California may soon take one of its most aggressive steps yet to fight climate change.

A bill before the state Legislature seeks to ban the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, in response to a high-profile request by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who last year urged lawmakers to move to halt the fossil fuel extraction technique.

But Senate Bill 467 wouldn’t stop there.

It would also eliminate several other methods that use water, steam or acid to wring oil from the ground. Taken together, the bill would prohibit most petroleum production in California and threaten many thousands of jobs, industry leaders say, particularly in places such as Kern County, where much of the state’s oil and gas is extracted.

Supporters of the bill are skeptical of the industry’s data but don’t deny that SB467 would have a major effect on the state’s oil and gas sector. It’s a necessary step, advocates say, to curb the ever-growing impacts of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Biden Wants To ‘Make America California’

I was surprised to read [in the Los Angeles Times] that the Biden administration’s “role model for America” is…California! He wants to “Make America California.”

That’s a terrible idea.

Californians now rush to move out of California.

Some hopeful folks still move there, but so many more leave that California now loses more than 10,000 citizens every month. In fact, the state will soon lose a congressional seat.

Why do Californians leave? “Exorbitant tax rates, high crime rates, the failing public school systems, the exorbitant cost of living,” says reporter Kristen Tate in my new video.

So many Californians move away that there’s now even a shortage of U-Hauls. Renting one to go from Los Angeles to Houston costs four times as much as it does to go from Houston to LA.

“People are just emptying out!” says Tate.

But this seems crazy. California has great weather and all kinds of natural advantages.

The state’s politicians drive people away with bad policies.

Asked by Stossel TV whether it’s a bad idea for President Joe Biden to “make the U.S. more like California,” Governor Gavin Newsom’s office replied with a statement saying, “Before the COVID pandemic, California saw job growth and record low unemployment.”

Wow. Really?

Oh, it was a record for California. Before the pandemic, the state’s unemployment was 12th worst in America. Now, it’s 3rd worst.

The statement continues, “We remain the fifth largest economy in the world…home to 20 of Fortune’s fastest growing companies.”

But that only means California was hospitable to business years ago. Now Oracle, Tesla, and many other companies are moving operations to other states.

A big reason is California’s onerous regulations. They make it hard to create anything new. It’s also a reason housing costs so much.

California passed a law raising its minimum wage from $13 to $15 an hour. That’s one reason many Californians can’t find any legal work.

A good thing about America having 50 states is that when states fail, we can learn from their mistakes. People defeated by California’s rules move to Nevada or Texas. But if the federal government adopts California’s rules, where can we move?

The Congressional Budget Office says a national $15 minimum wage will help some people, but it will cost 1.4 million jobs.

Yet, Biden wants the higher minimum.

Biden’s plan for America also includes a new version of Cash for Clunkers, the absurd program that once paid people to junk old cars. California has its own version, which the state claims helps reduce emissions.

“But most of the cars that were turned in were not even actively registered,” says Tate. “It means they probably were just going to be scrapped anyway! These programs are failures…but they make environmentalists feel good.”

Like California’s “clean energy” rules. How long until all American motorists pay the $4 per gallon Californians pay? Or the $7 people pay in Norway and Denmark?

Biden also picked lots of Californians for his administration.

When Vice President Kamala Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney, she oversaw 1,900 convictions for pot offenses. Yet, she’s since joked about her own marijuana use.  When the Biden administration fired staffers for using marijuana in the past, Harris was spared.

“Unfortunately, there’s been a trend in the Biden administration of giving jobs to people who might check [race and gender] boxes,” says Tate. “But they have horrendous track records.”

Biden made Alejandro Mayorkas America’s new secretary of Homeland Security even though he was cited by the inspector general for pressuring his staff to approve visas for politically powerful Democrats.

“In government, you always fail up,” complains Tate.

The Los Angeles Times wrote that Biden wouldn’t nominate California Labor Secretary Julie Su because “rampant levels of fraud scuttled [her] prospects.” Biden then made her deputy secretary of labor.

“If we make America California,” concludes Tate, “we are all going to be paying for it.”

At least Californians can move to other states.

But I don’t want to leave America.

This article was originally published by Reason.com

California Aims To Fully Reopen Its Economy June 15

California is aiming to fully reopen its economy June 15, more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives and businesses of millions across the state.

Officials emphasize the move hinges on two factors: a sufficient vaccine supply and stable and low hospitalization numbers.

There also will not be a full return to pre-pandemic life. Notably, California’s mask mandate will remain in place.

But officials expressed confidence that the state, through continued improvement in its coronavirus metrics and the steady rollout of vaccines, is now positioned to begin actively planning for what comes after COVID-19. …

Click here to read the full article by the L.A. Times.

Gov. Newsom Has a Problem With No-Bid Contracts

This is a tale of two Governors’ disparate treatment by media.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has a problem with no-bid contracts to favored donors, yet he’s barely criticized for it in the media.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis actually used a smart delivery system to get more vaccines to his states’ residents, and was accused by 60 Minutes of favoring a big donor.

Here are several examples of Gov. Newsom’s contracts:

  • He awarded a no-bid contract worth over $221 million this year alone for UnitedHealth subsidiary OptumServe to help with vaccine delivery.
  • Another no-bid agreement was extended by $61 million.
  • awarded a $176 million no-bid contract for a UnitedHealth subsidiary to deliver vaccines.
  • The governor awarded Blue Shield a $15 million contract as the state’s third-party administrator for vaccine distribution.
  • Last year, the Newsom administration awarded a no-bid $1 billion deal with Chinese company BYD for hundreds of millions of N95 and surgical masks.

These contracts were unnecessary as the state already has an amazing vaccine delivery system in place using retail pharmacies, the way flu vaccines are already delivered annually. It would not have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars to do this.

Yet, this is exactly what DeSantis did, and 60 Minutes attempted to skewer him for it. But they didn’t have the story they thought they did, because they deceptively edited video of the Florida Governor to make him look guilty.

Click here to read the full article from the California Globe.

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?

Coronavirus Infections On The Rise In The Bay Area

Coronavirus infections trended up in the Bay Area for the week ending Friday, with the average number of daily new cases at 475, up 8.7% from the prior week ending March 26.

The data could indicate that California is beginning to fall in line with the rest of the United States, where coronavirus infections have steadily plateaued or increased due to more infectious variants.

“On the West Coast, we see a leveling off,” which is not a bad thing, said Dr. George Rutherford, an infectious disease expert at UCSF. “We may go back up a little bit. We may hit bottom and bounce up a little bit.”

This is the fourth straight week of rising cases nationwide, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Solving California’s Urban Water Scarcity

A study by the Public Policy Institute of California in 2019 found that per capita urban water use in the state has dropped consistently over the years, from 231 gallons per day in 1990 to 180 gallons per day in 2010, then dropping to 146 gallons per day during the drought in 2015. This clearly bodes well for addressing the next drought, which could be on the way, but doesn’t address the challenges posed by suburban households with yards, which tend to use far more water than average.

In 2014, as Californians coped with the last severe drought, the Pacific Institute compiled data from the water districts serving urban consumers across the state in order to report per capita water use by region. The findings indicated that suburban households in the drier parts of the state were consuming water a per capita rate nearly three times the average; well over an acre foot per year per household.

Confronting this challenge addresses one of the key arguments of the anti-suburb movement: If every one of California’s 13 million households consumed an acre foot of water per year, residential water consumption in the state would be 13 million acre feet per year instead of the current 5 million acre feet per year.

There are many answers to this challenge, but exploring these answers, and the attendant policy solutions, should not merely rest on draconian restrictions on water use combined with a war on new suburban development. The other solution is to invest in infrastructure that guarantees water abundance even in drought years.

The advantages of this approach ought to be obvious: California is a so-called first world economy, with a standard of living that presumably should not submit to rationing. Californians should not have to worry about punitive fines if they take showers that last long enough to properly rinse the soap out of their hair. They should not have to wash their clothes in on-off high tech washers that take hours to complete a cycle and do a lousy job. They should be able to have a lawn if that is an amenity they value and are willing to pay a reasonable price to keep watered.

California’s suburbanites have a right to have these expectations. The economic cost to fulfill these expectations is manageable, as is the environmental impact. And by investing in infrastructure that creates water abundance in the state, a deep resilience is created that guarantees a secure water supply even during mega-droughts, or during civil emergencies where parts of the infrastructure are disrupted.

The principle that should govern suburban water use can be simple: They can use all the water they want if they’re willing to pay for it. Theoretically, there’s no reason why a suburban water consumer can’t bring their averages down that of an apartment dweller: Stop all outdoor watering and let the plants all die, install low flow, water sipping appliances inside the house, and voila, you’re down to the magic 55 gallons per day per person or less. But you’re also creating a dust bowl, and living a diminished, micromanaged life. So how much should it cost a household, if they want to consume an acre foot of water per year?

The most expensive but inexhaustible source of fresh water is via desalination. The price to the consumer for desalinated water in California today is about one cent per gallon. That is on the high side, since developers of desalination plants have to withstand decades of regulatory delays and spend hundreds of millions on permits, fees, and litigation. Removing those barriers, along with tapping into new modular designs for desalination plants that do not require as much custom engineering, ought to be able to cut those costs in half.

As it is, however, at a penny per gallon, it would cost a household $3,258 per year, or $271 per month, to consume an acre foot of desalinated water per year. That should be the benchmark.

Keeping this price in mind has useful implications. It means that if local water districts are contemplating punitive rates for people who exceed their consumption targets, those rates should not exceed $.01 per gallon. It means that coastal water districts that are already billing their customers at a rate in excess of $.01 per gallon ought to be subjected to a withering audit of their operations. Desalination is frequently derided as a ridiculously expensive way to produce fresh water. Fine. If that’s true, than start charging people less for water sourced by other means. And other means are plentiful.

For example, treated wastewater in Los Angeles County is still discharged into the Pacific Ocean at the astonishing volume of over 1.0 million acre feet per year. All of this water was imported via aqueducts, primarily from the Sacramento River and the Owens Valley. As Orange County has demonstrated, as they are within a few years of recycling 100 percent of their wastewater to potable quality, creating drinkable water from wastewater can be done for roughly half the current price of desalination.

At the same time, storm runoff in the Los Angeles Basin requires treatment as well. Rain in Southern California is infrequent but often torrential when it does hit, washing toxins off impermeable surfaces and pouring them into the storm drains. All of this water should also be treated, with some of it reused and the rest discharged into the watersheds with the toxins removed.

All of this costs billions of dollars. But by using the cost of desalinated water as a benchmark, it is clear that the ratepaying consumer can bear this cost. To the extent rates might go too high, general obligation bonds can pick up the slack. And what about developing less expensive sources of fresh water?

Why aren’t California’s water agencies investing more aggressively in runoff capture and underground storage, so that when the atmospheric rivers hit California – even in drought years there are a few of these – and dump far more water onto the state than the ecosystems require, millions of acre feet can be captured and stored for urban and agricultural use? Why weren’t the delta pumps running at full capacity back in January during what may have been the only big storms of 2021, sending water south to be stored?

The discussion of water policy as Californians face the possibility of another drought revolves around core issues, one of which is a huge political question: Are suburbs sustainable? The answer to this should be an emphatic yes. Families should be able to move to new, affordable suburbs. But to make this possible again, California must continue to invest in enabling infrastructure. Creating water abundance should be at the top of the list.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Globe.

Title Drought Ends: Stanford Women’s Basketball Are Again National Champions

You thought it was going to be easy?

Tara VanDerveer knew it wasn’t going to be easy. This wasn’t just about the pandemic, the eviction from Maples Pavilion, surviving the 87 nights in hotels, adhering strictly to COVID-19 protocols. It wasn’t just about winning six games in 15 days or overcoming the frantic final moments against a ferocious Arizona team.

It was also about 29 long years of waiting to raise that championship trophy again.

“I’ve had heartbreak with teams that had great shots at winning it,” VanDerveer said.

But heartbreak finally took a holiday Sunday. VanDerveer’s Stanford Cardinal team beat Arizona by a single point when a last-second shot by Aari McDonald didn’t fall. The thrilling 54-53 title game capped an exciting, watershed tournament.

And in the end, the sport’s all-time winningest women’s coach finally got the one victory that had been so elusive for almost three decades. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

S.F. School Board May Reverse Its Vote To Rename 44 Schools

Just over two months after voting to rename 44 schools, the San Francisco school board is poised to reverse that decision Tuesday to avoid costly litigation over the issue.

The upcoming vote represents the latest development in a months-long initiative that culminated amid the pandemic. In late January, the board voted 6-1 to change dozens of school names associated with slavery, oppression, genocide and colonization as public schools districtwide remained closed.

The process began in 2018 with a resolution to create a committee to advise the board. The committee ultimately recommended changing 44 school names, including Lincoln, Washington, Mission and Balboa high schools, as well as Alamo, Jefferson and Serra elementary schools. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle.