The Trump Distraction

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

Everyone knows Donald Trump trolls California and that trolling is not a presidential responsibility outlined in Article II of the US Constitution. But many California state officials troll Trump and likewise are not fulfilling any legislative responsibilities under Article IV of the California Constitution.

Just consider K-12 education, which is a legislative responsibility and the single largest expenditure of state funds. This year California will spend nearly $100 billion on K-12. Less than 10 percent will come from the federal government. The governor and state legislature, not Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, write California’s Education Code. Any way you look at it, California’s elected officials run California’s public schools.

Yet when is the last time you saw a tweet from a California legislator about the sorry performance of California’s public schools? Despite a huge increase in spending, student performance has barely budged, schools are laying off teachers, and California’s poor students rank next to last on a national test. Fewer than half of the state’s six million students read at grade level and even fewer perform math at grade level.

A California legislator tweeting about everything but the state’s poor K-12 performance is like the coach of a next-to-last place team tweeting about everything but his team’s performance.

It’s fine for a California politician to criticize Trump. But that’s politically easy, like pushing on an open door. It’s politically difficult to fight against the special interests oppressing California’s schoolchildren. But all it would take is 62 legislators to put a bill on the governor’s desk to end that oppression. Surely at least 62 members know that school districts should not be forced to grant permanent employment to teachers, especially after just 24 months, or to divert billions of dollars a year from current teachers to retired employees. Surely 62 members know principals should be allowed to fire under-performing teachers and to pay more to employees who take on tougher assignments. Surely 62 members know that Donald Trump is neither an obstacle to nor necessary for those reforms.

The irony has reached record heights this year as a state legislator from Oakland running to become the state’s next chief education officer has had nothing to say about Oakland Unified School District’s uniquely serious problems but plenty to say about Trump, who has nothing to do with OUSD’s problems.

California state legislators have no greater responsibility than ensuring public schoolchildren get quality educations. They’re in charge. It’s fine to criticize Donald Trump but it’s not fine to supply sub-par educations to six million kids a year. They can and should fix that.

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