School Spending Up; Student Performance Down. Time for a Change

David Crane
Lecturer and Research Scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California

California school boards are prevented by the state legislature and governor from offering disproportionate pay to employees willing to work in high-poverty zones, cutting pension spending, altering tenure rules or granting principals the power to fire poorly performing employees. The outcome: poor student performance and shaky finances despite a big increase in spending.

All it takes is 62 legislators and the governor to change that outcome. Every legislator knows that school districts should not be forced to grant permanent employment after just 24 months or to divert money from current to retired teachers and should be permitted to pay more to teachers who take on tougher assignments and to fire under-performers.

The only thing stopping them is fear. They are afraid of CTA, the largest commercial and political special interest roaming the halls of the State Capitol. But don’t blame CTA. Its members collect ~$70 billion per year from taxpayers. You too would roam the Capitol if you collected that kind of money from legislators. Blame legislators and governors who don’t have the courage to attack the real causes of school distress. It is they who are letting down students — especially our most vulnerable students. Just look at what’s happening in San Francisco and around the state.

But the legislature and governor don’t get all the blame. Believe it or not, some districts subsidize retirees at the expense of current employees. San Francisco could pay teachers an extra $40 million this year if it stopped subsidizing health insurance for retirees who, like their fellow Californians, could obtain health insurance on the state’s excellent Obamacare exchange (Covered California) until they become eligible for Medicare. The city of Glendale shows how. The San Francisco school board doesn’t need permission from the state to make that change right now. But instead, it is asking voters to approve an additional tax on property. Middle class residents already find it tough going in San FranciscoNow the school board wants to make it even harder  in order to subsidize retirees. Fixing that doesn’t take rocket science. It just takes courage.

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