Support for education consistently polls well in California and that support cuts across party and ideological identification. Sacramento politicians know this and so, naturally, they say they love education too. But voters would be wise to take claims of support for education with a grain of salt.
It‚Äôs not educating our children that most politicians really care about, it‚Äôs the money they can raise and spend using education as a lure to persuade the public into supporting higher levels of taxation. Education is used to extract ever more money from taxpayers like the carrot that dangles from a stick in front of a mule pulling a cart ‚Äî no matter how fast the mule trots, the prized carrot remains out of reach.
Look at Jerry Brown‚Äôs sales and income tax increase that will appear on the November ballot as Proposition 30. It is promoted with great fanfare that it will help education, the “carrot.” This is backed up with threats to cut education if voters do not give their approval. The mule would recognize this method of persuasion as the “stick.”
But under Brown‚Äôs proposal, the politicians can take away existing money designated for schools, use it for other purposes, and replace the missing money with the new tax revenue. In short, despite what Brown and his big government allies claim, the true effect of Prop. 30 means a bailout for the state‚Äôs General Fund including shoring up woefully underfunded pension funds. And after this shell game? The carrot of true education improvement is still out of reach.
This cynical approach to using education to unnecessarily pry more from taxpayers‚Äô wallets is used at the local level as well. The Los Angeles Unified School District, with a budget larger than 18 states, is the tail that wags the dog when it comes to California public education. Over a 13 year period, the district managed to gain approval of bonds with a face value of $20 billion and a repayment cost of twice that amount. But at the same time district enrollment declined by 10 percent. Every ballot argument supporting each successive bond emphasized the need to fix broken toilets, among other things, as if the billions of dollars already approved had not been enough to assure useable restrooms for the children.
But even in Los Angeles, public acquiesce for higher taxes has its limits. Two years ago, voters rejected a school parcel tax that could be used for salaries. (Nonetheless, the contractors continuing to build what could end up being empty classrooms are still smiling all the way to the bank.)
Back in Sacramento, where lawmakers like to say they are putting children first, the Legislature has just agreed to spend billions more on their pet train. They prefer to spend money on a bullet train line that, even if completed, will serve only a small percentage of Californians, while at the same time threatening to short change education unless already overburdened taxpayers contribute more.
And what about the welfare of our children in the classroom? The Legislature has just killed SB 1530, a bill by State Sen. Alex Padilla, that would have made it easier to dismiss teachers for misconduct. So it will continue to be easier to throw a pork chop past a wolf than fire a teacher accused of molesting kids. (The LAUSD requires these teachers to report to what are called “rubber rooms,” in some cases for years on end, where they receive full pay without performing any teaching duties). The government employee unions used their influence to defeat Sen. Padilla‚Äôs reform measure so that teachers behaving like creeps can feel secure, while students and their parents remain nervous.
In addition to a broad based support for education, there is another area in which Californians of every political stripe agree: They want good value for their tax dollars. They want honest use of their money. They do not want to be asked to pay higher taxes for education, only to learn the money will be spent elsewhere. They don‚Äôt want to pay so that administrators can receive extravagant raises while Johnny and Sally don‚Äôt have textbooks. They don‚Äôt want to be asked to approve bonds for unneeded classrooms so that contractors can profit.
So, as TV detective Kojak used to say, “Who loves ya baby?” When it comes to education, it‚Äôs most Californians regardless of party affiliation or ideology. And the biggest obstacle to providing good schooling for the young? Why it‚Äôs the Sacramento politicians and their allied government employee unions and private contractors, who see education as a vehicle to feather their own nests, without regard to what is best for the kids.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association ‚Äî California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.