Charter Schools Don’t Drain Resources From Regular Public Schools

In their continuing war against charter schools, teacher unions have persistently argued that charter schools, which are mostly non-union, have a large negative financial impact on the regular public school system.  New research, however, contradicts this claim.

In Sacramento, the California Teachers Association is pushing a package of anti-charter-school bills, including AB 1505, recently passed by the State Assembly, which would allow school districts to deny an application for a charter school if it would supposedly produce a negative financial impact on the district’s regular public schools.

CTA president Eric Heins claims that charter schools, which are publicly-funded schools that are autonomous from school districts and have greater flexibility to innovate, are “a drain on many of our public schools.”

This union narrative is undercut, however, by a recently-released series of studies from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.

The CRPE studies specifically examined the financial impact of California’s charter schools on the state’s regular public school system since “critics in California and nationwide have claimed charter schools growth undermines school district finances and forces cuts in the quality of schooling districts can provide.”

The researchers’ findings tell a much different story than the claims of union leaders and other charter-school opponents.

They looked for a connection between enrollment in charter schools and county office of education-issued “negative certifications,” which are determinations that a school district cannot meet its financial obligations over a two-year period.

These negative certifications “represent the main indicator of fiscal distress in California school districts and trigger increased state oversight of district finances.”

The researchers found: “On average, charter schools enroll just 3 percent of students in school districts that receive a negative rating from the County Office of Education,” which is “statistically indistinguishable from charter enrollment in school districts that are not in fiscal distress.”

In other words, charter school enrollment does not differ between school districts that are in fiscal distress and those districts that are not, which leads the authors to conclude that there is “no evidence to support the claim that charter schools are to blame for fiscal distress in California school districts.”

Specifically, one of the studies found that between 1998 and 2015, “an average of just 1.5 percent of school districts where charter schools enroll 10 percent of all students entered fiscal distress,” which means that “districts with larger charter school enrollment shares are no more likely to enter fiscal distress.”

If charter schools are not the cause of the fiscal distress in school districts, then what are the real causes?

The researchers noted that the Vallejo City Unified School District had been in fiscal distress longer than any other district in the state.

They cited audit reports showing that Vallejo City Unified’s problems stemmed from “grossly overestimated enrollment figures, underestimated salary expenses and approved union contracts they couldn’t afford.”

More generally, the researchers pointed out, “While many school districts in the state have posted their largest budgets ever, thanks to historic state investments in K-12 education,” key factors such as rising “pension and health care costs, special education expenses, and teacher salaries are putting pressure on school districts’ bottom lines.”

Importantly, “Stopping the growth of charter schools will not address these issues,” which should be a warning to state lawmakers who think that banning new charter schools will somehow improve the fiscal health of mismanaged school districts.

Thus, rather than scapegoating charter schools, which have been shown to improve the achievement of students, especially African Americans and Latinos, school districts should seek to reform themselves.

“When families choose charter schools they do so for a reason,” say the CRPE researchers, and school districts “should be asking why, and what they can do differently to keep those families.”

In other words, the regular public school system should learn from the competition, not destroy it.

Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the 2019 book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.

Desperate times and desperate measures for LAUSD

In politics, strange things happen in the week preceding an election. It is no different with Measure EE, the controversial property tax hike proposed by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although predicting the outcome of any election is dangerous it is clear that Measure EE is in trouble. In fact, its biggest problem might not even be the two-thirds vote threshold required for its approval. What is more disturbing for the district is the extent to which LAUSD has suffered multiple self-inflicted wounds in the conduct of its campaign.

Prior to this week, the district already committed several faults, starting with the screw-up on the language placed before the voters. That language doesn’t match what the LAUSD board approved in the official resolution. Not surprisingly, that problem resulted in a lawsuit.

More recently, the district distributed a mail piece advertising how seniors can apply for an exemption to the tax. No one believes for a second that the letter was anything other than a campaign piece because it was distributed to residents using the voter file rather than data from the assessor.

The bigger problem for the district is that the application for the exemption is itself very intimidating and seniors are justifiably suspicious of the district’s intentions. The application demands sensitive information such as a photocopy of the applicant’s driver’s license or passport. It also requires that the homeowner prove they are the primary resident by providing a copy of their Social Security check, insurance policy or utility bill and a copy of their current property tax bill. To top it all off, the application notes that the district may require that the application be submitted in person.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California’s Public School Chief Says Education No Place For Competition


School educationThe state’s public schools superintendent didn’t hold back in a wide-ranging discussion Thursday night: He raised doubts about the value of charter schools, criticized school districts for the state’s wave of teacher strikes, questioned the severity of public pension debt and insisted the state must spend more to educate its students.

Two months into the new job, Tony Thurmond seems to be exactly the man that his most loyal backers hoped (and his opponents feared) he would be.

In a conversation with CALmatters’ education reporter Ricardo Cano at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, Thurmond talked about how his mother, an immigrant from Panama, died when he was 6, leaving him to be raised by a cousin he never met. He says his family benefited from many government programs to get by, but that “a great public education” was the most vital.

“If it were not for the education, my cousin who took me in, countless mentors, I would easily have ended up in California state prison instead of serving as California’s superintendent of public instruction,” he said. “We owe this to all the students in our state.”

That philosophy, he said, informs his fairly dim view of charter schools, which he characterized as benefiting certain students as the possible expense of others.

“I think there’s a role for all schools,” Thurmond said, including charters—publicly funded but privately managed schools that supporters say offer valuable educational alternatives to children, but which critics say undermine traditional public education. “But I do not believe that the state should ever open new schools without providing resources for those schools. I do not believe that education is an environment for competition.

“Here’s my concern: you cannot open charter schools and new schools to serve every single student in our state,” he continued. “If you take the competition approach, that means some students, a lot of students, will be left behind. And again, I don’t believe that that’s what our mission is. I believe that the promise that we make to each other in society is to provide opportunity to get an education, to live a better life, to be able to acquire what you want through your hard work for yourself and your family. So for me that means that competition is OK in some environments, but when it comes to education we’ve got a responsibility to make sure that every single student gets an education.”

In the 2018 campaign, Thurmond and challenger Marshall Tuck tried to convince voters that they were not as extreme as their opponents sometimes portrayed them to be.

Tuck, with a background in charter schools and over $30 million of charter-backing dollars behind him, stressed his progressive credentials, while Thurmond, supported by teachers’ unions, insisted that he would not be beholden to organized labor.

Thurmond won by 2 percentage points.

Following the teachers’ strike in Los Angeles, where charter school growth has exacerbated tensions in the district, new Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Thurmond to put together a task force to study the fiscal impact that charters have on school districts. Because schools receive state funding on a per-pupil basis, charter skeptics argue that when students transfer to a charter, it leaves traditional schools unable to meet various fixed costs, such as building maintenance and debt.

The task force is composed of public school district superintendents, union representatives and charter school groups. But Thurmond made his position clear.

“There has been, for many districts, a significant fiscal impact and loss of revenue directly attributed to the growth of charter schools,” he said, citing a report from the left-leaning research center In The Public Interest, which estimated that San Diego Unified School district has lost $66 million while Oakland Unified has lost $57 million. “We have to have tough conversations including the fiscal impact of charter growth on the traditional districts and come out in a way where we can do what’s best for all of our students in the state.”

Carlos Marquez, from the California Charter Schools Association, said afterward that allowing districts to deny charter applications based on financial criteria creates “a backdoor moratorium on new schools” and a “blunt instrument for school districts to methodically close down existing high-quality charter schools.”

Disputing the numbers Thurmond citied, he said the underlying problem facing districts is not charters, but insufficient funding.

“I have to believe that part of the debate around fiscal impact and the appropriate role and the appropriate rate of growth for charter schools is mostly being dictated by the environment of scarcity that we’re all living in,” he said. “We have not met the challenge in California of fully funding our public schools—and that’s a place where we can call agree.”

True enough, Thurmond pointed to insufficient state funding as the source of virtually all that ails the state’s public school system.

“We are still 41st in the nation in per-pupil spending,” he said, a number that takes into account the cost of living in each state. “No matter what you do, until you resolve that, we’re going to continue to see challenges.”

Among the challenges he blamed on a lack of funding:

  • The achievement gap between disadvantaged and privileged kids. As CALmatters has reported, less than a quarter of black and Latino students in California are meeting state math standards on statewide tests.
  • The decline in enrollment in unaffordable districts like Palo Alto. When a public school board member from East Palo Alto asked what the state could do to help the district cope financially with declining enrollment rates, Thurmond pointed to the need for workforce housing and magnet schools, but ultimately, he said “clearly we need more funding.”
  • The disparity in the ability of local school districts to borrow. According to a CALmatters analysis, the wealthiest school districts are in some cases able to borrow more than 300 times as much as low-income districts to fund the repair and expansion of buildings. Thurmond’s response: “I don’t know that districts can do it all by themselves,” arguing that the state should kick in more to even things out.
  • The recent teachers strikes in Oakland and Los Angeles, as well as the ongoing financial difficulties at the Sacramento City Unified School District. “There’s not much to cut,” he said of Sacramento. “Unless something miraculous happens, that’s a district that is also going to need a financial bailout from the state.”

But Thurmond also blamed the recent flare-up of labor action across the state on a longstanding lack of trust between teachers’ unions and the school district administrators. And the fault primarily lies with the administrators, he said. Before serving in the state Assembly, Thurmond was a West Contra Costa Unified school board member, and he helped mediate the recent strike in Oakland.

“There is a history in the state, and maybe in the country, of times when school boards would sort of hide the revenue that was available…as a way of avoiding having to negotiate salaries,” he said.

“That is not representative of the conduct of the vast majority of the roughly one thousand school districts across the state,” said Troy Flint of the California School Boards Association. But he also agreed with Thurmond that the primary issue is funding.

“The battle is not between labor and management. The focus needs to be on our legislators and leaders in Sacramento, and forcing them to confront the fallout from being 41st in the nation in school funding,” he said.

On the issue of pensions and health care costs for retired teachers—a growing source of financial stress for many districts—Thurmond insisted the solution was not to cut the benefits owed to employees.

“Everyone deserves a pension,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to pay for it.”

He added that he has formed a task force to identify new sources of funding. One idea: reform the state constitution so that commercial property owners pay property taxes based on the market value of their property, rather than the purchase price.

That tax tweak to Proposition 13, known as “split roll” will be on the ballot in 2020.

Listen to the full discussion here.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

Threat of Sacramento Teacher Strike Spurs Criticism


Charter schoolTeachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District have authorized a strike, hoping to follow in the footsteps of teachers in Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified and secure substantial raises after a brief walkout.

But in key ways, the dynamics appear different. In Los Angeles and Oakland, the public and the local media were clearly sympathetic. Teachers had not had significant raises in years, and with the cost of housing going up arguably have lost purchasing power in recent years.

In Sacramento, however, the argument that the local school district simply can’t afford raises because of the huge long-term increase in pension costs and loss in state funding because of declining enrollment has resonated far more than similar warnings did in Los Angeles and Oakland. Coverage in regular and social media has repeatedly emphasized three points:

  • The Sacramento City Teachers Association secured an 11 percent raise for most members in September 2017 after threatening a strike. The Sacramento County Office of Education warned at the time that without significant cuts, the district faced fiscal disaster. But the local teachers union has rejected calls to reduce the cost of health benefits that the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) says are the most generous in the Sacramento region.
  • The warning from school officials that even without having to provide new raises, the district faces a $35 million hole in a nearly $400 million annual budget and is on track to run out of money in November. At that point, under state law, the district could seek an emergency loan from the state Legislature, but on the condition that it accept an appointed administrator to make key financial decisions going forward, taking away most of the school board’s and Superintendent Jorge Aguilar’s powers. The primary goal of hose decisions would be ensuring the district pays back the state loan.
  • The fact that the four other employee unions in Sacramento City Unified have sided with Aguilar’s warning that a raise could seal state control of the school district for a decade or more, as has happened in other California districts that have been unable to pay their bills. They don’t buy the teachers union claim that the district has failed to honor the contract it signed in 2017, thus making a strike necessary even though state law says such a strike would be illegal since the teachers are still under contract.

Writing Monday, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton warned the teachers union that it risked disaster not just for the district and its 42,000 students but for a city that has built up civic momentum in recent years under Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

“Sacramento’s efforts to sell itself as a place for companies to invest would be damaged because a major selling point is good schools,” Breton wrote. “How many investment opportunities would be lost if Sacramento became known as the city whose schools were bankrupt?”

Aguilar arrived in 2017 at the district and is given good marks in most circles for his determination to avoid financial disaster. But a FCMAT audit released in December pointed out a vast array of problems in Sacramento City’s management that dated back many years. It cited incompetence and poor communications by the district’s business team and a failure to properly analyze budget data that indicated the headaches to come.

Union leaders say these management failings are not their responsibility and should not be held against their push for better pay.

The union’s hope that a strike authorization vote would lead to new concessions hasn’t happened so far. A union statement said the strike was coming “at a date likely in the next month.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Lessons from the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ strikes


Teachers in the nation's second-largest school district will go on strike as soon as Jan. 10 if there's no settlement of its long-running contract dispute, union leaders said Wednesday, Dec. 19. The announcement by United Teachers Los Angeles threatens the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in nearly 30 years and follows about 20 months of negotiations. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) ORG XMIT: CADD303

After two teachers’ strikes in as many months in California, it is too soon to tell whether the labor disputes in Oakland and Los Angeles presage a new era of school-based activism.

But regardless of what comes next, this year’s strikes had much in common, and yielded valuable lessons and insights for other districts where labor troubles may also be brewing.

  • Both strikes were relatively short, lasting about a week. The timeline was shaped by the troubled finances of both districts that couldn’t afford to lose excessive amounts of state funds they receive based on student attendance.  Teachers also couldn’t afford to lose excessive wages by being out on strike for a lengthy period, or to take money off the bargaining table that could have been used to meet some of their demands. So there was pressure on both sides to resolve the strike within a reasonable amount of time.
  • In both cases, teachers appeared to come out ahead, achieving gains they might not have won without a strike. In Oakland’s case, teachers earned a gradual salary increase of 11 percent  — more than double the 5 percent the district offered before the strike began — although most of the gains will only come in the 3rd year of the agreement. In the case of Los Angeles, on the salary front teachers got less than what they demanded initially, and settled for the 6 percent the district had already offered. But they did get commitments from the district to reduce class sizes and significantly increase support staff like counselors.
  • In both strikes, demands went beyond those more typical of labor strikes which tend to focus on wages and benefits. Those were on the table, but equally important were a range of other issues , including lowering class sizes, providing more counselors, psychologists, nurses and other support staff, limiting school closures in Oakland and creating community schools in Los Angeles.  Both contracts also included provisions tied to regulating charter schools.re
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how the districts will pay for what they agreed to. In Los Angeles, Debra Duardo, the county superintendent of schools, said that the district has yet to address a projected $500 million operating deficit in 2021-22, and that the bargaining agreement “continues to move the district to insolvency.” In Oakland, Najeeb Khoury, in his official fact-finding report issued before the strike, doubted that the district could afford anywhere near a 12 percent salary increase.  Chris Learned, the state trustee appointed to approve budget expenditures, also suggested before the strike that such an increase ran the risk of putting “the district in financial distress.”
  • In both Oakland and Los Angeles, the strikes demonstrated deep public support for the teachers. It suggests that the days when teachers were held solely responsible for seemingly every shortcoming in the state’s public schools, along with the success or failure of their students, are over, at least for now.
  • In both conflicts, the teachers unions and their allies are looking to Sacramento, as well as voters, to approve more funds as a key element in making the agreements enforceable. But it is not clear where those funds would come from. Neither Gov. Gavin Newsom nor the Legislature has made any commitments beyond the funding increases that Newsom requested in his proposed budget in January.  In Los Angeles the strike did push the school board to place a long-delay tax on real estate parcels on a June 4 special election ballot.  If approved, it would help erase the district’s projected $500 million shortfall. Whether it will pass is another matter:  it will require voters to approve it by a two-thirds margin, which the last parcel tax measure nearly a decade ago failed to get.

Unaddressed in both Oakland and Los Angeles are deeper structural issues, such as the impact of declining enrollments, the crushing costs of meeting pension obligations, and stratospheric housing costs.

Whether these underlying forces will trigger further strikes — still a relatively rare event in California — is hard to predict. In only one other California district — San Ramon Valley Unified centered in Danville, a wealthy suburban community to Oakland’s east — have teachers actually authorized their union to call a strike if contract negotiations break down, although labor conflicts are brewing in other districts like Sacramento City Unified and Fremont Unified just south of Oakland.

The fact is that even with gains at  the bargaining table like those made in Oakland and Los Angeles, most teachers — and certainly beginning teachers who rely on a single income — will not be able to afford to buy a house in many urban and suburban districts, or even cover rents there.  (In the current salary schedule,teachers in Oakland with a B.A. degree make $46,570, which in three years would rise to just over $50,000 under the new contract.)

Those realities will make recruiting teachers an ongoing challenge, even as districts struggle to find teachers in key areas like math and science and special education. And it will continue to create churn in the labor force, with some teachers being tempted to leave so they can live in districts where living costs are lower — or to leave the profession altogether.

That may help explain the surprisingly large proportion of teachers in Oakland — 42 percent — who voted against ratifying the agreement.  This is one area where the Oakland strike outcome differed from Los Angeles, where only 18 percent of teachers voted against the contract. While making some significant gains at the bargaining table, many Oakland teachers sent a message that they were hoping for more.

Louis Freedberg writes about education reforms in California and nationally, and is the executive director of EdSource.

An Agenda to Make California’s GOP Relevant Again


CA GOPCalifornia’s Republican party has nothing to lose. They’ve lost every battleground district. The Democrats are going to do whatever they want in the Legislature. Corporate interests are cultivating competing factions among the Democrats. All the smart money is with the Democrats, because the Republicans don’t matter anymore. California’s GOP should seize this opportunity. This is a tremendous moment.

How often does any organization have the chance to experiment wildly, to try something radical, to risk everything, because they have nothing to lose? That’s what faces California’s GOP today. The GOP airplane is in a nose dive. Finding a pilot who will give the plane a soft landing, or prolong the time until the crash, accomplishes nothing. Push the throttle. Pull some Gs. Stress the airframe. Take a chance. Because otherwise you’re dead.

Trump, for all his tactless bombast and alarming disregard for convention in almost all things, has stimulated political engagement at a level not seen in the last 50 years. Trump’s ability to challenge the premises of America’s uni-party elite on the issues of trade, immigration, foreign interventions and “climate change,” along with his disregard for the pieties of libertarians and socialists, and his indifference to the encroachments of political correctness – all this may eventually be recognized as having had an extremely healthy impact on America at a critical time.

There are issues specific to California that can “make California great again.” It is not necessary for California’s GOP to select all of these issues. They can pick and choose. All of them address the greatest inequity that Californians confront, but never solve – the criminally high, utterly contrived, scandalously avoidable, punitive cost-of-living in this state.

To make California affordable again, a new, unafraid, assertive California GOP would have to rethink its ideological underpinnings. It would have to violate many socialist and libertarian taboos in favor of pragmatic choices reminiscent of 1950’s California, when vast sums of government funds were applied with an efficiency that makes mockery of today’s tangle of bureaucratic delays and interminable lawsuits.

For example. it isn’t heresy to use government funds, from bonds or operating budgets, to subsidize infrastructure. What’s needed, however, is a determination to set priorities that benefit the people of California, and a willingness to fight through waves of endless litigation to score precedent setting court victories. Doing this will help ensure that most of the money spent in subsequent projects will go to people who operate heavy equipment, instead of most of it paying people who sit in front of keyboards. Some of these priorities might themselves be heretical, or anathema to special interests, but here goes….

Education

Enact school choice. Don’t just fight a rear guard action protecting the beleaguered charter schools. Approve school vouchers and allow competition between traditional public schools, charters, parochial schools, and private schools. Quit tiptoeing around this issue. California’s public schools are failing. Turn the state into a laboratory for education, and let parents choose which schools their children will attend. A lot of pedagogical debates would be settled pronto, if principals and teachers were able to run their schools any which way they wanted, yet were held absolutely accountable by the parents.

Enforce the Vergara reforms so it is easier to retain quality public school teachers and easier to fire the incompetent ones.

Offer vocational training in the trades as an option for high school students after age 15, including private sector funded apprenticeships for high school credit. Look to the European systems for examples.

Restore the balance in California’s colleges and universities so that the ratio of faculty to administrators is 2-to-1, instead of the current ratio that allows administrators often to outnumber teachers.

End all discrimination and base college admissions purely on merit. Expand STEM curricula so it represents 40-50 percent of college majors instead of the current 15-20 percent. In all publicly funded institutions of higher education, fold all of ethnic and gender “studies” majors into the traditional fields of history and sociology. Consolidate these majors and reduce the number of enrollments to make room for more STEM enrollments.

Get rid of all of the horribly misguided campus “safe spaces” and other malevolent hate-nurturing segregationist boondoggles. Stop appeasing the professional race hustlers. Tell the truth to people of color – California is the best place in the world to thrive, California is a tolerant, diverse society, and all this victim mongering will not make society better and will not make you successful or happy. Say this loud and proud and never back down. Fire the entire diversity bureaucracy.

Criminal Justice and Immigration

Restructure the penal system to make it easier for prisoners to perform useful public services. For example. along with working the fire lines during fire season, they could work all year clearing dead trees out of California’s forests. Use high-tech monitoring devices to reduce costs. Reserve current prisons only for the truly incorrigible.

Support comprehensive federal immigration reform that includes merit based legal immigration, and attenuates chain migration. Support something, anything, that squelches illegal immigration. If that’s not a border wall, then push for stronger employer verification. Quit agreeing with the Democrats. This is not a “manufactured problem.” It is not in the interests of American citizens, especially in low income communities, to continue to allow the entry of unskilled immigrants – legal or illegal – and the only people who don’t accept this are either denying basic economics or they are part of a special interest group. Come to some reasonable accommodation with ICE.

Transportation

Add at least one lane to every major interstate in California, and upgrade and resurface all state highways. Widen and upgrade roads up and down the state. Kill High Speed Rail.

Begin investigating and facilitating private sector rollout of next generation transportation solutions, including coordinating development of aerial taxi corridors as well as high speed “hyperlanes” for next generation smart electric cars. Prepare for the advent of flying cars, self driving cars, share cars, ride hailing, micro-transit companies, and high speed cars.

Water

Complete plant upgrades so that 100 percent of California’s sewage is reused, even treated to potable quality. Kill the Delta Tunnel(s) and do seismic upgrades on the Delta levees instead – that will have to be done regardless. Build a hatchery to replenish Delta Smelt.

Unlock water markets. If farmers had the right to sell their water allotments without risking losing their historical water rights, municipalities would never have shortages of water. It’s truly that simple, because California’s total urban water consumption – all of it, residential, commercial, industrial – is less than 7 million acre feet per year, whereas farmers in California consume on average over 30 million acre feet per year.

Pass legislation to streamline approval of the proposed desalination plant in Huntington Beach, and fast-track applications for additional desalination plants, especially in Los Angeles.

Spend the entire proceeds of the $7 billion water bond, passed overwhelmingly by Californians in 2014, on storage. Build the Los Banos GrandesSites, and Temperance Flat reservoirs, adding over 5.0 million acre feet of storage to the California Water Project. Support federal efforts to raise Shasta Dam. Pass aggressive legislation and fund aggressive legal actions and counteractions, to lower costs and enable completion of these projects in under five years (which is all the time it used to take to complete similar projects).

Work towards a grand bargain on water policy where environmentalists accept a few more reservoirs and desalination plants in exchange for plentiful water allocations to threatened ecosystems, farmers pay more for water in exchange for undiminished quantities, and taxpayers bear the burden of some new debt in exchange for permanent access to affordable, secure, and abundant water.

Energy

Permit slant drilling to access 12 trillion cubic feet of natural gas deposits from land-based rigs along the Southern California coast. Build an LNG terminal off the coast in Ventura County to export California’s natural gas to foreign markets. Permit development of the Monterey Shale formation to extract oil and gas. Permit construction of new natural gas power plants.

Promote nuclear power as a solution that not only makes the dawning electric age – from electric cars to rampant, exponentially multiplying bitcoin mining operations – utterly feasible. Nuclear power is only costly because permits and regulations and insurance premiums (mostly to insure against the cost of lawsuits, not actual hazardous calamities) are artificially elevated. Retrofit and reopen San Onofre. Keep Diablo Canyon on line and add capacity. Permit construction of “generation 3+” nuclear power plants and prototype micro-reactors.

Housing and the Homeless

Unlock open land for development. Quit acting like there’s not a single square mile of open space that isn’t sacred to the environment. California has over 25,000 square miles of cattle ranch land. If just one-third of that land were developed, California’s urban footprint would double. There’s plenty of room. Subsidize practical new public infrastructure (i.e., roads, not “light rail”) throughout new regions opened up for land development.

Repeal the 2006 “Global Warming Solutions Act” and “Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act” of 2008 and make it easy for developers to build homes on the suburban and exurban fringes, instead of just “in-fill” that destroys existing neighborhoods. Cancel the war on the single family dwelling, and allow developers (or in some cases even require them) to build homes with large yards again. Repeal excessive building codes such as mandatory photo-voltaic roof panels. Create a regulatory environment that encourages private investment in new housing developments instead of discouraging it.

Allow police to enforce vagrancy laws, even if it means expensive corrective litigation going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Build inexpensive tent cities for the homeless. Some cities in California have already had success with this tactic. The corrupt and futile opposite extreme is to construct “permanent supportive housing” which in Los Angeles has cost over $400,000 per apartment unit.

Pensions and Infrastructure

Require California’s public employee pension funds to invest a minimum of 10 percent of their assets in infrastructure projects as noted above. They could issue fixed rate bonds or take equity positions in the revenue-producing projects, or a combination of both. This would immediately unlock approximately $80 billion in construction financing to rebuild California’s infrastructure. At the same time, save the pension systems by striking down the “California Rule” that prevents meaningful pension reform.

Once the California Rule is abolished, prospectively reduce pension multipliers to pre-1999 levels for all future work for all employees, existing as well as new hires. That, along with defending the reforms of PEPRA, might be all it would take.

Vision and Leadership Will Save California’s Republicans

Until California’s GOP is willing to embrace bold policies that will offer California’s struggling middle and low income communities opportunities for upwards mobility, they will remain irrelevant. It isn’t enough to “join together.” It isn’t enough to secure some reliable flow of donor support. To thrive, a political party needs to have a distinct vision of the future, a policy agenda that will achieve that future, and leaders that understand and can express that vision. Those qualities are more important than money. Meg Whitman proved that.

An important reason Democrats win is because they invariably speak with moral authority, whether they deserve it or not. But the moral worth of Democratic policies is shallow. In the name of earth justice and social justice, they have made California the most inhospitable place in America for low and middle income residents. The Democrats are incapable of compromising on their rhetoric or their policies. They are locked into the ideological straight-jackets of climate change hysteria and identity politics. The Republicans must demonstrate their ability to find the balance that Democrats are incapable of finding. They must promote and enact policies, some examples of which have just been described, that challenge some of the premises of environmentalism and social justice. There is a moral value to providing opportunity by making California affordable. There is a moral value to instilling pride by abandoning race and gender preferences. There is a moral value to embracing policies of abundance – by turning the private sector loose to increase the supply of housing, energy, water, et al. – rather than creating politically contrived artificial scarcity.

One very encouraging sign at California’s state GOP convention of February 2019 was how diverse the attendees have become. Democrats should find this very alarming, because the so-called “people of color” at the GOP convention were not part of the rent seeking coalition that Democrats have built, looking for reparations and entitlements to compensate for their supposedly disadvantaged status. These were confident, self-sufficient individuals, who valued the opportunity to compete and succeed on their own merits. There were hundreds of Latinos, Sikhs, Indian Americans, African Americans, Asians. More of them than ever, they came to Sacramento to be among fellow Republicans. This should not only trouble Democrats, perhaps it should also trouble establishment Republicans, because nearly all of them were enthusiastic Trump supporters.

If you were at the GOP convention last weekend, you could have talked to a Latino whose cousin has a ranch in the Rio Grande Valley. He would have told you why we need border security. You also could have talked to an African American grandmother who has watched hope return to members of her extended family, because they have good jobs in the Trump economy. These people are proud Americans. They don’t want to be patronized or appeased, and more and more, they see right through the Democrat’s game. They want the tough truth. Because honest hard work, reckoned by immutable and evenly applied standards, is the only true pathway to achievement. They are waiting for Republican leadership to fight to make California great again, not attempt to become Democrat-lite.

The themes that will capture new voters can’t just be marketed as “bold.” They have to be bold. There is an alternative vision, embracing solutions, not just identifying problems. It can incorporate some or all of the agenda just set forth. But it will mean launching a sustained assault on the government unions, the extreme environmentalists and their allies, the plaintiff’s bar, and the social justice fanatics that have taken over public education. It will require challenging not their lofty idealism or their proclaimed altruism, but their premises and their methods.

No, we are not running out of land, energy or water, and yes, we will entitle vast tracts of open land for development and build infrastructure including dams and desalination plants and encourage private sector investment partners.

No, if we don’t go “100 percent renewable” by 2050 the planet will not burn up, and yes, we will develop natural gas reserves and build nuclear power plants.

No, we will no longer admit unqualified students to colleges and universities, and yes, we will establish uniform admissions requirements, reserving our enrollments for the finest students in the world.

No, we will not tolerate mediocre results in our public schools, and yes, we will fight for school choice, vouchers, charters, and eliminate union work rules that prevent dismissing bad teachers and protect good teachers if layoffs occur.

No, we will not allow pensions to bankrupt the state, and yes, we will restore pension benefits going forward to pre-1999 formulas, and we will require California’s pension funds to invest at least 10 percent of their assets in California infrastructure projects.

For every no, there is a yes. For every problem, there is a solution. And the moral worth of these solutions must be asserted unflinchingly. These solutions will create opportunity for all Californians. Fighting for these solutions is risky. It will invite a furious response from the entire Democratic machine. But it could work. And it’s the right thing to do.

Edward Ring is a co-founder of the California Policy Center and served as its first president.

Oakland teachers vote to authorize strike


OaklandOAKLAND — An overwhelming number of voting teachers authorized the Oakland teachers union to call a strike if salary negotiations break down with the school district, which already is facing another major disruption in the form of a $30 million budget deficit.

The 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association voted from Jan. 29 through Feb. 1. Of the 84 percent of union members voting, 95 percent approved authorizing union leaders to call a strike if necessary, union president Keith Brown announced Monday.

“This is a clear message that our members are ready to fight for the schools our students deserve,” Brown said. No date was set, but the union expects if a strike were to occur it would happen by the end of the month.

Oakland Unified spokesman John Sasaki said Monday the district hopes that it doesn’t come to that. Though substitutes would be brought in to cover for striking teachers, a strike could be very disruptive to students, especially those preparing for end-of-the-year exams. …

Click here to read the full article from the East Bay Times

Gov. Newsom’s Claims on Benefits of Full-Time Kindergarten Rebuked by Studies


shocked-kid-apGov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2019-20 budget includes $750 million in new funding to help school districts shift from part-time to full-day kindergarten. Presently, 30 percent of districts only offer part-time kindergarten, as is allowed under state law, which provides such districts the same per-pupil funding as districts with full-day kindergarten.

In interviews, Newsom has depicted the shift and his other proposals to beef up early childhood education as the sort of obvious ways to improve public schools that are within reach because of the state’s improved fiscal health. Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Democrats in the Legislature “absolute agree” that full-day kindergarten should be a state priority. Other education stakeholders, especially teachers unions, agree.

But as debate over Newsom’s proposal ramps up, advocates of full-day kindergarten will be asked to explain why claims about its effectiveness are not corroborated by the strong majority of academic studies of such programs in California and elsewhere.

A 2009 Public Policy Institute of California study found that while parents and educators are enthusiastic about full-day kindergarten, “research to date … has provided little evidence of long-term academic benefits beyond kindergarten or first grade.” This was backed up by a peer-reviewed 2012 study of some kindergartners’ results in California standardized tests.

The single study that appears to have been based on the most data – a RAND think tank analysis of the academic performance of nearly 8,000 kindergarten students in the 1998-99 school year – was even more downbeat. While RAND offered some qualifications, it said that overall, its research “reinforces the findings of earlier studies that suggest full-day kindergarten programs may not enhance achievement in the long term. Furthermore, this study raises the possibility that full-day kindergarten programs may actually be detrimental to mathematics performance and to nonacademic readiness skills.” The latter is a reference to students’ willingness to take instruction and participate constructively in class.

Duke study one of many to find initial benefits fade

These conclusions were supported by a peer-reviewed study released in 2010 by Duke University researchers. It found that initial benefits from attending full-day kindergarten “disappeared” by third grade and that “children may not have as positive an attitude toward school in full-day versus half-day kindergarten and may experience more behavior problems.”

However, on its website, the National Education Association depicts the benefits of full-day kindergarten as largely beyond challenge. An “advocacy guide” cites reporting by Deborah Viadero of Education Week showing that a study of 17,000 students in Philadelphia had found enduring gains from full-day kindergarten. But Viadero has also reported on other studies that reflect the phenomenon cited by other researchers of initial gains by kindergartners disappearing in subsequent years.

The NEA also cites research by the San Francisco-based WestEd advocacy group, in particular a 2005 policy brief that doesn’t refer to or offer counterarguments to any of the studies that raise doubts about whether the benefits of full-time kindergarten endure.

More recently, in 2014, the New America Foundation – which, like WestEd, has long called for greater investment in public schools – touted a study by Chloe R. Gibbs at the University of Virginia that the foundation called the “best research yet on the effects of full-day kindergarten.” New America said the study “holds some preliminary good news for proponents of full-day kindergarten.”

But the New America account of the study went on to note that it was too soon to conclude whether the initial gains identified by Gibbs would last – the central issue raised by most previous academic research.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog

Gov. Newsom Wants to Expand a Dubious Universal Preschool Plan


shocked-kid-apCalifornia’s new Governor Gavin Newsom envisions a future where the state will be involved in your children’s lives from conception to adulthood. Newsom told EdSource in September, “Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job and successful career.

Newsom refers to his nanny-state-on-steroids plan as the “California Promise.” If his massive scheme is realized, the only certain promise is that even higher taxes are in store for a state that has already been accurately dubbed as Taxifornia. Particularly pernicious is his idea for universal preschool for 4-year-olds. And that ball is already rolling, as Sacramento Assemblyman Kevin McCarty introduced three bills in December that would expand preschool to allow more 3- and 4-year-olds to attend.

There are many problems here. First off, the failing k-12 system in the formerly Golden State is not exactly an enticement to send your kids off for yet another year of subpar education. Our latest NAEP (nation’s report card) scores are pathetic. On the 2017 test, we were near the bottom nationally, with 69 percent of 4th grade students not proficient in both math and reading.

And just what kind of track record does preschool have? A pretty bad one, in fact. Study after study has shown it is an extraordinary waste of money. The last great push for universal pre-k in California – renamed transitional kindergarten (TK) – went down to defeat in 2014. At the time, I wrote that pre-k accomplishes little more than adding unionized teaching and educational support jobs to the state’s payroll – a state that is already over a trillion dollars in debt. Oh, sure, the sales pitch sounds great. As State Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg said, “Expanding transitional kindergarten can be accomplished with just a fraction of increased Proposition 98 funds while saving billions of dollars in the long run by reducing the extra costs of special education, grade retention and juvenile crime.”

In fact, the U.S. has a near 50-year history of funding early-childhood programs in the form of Head Start. The federal government released the last of a three-part longitudinal study of the $8 billion-a-year program in 2012, and the results offered little cause for jubilation. According to the report’s executive summary: “…there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group.” The 2012 report reinforced some disappointing findings from the study’s second phase, which showed that any gains “had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.”

Other studies purporting to show preschool’s benefits also have failed to prove that spending billions on pre-k would be money well spent. Two oft-cited studies, the famous Abecedarian and Perry Preschool projects, for example, are now nearly 50 years old and involved no more than 60 children. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray wrote in 2013, both studies “were overseen by the same committed, well-intentioned people who conducted the demonstration projects. Evaluations of social programs are built around lots of judgment calls—from deciding how the research is designed to figuring out how to analyze the data. People with a vested interest in the results shouldn’t be put in the position of making those judgments.”

Also in 2013, the Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst wrote, the group that went through the Tennessee Voluntary State Pre-K Program, a full day program for 4‐year‐olds from low-income families “performed somewhat less well on cognitive tasks at the end of first grade than the control group, even though [three-quarters] of the children in the control group had no experience as 4-year-olds in a center-based early childhood program.” Whitehurst concludes: “Until the field of early education becomes evidence based, it will be doomed to cycles of fad and fancy.”

Just last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolled out a $175 million plan to offer pre-k to all 4-year-olds by 2021-22. Commenting on the proposal, education scholars Lance Izumi and Kerry McDonald write that its proponents “often cite the results of an earlier effort, the Chicago Child-Parent Center program for low-income children, to bolster their case for universal preschool.” But it turns out that the Chicago Child-Parent Center program “relied on extensive parent training, a feature notably absent from universal preschool proposals such as Assemblyman McCarty’s in California.”

Izumi and McDonald add, “As psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson of Children’s Hospital in New Orleans noted, if policymakers mistakenly believe that preschool results in better life outcomes, “they may mistakenly invest in these programs when the money might be better invested in parenting-skill programs or other interventions to increase parental involvement.”

Clearly voluntary parental skills programs show much more promise than Newsom’s unproven universal pre-k plan. California’s new state budget will be released soon. Have the smelling salts nearby.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Jerry Brown’s Three Biggest Failures


jerry-brownGov. Jerry Brown is getting the acclaim he deserves in his final days as governor for helping turn around a state that seemed adrift and for being a visionary on climate change. He’s clearly left California for the better. But his biggest failings — his blind spots and, in one major case, his inability to get others in his party to see the bigger picture — threaten crucial aspects of California’s future.

The first example is public education, where reformers emphasizing data-driven best practices and accountability from students, teachers, administrators and parents alike have produced significant improvements in union states like Massachusetts and New Jersey and non-union states like Florida and Texas. But instead of learning from these states, Brown mocked the “siren song” of metrics-based education reform in 2011. Two years later, he introduced his own reform — the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which wiped out many state-imposed mandates on districts and directed more funding to districts with higher percentages of English-language learners, foster children and poor families. Each district was required to develop a specialized Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) to guide efforts to improve students’ outcomes. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Diego Union-Tribune