Monday, November 24, 2003
IN MY OPINION
Teachers Union Perpetuates Education Myths
(The writer represents the 66th Assembly District, which includes portions of western Riverside County and northern San Diego County.)
You have probably heard the California Teachers’ Association’s commercial-the head of the union gets on the radio and tells you that schools have been cut by $4 billion over the last two years. The Governor, she says, can’t cut education anymore, or the whole system will collapse (or words to that effect).
I was asked recently to appear in a documentary called “Learning the Hard Way” on the Discovery channel, and the narrator repeated a similar refrain. He said that education funding has been cut $9 billion since 2000. As a result, teachers couldn’t do their job, or teachers were going to quit, or kids were being abandoned by the system. The only problem-both comments are the result of one of the most common myths in education, that is, that education funding has been cut in California.
The fact is that California law specifically prohibits the Legislature from cutting education funding without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. In fact, the Constitution of the State of California specifically guarantees schools (through Proposition 98) annual increases equal to the previous year’s appropriation plus an additional amount to compensate for student population growth and inflation. For five years, from 1995 to 2000, (when the state had huge surpluses) the state over-appropriated Proposition 98, giving the schools more than the law required. Since 2001, schools have been funded to the full amount required under Proposition 98. Over the last 4 years Proposition 98 spending has increased an average of 3.7% per year, which is hardly a decrease. Since 1992, when I first joined the Legislature, state spending has gone from $4200 per student to $7900 per student, an 80% increase in spending in ten years.
So-what is happening in our schools? If the unions and the experts are to be believed, an 80% increase in spending should have given us 80% better service. But, in fact, though funding has increased dramatically, we’ve seen relatively little in the way of increased academic performance. The system is large, inflexible, and expensive.
One of the major problems with education funding is HOW we spend the money. Under Proposition 98, approximately $43 billion was spent on education. Proposition 98 funds for K-12 education amount to over 40% of the entire general fund budget. Of this amount, $12 billion is appropriated to categorical funds (with an additional $5 billion from the federal government). Categorical funds were created by laws, passed years ago for the most part, to address specific problems within specific districts. There are over 100 of these specific funds. Unfortunately, districts continue to get the money long after the problem the programs were specifically designed to address have ended.
My favorite is the so-called Racially Isolated Minority (RIMS) District voluntary desegregation program. Long ago, the Legislature created a program to reimburse school districts (specifically Los Angeles) that had been ordered by a court to integrate.
Districts scrambled to get a piece of the pie. Districts such as Los Angeles are considered “majority minority” districts, where integration programs are extremely difficult because of the large percentage of minority students. This is why the Legislature created the RIMS program. But there are no specific directives as to what constitutes integration. One district spent the money on television equipment, so students in the Hispanic district could have a television camera in their room, broadcasting to the white district, while the whites broadcast their classrooms to the Hispanics, and voilà, we’re integrated!
School districts have a large number of staff whose sole purpose is to find ways to access categorical funding. This is one of the reasons that the money spent on students in Los Angeles County is higher than that which gets spent on students in other counties. Los Angeles County receives $4.6 billion in categorical funding, or about 25% of the total.
This is what masquerades as education funding, and the RIMS program is just one example of just how crazy the system has become. A recent state audit found there is virtually no oversight over this huge piece of the education budget. No one seems to be checking to see that the money is being spent appropriately, or that the need still exists, or that we are actually achieving the goal intended. The problem is not funding—it is an unimaginative, inflexible, bureaucratic monopoly whose participants focus more on their own self-preservation than they do on their mission.
There are certainly individual anecdotes of heroes who show up to work to educate that lost child every day, but, by and large, the system is designed to get as many kids through the system with as little disruption to the bureaucratic regime as possible. Until the Governor fixes that, no amount of money will be enough.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company