GOP challengers see parents as ‘consumers’July 29, 2021
When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools, the grades and mental health of millions of students declined. Several of the leading Republican challengers in the upcoming recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom see this crisis as an opportunity.
Their solution: more school choice.
The candidates — CalMatters interviewed John Cox, Larry Elder, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose for this article — want to “empower” parents by sending state dollars directly to the families rather than school districts. Parents can take that $14,000 of per-pupil spending from the state to any traditional public, charter or private school they like.
Turning parents into consumers, the candidates say, will cultivate competition between schools. Parents will “vote with their feet,” and if the state plunges the public school system into the free market, schools will finally have to provide a high-quality education to stay afloat.
“Ultimately, I would like to see traditional public schools look a lot more like charter schools,” said Kiley, a Sacramento area state Assembly member running in the Newsom recall election. “I would like to have districts liberated from our education code: Less mandates coming from Sacramento and a lot more freedom.”
These Republican candidates also say that teachers unions have undue influence on the public education system, and they accuse the unions of using political sway to lobby for charter school regulations. Conservative talk show host Elder — who is running on the most radical school-choice platform of the four — said if elected he would declare a state of emergency for California’s public schools and fire the state’s 15,000 “worst” teachers.
The American Federation of Teachers has given $250,000 to the anti-recall campaign and while the California Teachers Association has not yet contributed, it has historically been one of Newsom’s supporters.
While the candidates paint a clear picture of what their education system should look like, many others aren’t ready to give up on the traditional public school system. Despite the state spending more money than ever on education, some experts say public schools remain underfunded. With the Newsom administration’s historic spending, they say, California is on its way to seeing what the current system can really do for students.
With this year’s budget, Newsom continued his commitment to early childhood education, including funding to achieve universal transitional kindergarten by 2025. He also increased funding for schools in low-income communities as well as for special education.
“For a long time, California ranked at the bottom of per-pupil funding relative to other states,” said Julie Marsh, an education professor at the University of Southern California. “I don’t think we’re ready to throw in the towel yet.”
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