Republicans Must Make Their Own Effort on Education Reform

David Salaverry
Founder, California Conservative Action Group

Joe Mathews in these pages has the CA education issue mostly right.  Let’s start with where he is dead wrong, dangerously so. This is Part One of two articles on a new CA GOP education vision.

Joe says, “Republicans, despite their small numbers, can – by siding with one side or another in the Democratic education wars – determine which way education policy goes.” Sorry Joe, Republicans must NOT be lapdogs.  Mathews sees the fractured, defeated California Republican Party as a minor appendage of a Democrat moderate-conservative coalition.  Hogwash!  In defeat, Republicans need to be a political guerrilla army with their own, better ideas.  Lapdog status is politically dangerous, not just to Republicans, but also to the larger polity.

America is historically a two-party system.  A moderate-conservative caucus within the CA Democratic party is still a creature of the Democratic party.  Conservative CA Democrats will be controlled by and owe fealty to the CA Democratic leadership who in turn controls the advancement of each politician and the purse strings of each district.

A moderate-conservative Democrat caucus is NOT an independent political actor.  Its conservatism is unprincipled, intellectually flaccid and not strongly advocated.  In fact, “conservative” Democrats will prove political opportunists who hedge their bets and promote a watered down, crossover conservatism that will not satisfy conservative voters but may barely be palatable to Democrats.   Just enough “conservatism” to win is not a brake on one party rule.

As part of a moderate-conservative Democrat caucus, the CA GOP will rapidly atrophy.  Why remain a Republican if the best the party can do is caucus with Democrats?  How will strong Republican candidates emerge?  How will the CA GOP ever rebuild?  If the CA GOP caucuses with moderate-conservative Democrats, it should only be with a sharp awareness of the dangers and as a temporary expediency on specific narrow issues.  It must not be on the large and critical issue of education, an issue Republicans need to master and own.

Let’s unpack more of what Joe Mathews says.

Joe says: “A focus on schools also provides a way to talk to ethnic minorities who have given up on the GOP.” Latino polling data confirms a high interest in education.  The mass of Latino immigrants send their children to the worst California K-12 schools.  They would support controlling teachers unions and bureaucracies if the money saved  went into classrooms.  Latinos strongly support charter schools.  Latinos would welcome a renewed Master Plan for Higher Education, especially revitalized community colleges.

Joe says, “The Democrats are divided and vulnerable on education.” The Democrats are VERY VULNERABLE.  Charter schools, control of unions, control of bureaucracies are all Republican issues that fracture the Democrat coalition. But only if Republicans have a comprehensive education plan and only if Republicans support needed higher funding.  Higher funding doesn’t automatically mean massive higher taxes!  It can also mean taking the money from social services and bloated bureaucracies and channeling it into the classroom.

Higher funding might also include modest, targeted new taxes.  If Republicans support local education parcel taxes and statewide lock-box initiatives passed with voter approval, they will lose the stigma of being anti-education Neanderthals.  But Republicans should reject the current Leno bill to lower the education parcel tax threshold to 55%.  This will make raising taxes too easy, and lower GOP clout in minority districts (see below.)

A case in point:

Last summer, the San Francisco Republican Central Committee was approached by proponents of Measure A, a $79 annual SF property tax measure earmarked for City College of San Francisco.  CCSF, the largest community college in CA and the USA was threatened with closure by accreditors.  The accreditors said that CCSF was doing an excellent job educating but its finances were out of control because of State budget cuts and high teacher salaries.

The SF GOP fiscal conservatives could not stomach endorsing Measure A.  However, they did agree to remain neutral.  This helped the parcel tax pass; Republicans are only 9% in SF but the measure needed a supermajority and the vote was going to be close.

CCSF will be saved, and that is a very big deal.  CCSF trains a huge cadre of hotel and restaurant workers in a tourist and convention town. CCSF is vital to high tech and financial businesses for its computer training.  CCSF’s robust English as a Foreign Language offerings bring Asian and Hispanic immigrants to the ground floor of the American dream, a real job, in English.  And CCSF transfers thousands of students into the UC and State College system.  No one likes new taxes.  But $79 annually for a critical educational resource was a wise and courageous decision by SF Republicans.

The alternatives?

Behind Door One: Massive statewide Democrat tax hikes controlled by a one-party legislature for bloated unions and bloated social services and bloated bureaucracies. Behind Door Two: Small, targeted voter approved education taxes as part of a Republican education strategy.  Behind Door Three: No-tax purity and irrelevance as voters abandon the CA GOP.

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