Public education is big business. This year California will spend $83 billion on K-12 education, or nearly $13,500 for each of the state’s six million students. Most will go to compensation and benefits for members of special interest organizations that spend more money on state politics than anyone else.
Given such massive political spending, it’s not surprising that California has been the epicenter of progressive talk about K-12 education but regressive action. To appease special interests last year, California’s progressive-speaking Attorney General and State Superintendent of Public Instruction regressively defended teacher tenure and dismissal rules that, according to a judge, “shock the conscience” by violating the equal protection rights of poor and minority students. State legislators forced school districts to divert billions of dollars to teacher pensions and shifted money from higher education to pensions, pharmaceutical companies and hospital chains. More recently, the two largest special interests that capture the vast majority of state spending— government employees and healthcare corporations — teamed up to seek more money for themselves.
The results speak for themselves. California spends more per K-12 student than does Texas, a state with roughly similar demographics, yet California’s graduation rate is lower. Economically-disadvantaged students in California graduate at even lower rates and test more than 6 months behind the national average while economically-disadvantaged students in Texas test more than 5 months ahead.
Progressives — a class of which I count myself a member — worry a lot about income inequality but not nearly enough about the educational inequality that is at the heart of that issue. Does anyone seriously believe that income inequality can be addressed without addressing public education? Or that students can compete in a global economy if taught by ineffective teachers who can’t be fired? Is it not hypocritical for rich progressives to send their children to private schools while supporting anti-reform politicians who limit opportunity for their neighbors’ children attending public schools?
Education is mostly a state, not federal, function. In California that means a centralized, employee-first, kid-last, system. If you are supporting candidates in thrall to that special-interest juggernaut, you are contributing to educational failure for millions of people. Contributors must learn what their representatives and candidates are actually doing about public education. Ask!