California Still Not Learning Hard Lessons on Education


Oh, California. You gave us good wine, the Grateful Dead, and Reggie Miller. We should probably be a little kinder to you than we are. But you don’t make it easy. The Heartland Institute asserts the Golden State just isn’t getting it when it comes to education, throwing money at a failing system instead of letting the system work for the kids. Here’s an excerpt: 

Frustrated by some tough budget years, California public school officials want a court to declare the state’s Byzantine school finance system unconstitutional. The stated goal of the lawsuit is to circumvent lawmakers (and reality) by asking a judge to force billions of dollars in unaffordable education spending increases.

But the system isn’t "unconstitutional" so much as unworkable. The way to achieve an equitable and affordable public school system in the Golden State isn’t more funding to prop up a bloated bureaucracy. The answer is to fund all children equally by letting the funding follow the child. The answer is choice.

This is hardly a radical idea. Arizona, Florida and Pennsylvania, for example, offer tax credits to corporations and individuals who finance scholarships for children from low-income families. Even Sweden lets families choose the school they want, public or private, backed by a tax-subsidized scholarship…

The education establishment views the case as a bureaucracy preservation problem, which evades the real problem – the failure of that bureaucracy to educate California’s children. Students only enter the equation as a pretext for propping up the salaries and benefits of public employees.

The fact is, court-ordered school spending has never translated to academic success. A federal court judge ruled in 1985 that school officials in Kansas City, Mo., had to double local property taxes to fund $2 billion aimed at improving performance in low-income and mostly minority schools. In the blizzard of spending that followed over the next two decades, students got state-of-the-art science facilities, Olympic-size swimming pools, small classes – and no measurable improvement in academic outcomes.

Voters’ efforts to boost school funding haven’t translated to success either. Proposition 98, which Californians passed in 1988, locked California into a budget-busting mandate directing at least 40 percent of the state budget toward elementary and secondary education. Since its passage, California has seen negligible gains in academic outcomes and lagged well behind mediocre national trends.

What the California case needs is a second group of plaintiffs to intervene and argue the only workable way to secure the fundamental right to an education in a truly equitable fashion is to fund every child equally. The court certainly could declare the entire system unconstitutional – and then insist that funding follow the child to any school that meets California’s content standards.

Lasting reform requires shifting from the stifling chaos of the current "bureaucracy-based" system to the spontaneous order that will unfold as we fund the child. That’s the only system that comports with the spirit and the letter of the "equal protection" clause in any constitution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *