Governor Schwarzenegger’s special election in November includes a measure that many parents are calling “The Destruction of the Public Schools Act,” since it essentially eviscerates constitutionally protected Proposition 98 school funding guarantees. With his broken promise to repay “borrowed” school funds from last year and his insistence on dismantling the voter-approved Proposition 98 minimum school funding protections in the upcoming special election, this Governor is continuing the process of starvation that has crippled California’s public schools for the last 30 years.
His special election “reforms” hinge upon convincing voters that spending roughly $5,400 per pupil (a mere 2.1% increase over last year) is fair and appropriate, despite compelling evidence provided in a recent RAND report which clearly correlates the decline in funding for public education since the passage of Proposition 13 in the 1970’s and California’s public schools plummet from number one in student achievement compared with other states to at or near the bottom in most objective measures. It’s reform, not money, he protests.
Interestingly, Schwarzenegger has a high school in his neighborhood that has undertaken many of the reforms promoted by his hand-picked “education coalition.” It is a locally controlled charter school with an impressive master plan calling for “small learning communities” with personalization for students, teaching to the rigorous state standards, thematic academies that prepare students to meet the standards and gain exposure to the 21st century workplace skills, family outreach and involvement, accountability through testing, and narrowing the academic achievement gap between poor, minority and English language learners and their more affluent white counterparts. Yet, despite having access to this model public high school, he has opted for a private school that will cost him $23,500 per child next year (a 9 percent tuition increase from last year, as compared with the 2.1 percent increase he is offering to pubic schools on about one fourth of that base). Why?
His choice begs the question: could the governor believe that $23,000 per year buys more than $5,400? Is it because despite Pali High’s ambitious program, the governor’s children would be learning with at least 30 students in each of their core classes at Pali, compared with a maximum of 18 students at their private school? Pali High has five counselors and one college counselor for its student body of 2,400. That could worry the Governor when it comes time for his children to select classes and apply to college, not to mention handle any difficulties they might encounter during the school day when he is unavailable to take their call. Could it be because he realizes that in public school it is challenging to stretch the annual per pupil funding, even with a little extra Federal and State Aid of up to $2,000 on top of the base, to meet the needs of poor children (about one third of Pali High’s students are classified as “socio-economically disadvantaged,“ defined as a household of four earning less than $34,000 a year) and children with special education needs (roughly 10% of the school) ranging from speech impairments to severe autism, mental retardation and other challenges that sometimes require expensive non-public school services? Private schools do not have to accept or pay for services for children with special education needs. $23,000 dollars can go a long way without those extra challenges.
So what could possibly be the explanation for Schwarzenegger choosing private school for his own children over Pali High? Could it be that in his heart he knows that money does matter, despite what he’s telling Californians? Has it crossed his mind that even if a school has an ambitious reformist program and visionary leadership, even if merit pay is introduced and tenure timeframes are expanded, schools require adequate funding to ensure that class sizes are manageable, children have access to counselors, arts, sports programs, and other services critical for success?Actions speak louder than words and so does hypocrisy. Clearly, the governor knows that he is out of his depth on education issues or he would have been front and center at the Governor’s Education Summit in February rather than skipping it to raise money for a multi-million dollar ad campaign trying to convince voters and his deep-pocket donors that $5,400 per year is adequate to educate California’s children. We all know it is not – and the $23,000 plus per year that that Governor Schwarzenegger spends to educate each of his own children is proof that he knows that, too.