California’s Misguided Education Priorities

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, California spends $15,837 per k-12 pupil on education, which puts us 19th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. All and all, the state spent about $79 billion in 2019. But this is now old news. A new “deluge of state and federal funding” is adding another $15 billion to the state’s education coffers.

So, just where have the billions we’ve spent gotten us?

Only half of all California students performed at grade level in reading on the most recent state-administered test. Also, just 34 percent of California 4th-graders scored proficient in math on the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), placing the state 44th nationwide.  Minorities are especially shortchanged in the big cities. In Los Angeles, for example, just 9 percent of blacks scored proficient in 8th grade math, compared to 12 percent of Hispanics and 51 percent of whites on the recent NAEP. Additionally, a recently released “States with the Best Public Schools since the Pandemic” tracker has California ranked 44th in the country.

While Golden State students suffer academically, their teachers do quite well. The very latest data show that the average k-12 educator hauls in $84,531 a year. But as Just Facts reveals, the stated amount of compensation does not include “unfunded pension liabilities and non-pension post-employment benefits like health insurance.” With those costs factored in, the average teacher salary in California becomes almost $127,000 per annum. It’s worth noting that full-time public school teachers work an average of 1,490 hours per year, including time spent for lesson planning, grading, etc., while private industry workers work an average of 2,045 hours per year, or about 37 percent more than teachers. No matter. When contract time rolls around, local teacher union leaders will have their eyes on the new money and demand hefty raises for its members.

Some of the new funding will be used for the coming ethnic studies requirement. Many districts will be spending oodles of cash on often radical curricula such as that peddled by the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Institute. The Hayward Unified School District in Alameda County has already approved a $40 million ethnic studies program from LESMC, which is infused with critical race theory, and employs every CRT buzz term imaginable to get its far-left message across. For example, it asks students to “critique empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.”

The state is also spending untold sums of money on developing the new heavily politicized Mathematics Curriculum Framework, which has been delayed until late this year or possibly early 2022. The postponement came after a group of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers signed an open letter to the California Board of Education denouncing the original plan because it would “de-mathematize math.”

Another spending scheme included in Governor Gavin Newsom’s budget has the state turning a third of its 10,000 schools into “community schools,” which have roots in the early 20th century Progressive Era. This plan makes schools into one-stop shops for families with all kinds of “wrap around services” like welfare-to-work programs, a legal defense fund and foster care, all staffed by unionized personnel, of course. Other items in the new budget include universal, state-funded breakfast and lunches for all students, and a mental health and behavior system that will provide screenings, counseling, and therapy from birth through age 25.

While the spending will make the socialists among us very pleased, none of the state’s outlay effectively addresses that fact that students in California graduate high school with a subpar education. To effectively deal with the latter, here are three suggestions:

Number 1: Hire better teachers, have them teach bigger classes and pay them according to their worth. This is just the point that Jude Schwalbach, education policy analyst at Reason Foundation, made in a recent op-ed. “California doesn’t need more teachers. Having great teachers in large classrooms is better than having second-rate teachers in smaller classrooms. In fact, top-performing education nations in Asia, such as South Korea, China, and Japan, favor learning models with larger classrooms.”

Number 2: California needs school choice. Monopolies don’t work. As Apple founder Steve Jobs said in 1995 “I remember seeing a bumper sticker when the telephone company was all one . . . and it said ‘We don’t care. We don’t have to.’ And that’s what a monopoly is. That’s what IBM was in their day. And that’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.”

The teachers unions will, of course, fight tooth and nail to ensure that Numbers 1 and 2 never see the light of day, which brings us to . . .

Number 3: Abolish the teachers unions. To that end, Tim Draper, a venture capitalist from southern California, will soon begin gathering signatures that could put an initiative on the ballot that would abolish all public employee unions in the state. Draper maintains that “. . . some public employee unions have used their money and power to protect bad employees engaged in unspeakable conduct and others who have completely failed at their jobs.”

But in the meantime, California will continue to spend more and more money on things that may sound good to some, but haven’t improved student learning, and undoubtedly never will. If you wonder why the state’s population is declining while Texas’ and Florida’s is growing, start by looking at California’s education priorities.

Editor’s Note:  A version of this article first appeared at For Kids & Country.

About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, 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.

Photo: Getty Images

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