California Wants To Throw $100 Million at Its Mismanaged Retail Marijuana Sector

California’s nascent legal recreational marijuana industry is so heavily taxed and regulated that the black market still dominates. It’s so burdensome to try to get conventional permission to grow and sell marijuana the “legal” way that thousands of dispensaries operate without proper licenses. Government officials have been attempting to crack down on the problem and force them to close their doors.

On Monday California lawmakers attempted to address this problem in a very California way: Assembly members authorized a $100 million subsidy to help potential marijuana vendors get properly licensed.

As the Los Angeles Times explains, the subsidy isn’t going to the dispensaries or growers themselves—not that it should. The $100 million is instead going to local government agencies and cities so they can “hire experts and staff to assist businesses in completing the environmental studies and transitioning the licenses.”

California’s environmental regulations, most specifically the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), make it extremely expensive (and sometimes even impossible) to build anything new or improve anything in the state. CEQA requires businesses, entrepreneurs, and developers to pay for extensive environmental impact studies. It also permits pretty much anybody to file suit to try to stop construction using any sort of claim of potential environmental harm, no matter how tenuous. It is being used by opponents of marijuana operations (typically neighbors who don’t want them around) to try to block cannabis operations.

In order to give marijuana dispensaries and growers time to arrange these complicated studies, the state launched a provisional licensing system after recreational marijuana was made legal in California in 2016. Five years later, 82 percent of marijuana dispensaries in the state are still operating with just the provisional licenses, according to the governor’s office.

Rather than confront the regulations that make it impossible for cannabis entrepreneurs to comply with state law, lawmakers are essentially rewarding bad governance. Jerred Kiloh, president of the United Cannabis Business Association tells the Times that even that might not be enough, because cities have been slow to organize their own local cannabis policies. That’s exactly what happened in Los Angeles, where one of the major reasons the city had so many unlicensed dispensaries was because the city’s own bureaucracy could not get its act together. Two years after marijuana legalization, the city still had not been able to actually roll out business licenses to new dispensaries.

Los Angeles will get $22 million of this new state funding, essentially a financial reward for its bureaucratic failures.

Gov. Gavin Newsom also wants to add a six-month extension to the compliance deadlines for full licensing. This is being resisted by a coalition of environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club.

Environmentalists have been complaining about the potential impact of large marijuana grow operations, particularly in matters like pollution and water and energy consumption. The resistance here is comically misguided. A piece from the Sierra Club from 2017 notes the massive scope and impacts of illegal grow operations and drug cartel operations on public lands as part of a call for tight regulations of the legal industry.

But those massive illegal grow operations are still happening because of how difficult California and CEQA make it to operate a legal cannabis business. This is much, much worse for the environment than the prospect of the state being more flexible on environmental regulations for the benefit of those who are actually trying to follow the rules. After all, the drug cartels don’t care about restrictions on pesticide use.

This article was originally published by Reason.com

Governor Newsom Announces New Electronic Vaccine Verification Cards

Governor Newsom announced Monday that a new vaccine verification system would be rolled out by California soon.

The new system will be comprised of digitized versions of all official vaccination cards, similar to New York’s Excelsior Pass. While more details will be coming in a larger announcement soon, Newsom reiterated that it will not be a passport and that vaccinations will still not be required.

“It’s not a passport, it’s not a requirement, it’s just the ability now to have an electronic version of that paper version, so you’ll hear more about that in the next couple of days,” said Newsom in San Francisco on Monday.

While most mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions are to end Tuesdayespecially after Cal/OSHA removed the proposed lengthening of mask mandates for places such as businesses through at least the end of July, businesses can require customers to show a vaccination card to enter their place of business without a mask. However, many businesses have feared that forged or copied vaccination cards could be a simple bypass, with the state concerned with people losing the small vaccination card as well.

An electronic version could help cut back on false cards, although, since a physical card will likely be used, it is unknown how successful the new system would be.

The California Department of Health and Human Services (CHHS) noted last week that businesses can choose to simply ask customers if they are fully vaccinated in an “honor system” sort of way, still require masks, or ask for proof of vaccination.

While the official announcement is still several days away, many businesses are already gearing up for the new systems when the state reopens on Tuesday.

An electronic vaccination card

“Most places will simply have no masks and that’s the end of it,” explained Dan Sherwood, a business health and safety consultant, to the Globe on Monday. “That’s what most are saying. Now some businesses will card, usually more of those higher density places or businesses where vulnerable people who can’t take the vaccine are located. And some will even have bouncers, some being trained the last week on how to spot a fake vaccination card. The state has yet to address what happens in that situation, when the business thinks someone has a fake card and aren’t allowed in, but that will definitely be an issue. Like bars and clubs that check for being over 21, some businesses will check for vaccination.”

“Others that do the honor system are pretty much going to do it that way to not look reckless and just call off all masks, but also want a return to casualness.”

“But the main takeaway from the electronic card is that they are trying to do away with fakes the best they can right now. But we should know more about that soon.”

Governor Newsom also announced the newest in the long line of vaccination incentives on Monday unveiling a statewide drawing for one of six vacation packages on July 1st. Working with California tourism group Visit California and numerous hospitality companies, six vaccinated Californians will be chosen at random to receive a “California Dream Vacations” trip to either Anaheim, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, San Diego, or San Francisco. San Diego will have two trips offered, with all trips being for four people except for the Palm Springs package.

“As we move forward to a post-pandemic life, our tourism sector is expected to come roaring back – making us, once again, a global leader in hospitality and leisure,” added Newsom on Monday.

The next vaccination milestones are expected to be hit later this week, with the state reopening on Tuesday and 10 $1.5 million vaccination lottery winners expected to be announced.

Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at [email protected]

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

State Auditor Finds Lots Of Illegal Activity

It’s no secret that those who complain about taxes — and who doesn’t — tend to focus on how much money is taken from our wallets and pocketbooks. In California, government takes a lot with highest in the nation tax rates in most categories. But equally insulting is the poor level of service we get for our tax dollars.

Regrettably, some behavior by government employees transcends “normal” government inefficiency and encroaches into actual illegality.

Elaine Howle, the California State Auditor, pursuant to the California Whistleblower Protection Act, conducts an annual review of improper governmental activity. The latest report, released last month, reflects just a small percentage of cases brought to her office for investigation.

The results are depressing to say the least. Here are some of the notable examples.

The first involves overpayments by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to employees. The taxpayers should have been able to recover that money, but it’s not going to happen. As much as $1.5 million in overpayments of salary advances was forfeited by the agency because it failed to provide notice to the employees within a three-year time limit. According to the State Auditor “Inefficiency and incompetency in Caltrans’ division of human resources contributed significantly to its failure to notify recipients and collect on the outstanding salary advances.”

To read the entire column, please click here.

Newsom, Lawmakers Thrown Pay Raise Hot Potato

That sound you heard at the State Capitol last week was constitutional officers and state lawmakers running for cover.

“Gov. Gavin Newsom, California legislators and other state elected officials were approved to receive a 4.2% salary increase this year,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

There is no bigger political hot potato than pay raises for elected officials.

Currently, California governors are paid $209,747 per year. That will go up to $218,500 starting December 1. Rank-and-file state lawmakers are paid $114,877 plus per diem while the Legislature is in session. That will increase to $119,700 in January.

The pay raise was granted by the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which held its annual meeting to determine the salary of state elected officials for the coming year.

According to the commission website, “Proposition 112, passed by voters in June 1990, established the Commission to set the salaries and medical, dental, insurance and other similar benefits of Members of the Legislature and the State’s other elected officials.”  Another voter-approved measure, Proposition 1F (2009) prevents the commission from granting pay raises when there is a budget deficit.

Even though legislators do not propose or approve the pay raises themselves, it is a huge political hit, typically generating the sort of big constituent and media backlash that you’re seeing today.

During the 2000s and early 2010s, the state faced several years of budget rollercoasters.  Yet, the commission granted multiple pay raises during this period, even though lawmakers were often digging out from under multibillion dollar budget holes.

Working with lawmakers during that time, we were quick to emphasize that the Legislature routinely cut its operating budgets and left vacancies unfilled while the state was experiencing massive deficits – anything to change the subject.  Many lawmakers – especially those who faced tough re-election fights, declined the pay raises.

During the Schwarzenegger years, when the commission was dominated by GOP appointees, the commission twice voted to cut their pay – even by a whopping 18 percent in 2009.  Now the commission is dominated by Democratic appointees more sympathetic to pay increases.  The history of recent legislative pay raises shows state elected official pay was boosted every year between 2013 and 2019, while no change last year.

This latest pay increase couldn’t come at a worse time for Gov. Newsom, who has faced harsh criticism recently over his lack of leadership as Cal-OSHA has issued multiple confusing and contradictory workplace mask policies.  With the recall election on the horizon, the last thing Newsom wants is to be saddled with a pay raise he didn’t ask for.

According to Assembly records, three state lawmakers voluntarily reduced their pay during the Covid-19 pandemic as the state faced a massive deficit in 2020.  Newsom also took a roughly 9 percent pay cut – corresponding with the pay cut faced by state workers – last year.

Pay raises symbolize everything that’s wrong with Sacramento.  Even though state elected officials deserve to be paid a fair salary like everyone else, these pay raises are almost never justified in the public eye, even during good times.  Take a pay raise, and many constituents will see you as someone who is out to fatten their pockets at taxpayer expense while many are struggling.

Even though we face a rosier budget scenario this year, expect to see Newsom and many more state elected officials to decline this pay raise.  At the end of the day, a 4.2 percent raise isn’t worth the outpouring of constituent anger and negative press that they’ll receive in return.

Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

California’s Big Reopening: What Changes On June 15?

Photo by Richard Balog on Unsplash

California’s grand reopening day is almost here, but it comes with a few asterisks. 

If all goes as expected and promised, on June 15 our 15-month-long ordeal of public health restrictions, mandates, bans and color-coded tiers to stem the COVID-19 pandemicwill finally come to an end. As Gov. Gavin Newsom said in April and reaffirmed in May, next Tuesday is when “we can start to open up…business as usual.”

But as that much-touted date approaches, the governor’s promise of a sudden milestone is colliding with the loophole-ridden gradualism of California labor law, local control and the imperatives of fighting a diminishing — but not defeated — virus that has killed 62,500 Californians and counting.

Some mixed messages along the way have added to the confusion. So what will — and won’t — actually happen on Tuesday? Many of your questions, answered.

Will I be able to sit inside a bar, work out at a gym or go to the movies?

Probably. 

The average Californian can expect things to look fairly back-to-normal in most of the ways that matter. 

Moving “beyond the blueprint,” to use the state’s branding, and instead using federal health guidance for public places means that most businesses can dispense with social distancing requirements, capacity limits and forced closures. 

But there’s a difference between “can” and “must.” 

Counties will still be free to impose their own public health restrictions if they choose to — but only if they’re stricter than what the state is requiring. So far, no counties have said that they’ll part ways with the state’s rules, though a few, like San Francisco, say they’re still mulling over their options.

Even so, businesses aren’t taking any chances. On Tuesday, more than 35 business groups sent a letter to county governments across the state begging them to stick to the statewide rules.

Though business groups, who don’t relish the idea of getting sued, are hoping for consistent, cheap and easy-to-follow standards, your favorite restaurant, movie theater or hair salon is also free to impose its own public health restrictions. 

That means you shouldn’t be surprised if you still spot a few “No Mask, No Service” signs after June 15.

Can I go to a concert?

Depends. Are we talking open mic at the local bar or Beyonce at an arena?

The state has said it will impose additional restrictions on “mega events.” That’s defined as anything that draws more than 5,000 people indoors or 10,000 outside. (Sorry, nameless dude playing a melodica into a loop pedal, you are not a mega event).

According to the most recent state guidance, concerts, conventions and other indoor mega events will only be open to people who can prove that they’ve either been vaccinated (by showing a vaccination card, a photo of the card, or documentation from a doctor) or that they tested negative for the coronavirus in the last 72 hours. That kind of proof won’t necessarily be required at outdoor events such as baseball games, but the state is recommending that stadiums either impose such a rule or require masking.

Once I’m inside the bar, gym or movie theater, can I finally take this mask off?

Yes, if you’re vaccinated.

California’s public health officials confirmed Wednesday that along with relaxed social distancing, the state will also drop its mask mandate on June 15 and instead adopt the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means vaccinated adults should feel free to go mask-less in most public spaces. There are still exceptions for venues where the potential for many vulnerable people congregating in a confined place is high: hospitals and other health care settings, school classrooms, prisons and jails, public transit and nursing homes.

If you’re unvaccinated, you’ll still be required to wear a mask indoors in most public places, though it’s not entirely clear if or how that will be enforced. On Wednesday, health and human services secretary Mark Ghaly said that businesses can require masks of all customers, implement a vaccination verification system or simply go with the honor system

“We are not requiring businesses to, for example, have somebody at the door checking for vaccine status as a way to comply with this,” he said. …

Click here to read the full article from CalMatters.org

Progress in California Road Repairs Lagging Despite Gas Tax Hike

Four years ago, Will Kempton, then executive director of Transportation California and a former Caltrans director, said the state’s roads were “the worst I have seen.”

A few months later, the state began collecting revenue from a $52 billion, 10-year fuel tax hike to raise enough revenue to bring up to date one of the most broken street-and-highway systems in the country.

The reality, however, hasn’t matched up with the promises.

Progress in making repairs, the Los Angeles Times reports, is “lagging.” Worse, “officials now say the funding is sufficient only to complete less than half of the work needed.”

Not even Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “$2 billion shot of new money” from his surplus-filled May budget revision for bridge and road repair will be sufficient to catch up to the needs. Nor will the next installment of Senate Bill 1’s tax increases, a 5.1 cents-a-gallon levy arriving on July 1.

How can this be?

According to the Times, Sacramento has allocated about $16 billion from 2017’s Senate Bill 1 for roads and highways. Yet “state officials say that much more money is needed to address shortcomings in the transportation system. Caltrans estimates it will need $122.9 billion over 10 years ‘to maintain the existing assets’ due in part to increasing costs and the age of the infrastructure.”

It would be helpful if policymakers didn’t have a habit of diverting revenues for road work to unrelated projects. But transportation funds are as politicized as any of the dollars funneled through Sacramento. For instance, it took the state only a matter of months after SB1 was passed and signed to move motor fuel tax revenues to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the state Department of Parks and Recreation, the General Fund, and local law enforcement.

Revenues also end up in political pits that have no bottom. The state “devotes a greater share of its transportation funds to public transit than most other states,” says George Mazur, a Davis-based principal of the transportation planning firm Cambridge Systematics.

Newsom has also used the money from higher fuel taxes as political leverage. Two years ago, his office announced that revenues generated by SB1 “may be withheld from any jurisdiction that does not have a compliant housing element and has not zoned and entitled for its updated annual housing goals.”

In 2019, the Caltrans inspector general determined that the department had misspent millions, and it disallowed more than $13 million in state and local expenditures. None of the dollars was from SB1 revenues.

A more recent Caltrans audit showed just how irresponsible the department is with other people’s money. Though not a bank, it had been in the habit of handing out salary advances, and then failing to collect on them, wasting “as much as $1.5 million.” The inspector general said the “forfeiture balance might have risen from $1.5 million to nearly $3 million if our investigation had not prompted it to take action.”

Proposition 69 was supposed to have ended the practice of siphoning off dollars by putting transportation funds in a “lock box” where they couldn’t be raided by politicians. But since its passage in 2018 — with an 81-19 support margin — Newsom ordered SB1 revenues to be redirected from repair projects “to help reverse the trend of increased fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the transportation sector.”

Further holding back progress are the steep costs involved road construction and repair. According to the Reason Foundation’s most recent Annual Highway report, California spends $186,549 per lane-mile on its roads, nearly twice the U.S. average of $94,870.

Much of the added costs are attributable to generous state labor laws. Only in Washington are highway maintenance workers paid more than in California, where the average yearly wage is almost $55,000.

The state’s steep cost of living — the consequence of poor public policy — as well as a strict regulatory regime, punctuated by the California Environmental Quality Act, also increase project expenses.

Californians desperately need both new and expanded highways, and existing roads repaired. The lousy system costs “Californians $61 billion annually due to congestion-related delays, traffic collisions, and increased vehicle operating costs caused by poor road conditions,” according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

But Sacramento has for too long had other priorities. The Blue State agenda both crowds out basic needs and robs drivers of the infrastructure maintenance they’ve paid for.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Dams and Desalination – California Needs Both

When Californians can take showers, without flow restrictors, for as long as they want, and when Californians can have lawns again instead of rocks and cacti in their front yards, water infrastructure in California will once again be adequate.

When California’s farmers can get enough water to grow food, instead of watching their suddenly useless holdings of dead orchards and parched furrows get sold for next to nothing to corporate speculators and subsidized solar farm developers, water infrastructure in California will once again be adequate.

One of the difficulties in forming a coalition powerful enough to stand up to the corporate environmentalist lobby in California is the perception, widely shared among the more activist farming lobby, that desalination is more expensive than dams.

That’s not true. It depends on the desalination, and even more so, it depends on the dam.

As a baseline, consider the cost of desalination in California’s lone large scale operating plant in Carlsbad north of San Diego. The total project costs for this plant, including the related pipes to convey the desalinated water to storage reservoirs, was just over $1.0 billion. At a capacity to produce 56,000 acre feet per year, the construction cost per acre foot of annual capacity comes in just over $17,000.

When it comes to the price of desalinated water, payments on the bond that financed the construction costs form the overwhelming share of the cost per acre foot.

For example, California’s second major desalination project, the proposed plant in Huntington Beach, will have a total project cost of $1.3 billion. Similar to Carlsbad, this plant will produce 50 million gallons of fresh water per day. A 20 year bond paying 7 percent will require annual payments of $122 million. That payment, applied to the hundred cubic foot increments, or CCF, that typically appear on a consumer’s water bill to measure their consumption, comes up to $5.03. By contrast, the cost per CCF for the desalination plant’s operating expenses is only $0.41, and the price per CCF for a desalination plant’s electricity consumption (at $0.10 per kilowatt-hour) is only $1.08. Initial construction costs, comprising 77 percent of the price of desalinated water, are the only reason desalination is considered expensive.

Compare this to the price of water from reservoirs, keeping in mind that paying off the construction costs for the dams are also the biggest variable in determining how much consumers have to pay for that water. With dams, unlike desalination plants, two factors come into play: the storage capacity, and the annual yield. With desalination plants the yield is up to the managers. Run the plant, out comes fresh water. With dams, how much water is released from the reservoir to downstream consumers in any given year depends on rainfall.

For this reason, the average annual yield of the reservoir is the most accurate way to measure its cost effectiveness. And this amount can vary widely. One of California’s biggest proposed new projects is the Sites Reservoir. It would be situated in a valley west of the Sacramento River, north of the Delta. As an off-stream reservoir, it would have water pumped into it when storm runoff is causing flooding. A twin to the already existing San Luis Reservoir, located west of the California Aqueduct south of the Delta, the Sites would have a capacity to store 2.0 million acre feet. But its yield is estimated at 500,000 acre feet per year.

In the case of the Sites Reservoir, this compares favorably to desalination. The Sites project is estimated to cost $5.0 billion, so the construction cost per acre foot of annual capacity comes in at $10,000, better than desalination at $17,000.

On the other hand, the case of the proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir is not so clear. The estimated cost for this dam is $2.6 billion and the planned storage capacity is 1.3 million acre feet. So far so good. But while estimates vary, the most optimistic projected average annual yield is around 100,000 acre feet per year. This equates to a construction cost of $26,000 per acre foot of annual capacity, considerably worse than desalination.

Does the fact that desalination yields a better return on construction costs than Temperance Flat mean that the Temperance Flat Reservoir project should be abandoned? Not necessarily. Back in 2017, during record rains, the San Joaquin River flooded, and that water – desperately needed by San Joaquin Valley farmers – could have still been in that reservoir and available for use today. The advantage of big surface storage reservoirs is not their return on capital investment, it’s that they can prevent flooding in wet years, and hold massive quantities of water in reserve for dry years.

Similarly, foes of desalination point to the more cost-effective Sites Reservoir proposal as evidence that desalination is too expensive. But the productivity of desalination is impervious to droughts; the water just keeps coming, year after year, no matter what. And the electricity required to run desalination, while significant, is no greater than the electricity currently used by a series of massive pumping stations necessary to transport water from north to south, over the mountains, and into the Los Angeles Basin – over 2.5 million acre feet per year.

Infrastructure development in California has been paralyzed by litigation and legislation. The result is a self-imposed scarcity of water that can be solved by an all-of-the-above strategy to develop new dams and desalination plants. Civilization requires a footprint, a plain fact that wasn’t lost on previous generations. We’ve learned how to mitigate the worst impact of new infrastructure, but cannot let the ideals of ecological perfection be an excuse to impoverish ourselves.

General obligation bonds to defray the cost to farmers and residents are something the people of California might accept. Then if the rains don’t come for years on end, Californians will still be able to purchase food grown in-state, and enjoy more of the normal amenities of life – a long hot shower. A healthy lawn.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

Bonkers on the Bay: Educational Leadership in San Francisco

Once known for its scenic beauty and cultural attractions, San Francisco in recent years has acquired a less picturesque image as a mecca for the homeless and drug addicts, whose used syringes and feces plague city sidewalks. And now the City by the Bay can add another item to its ugly list: the public school system.

First off, there’s the achievement gap. While 70 percent of the city’s white students are proficient in math, just 12 percent of black students are, according to statistics released last year. One would think that public officials in such a bastion of progressive politics would jump at the chance to rectify this dismal disparity, but the city’s education establishment has other priorities. On January 26, the school board decided to rename 44 public schools because their namesakes were presumably more evil than Satan—or perhaps even than Donald Trump. Paul Revere, Thomas Edison, Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Scott Key, and assorted other historical miscreants were guilty of anti-woke crimes. Malcolm X got a pass, however; the elementary school bearing his name will not undergo a change. Why would a one-time drug dealer, thief, and pimp be exempted? Because the school board said that he should be “judged by the entirety of his life”—a courtesy it declined to extend to Lincoln and the others. Facing a lawsuit, the board has since decided to put a hold on the renaming campaign.

In early February, the art department of the San Francisco School District decided that acronyms are “a symptom of white supremacy.” Around the same time, the city took the unprecedented step of suing its own school board in an effort to get kids out of virtual learning mode and back into classrooms. In March, it came to light that San Francisco school board vice president Allison Collins had made some nasty comments about Asian-Americans on Twitter in 2016, accusing them, among other things, of using “white supremacist thinking to assimilate and ‘get ahead.’” The school board had to do something, of course. But it didn’t fire her or dock any of her six-figure salary; it merely removed her as vice president and stripped her of committee assignments. Collins then sued the school district for $87 million, alleging that the demotion had caused her a significant loss of reputation, severe mental and emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, and “spiritual injury to her soul.”

Want more? On May 9, the San Francisco teachers’ union announced “exciting news”—a deal that it had struck with the school district to open up schools to high school seniors on May 14. The sole reason for the move, which applied to just eight of the city’s 18 high schools, was to qualify the school district for a $12 million state grant that required at least a partial reopening of high schools by May 15. Several local legislators are urging the state to withhold the funds.

Also in May, the school district released its rules for senior proms. Tuxedos and prom dresses are fine, it said, but they must be accompanied by masks. Also, close dancing is verboten, and non-vaccinated students must keep six feet away from everyone else. Treasured memories of this event will be hard to come by.

Last and far from least, the United Educators of San Francisco passed a resolution on May 19, the first of its kind for a teachers’ union: not about improving student outcomes or demanding that teachers get raises, but rather expressing support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel. In its brief statement, the union suggested that Israel practices apartheid and has committed war crimes. The statement made no mention of Hamas rocket attacks (though a subsequent resolution, passed on June 2 after the union came under pressure, did finally denounce Hamas’ actions).

The good news is that even as the city’s education officials sink to new lows, parents are beginning to grasp what they’re up against—and react accordingly. As Jill Tucker reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, city schools currently enroll 50,955 students, “the lowest enrollment in decades and a 3 percent drop compared with the end of the 2020 school year.”

“San Francisco is a mad city,” begins a quote attributed to Rudyard Kipling, “inhabited for the most part by perfectly insane people.” His words, more than a century old, aptly describe the city’s educational establishment.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher, is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

This article was originally published by City Journal Online.

No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

There’s a particularly creepy scene in the children’s classic, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” where a diabolical villain lures two kids from their hiding place by walking down the street calling out, “Ice cream. Get some ice cream! Today, it’s all free!”

The children can’t resist and they emerge from a building to get into a carriage where they are promised the sweets. Once inside, the curtains fall from the side of the carriage to reveal they have walked into a metal cage.

It’s human nature to desire what we want without cost. But as the late Nobel economist Milton Friedman reminds us, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Indeed, he published a series of his essays in a book of the same title. His point was simple: Nothing is free; someone — either voluntarily or under compulsion — has to pay.

If offered a Ferrari, I’d probably resist my initial instinct to respond in the affirmative and ask the obvious questions – how much and who’s going to pay for it?

A recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California illustrates how the “cost” question is important. One of the questions was whether respondents thought that “the state budget situation in California — that is, the balance between government spending and revenues — is a big problem, somewhat of a problem, or not a problem for the people of California today?”

Regrettably, the question lacks context and clarity. One respondent could believe that the budget imbalance is a big problem because California isn’t taxing enough, while another could believe it’s a big problem because of overspending.

To read the entire column, please click here.

CTA and Democratic Allies Move To Torpedo Charter Schools

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

While many California school districts have floundered during the COVID-19 pandemic, Democrats in the California Legislature are taking aim again at charter schools, which are among the few remaining school-choice options available for parents dissatisfied with the regular public schools.

AB 1316, authored by Assembly education committee chair Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, and supported by the California Teachers Association, is marching through the Legislature and purports just to increase oversight over charter schools.

A CTA talking-points document on AB 1316 says the bill would, among other things, improve “audit and accounting systems,” close “student attendance loopholes,” restructure “the flawed funding determination process,” and improve “[charter school] authorizer oversight.”  These elements may seem innocuous or even helpful, but the reality is much different from the union’s rosy propaganda.

As Sacramento County Board of Education member Paul Keefer has noted, “One of the most egregious acts of education inequity is seen in the fine print of AB 1316.”

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, independent study programs “allow students to earn credit for academic work they complete under a written learning contract with little or no time in a traditional classroom setting.”  AB 1316 would discriminate against independent study students at non-classroom-based charter schools, which can be totally virtual or combine virtual and site-based learning, by denying them full state funding.

“One core inequity in the bill,” warns Keefer, “is the preposterous assertion that independent study students at district or county-run schools should receive their full allocation of state education funding while students in independent study programs at public charter schools deserve less funding.

In other words, says Keefer, students who are enrolled in district-run virtual schools, where instruction and learning take place remotely and online, “will receive their fair share of education funding but students at similar programs at non-classroom based public charters down the street will not.”

Funding discrimination, however, is just the start of the bill’s assault on charter schools.

One advantage of enrolling in a non-classroom-based charter school is that students can receive instruction regardless of their physical location vis-à-vis the location of the charter.  So, a student in Kern County can enroll in a non-classroom-based charter school that is based in next-door Los Angeles County because learning takes place virtually.

That flexibility will change under AB 1316.  The bill requires that students enrolled in a non-classroom-based charter reside in the county in which the school is authorized.  Consequently, students who live outside the authorizing county will have to disenroll.

It should be emphasized that AB 1316 does not just hurt non-classroom-based charter schools.  All charter schools will suffer from many of the bill’s provisions.

According to a letter signed by several California charter school organizations, the bill “would prohibit multiple-track [charter] schools that offer additional instructional days than students would otherwise receive, and restrict instructional day flexibility for all charter schools that would negatively hurt at-risk students that require scheduling flexibility due to work hours or childcare commitments.”

In addition, the bill imposes an array of new burdens on all charter schools, such as new fees on charters amounting to 3 to 5 percent of their already limited revenue to pay for a new convoluted and bureaucratic audit system.  Also, as the California Policy Center’s Edward Ring notes, tutors would be required to have teaching credentials, even though they may have much more valuable real-world subject-matter experience in areas such as STEM.

O’Donnell and the CTA argue for AB 1316 by pointing to the case of a specific charter in San Diego County where the school’s leaders pleaded guilty to fraud charges.  Yet, tellingly, cases of fraud in school districts, such as several fraud scandals in the Montebello Unified School District in Los Angeles County, have not spurred legislation aimed at the regular public schools.

Over the last two years, Sacramento lawmakers have enacted a series of anti-charter school laws.  With AB 1316 making its way inexorably through the Legislature, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, has warned, “Our political leaders and the special interests they serve have taken another step towards their goal of abolishing charter schools in California.”

Californians must raise their voices loudly to save choice for parents and their children.

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This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.