New Sacramento Battle Is Same as the Old: Education Vs. Health

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

You can safely ignore most of the personality-based analyses you’ll soon read of Gavin Newsom’s first budget and state of the state speech. Because the more Sacramento changes, the more it stays the same.

And in Sacramento, there is one fight that is greater than all the others.

Education vs. Health.

State government famously does three things: Educate, Medicate, Incarcerate. Incarcerate is the cheapest of these. The big dogs are educational interests and health interests. They get most of the money and they never stop fighting.

They also have their turf. The State Senate has long been ruled by Health. The Assembly is run by Education. Geographically, Northern California—the older and whiter part of the state—is Health land. Southern California—younger and more diverse—is Education land.

What sort of governor will Newsom be? He profiles as very much a Health governor, and he has a history of leadership on Health as mayor of San Francisco. Education and schools were not big priorities of his, and aren’t on his record. And his gubernatorial hires are very heavily on the Health side of the latter.

But Newsom appears to be leading with Education. He’s promising to push his plan to guarantee two years of free community college, and he’s also working on “universal” kindergarten with incentives for full-day kindergarten. It also seems like he might get pulled into a teachers strike at L.A. Unified.

But will any of this make him an Education governor? Unlikely. The money involved, while significant, isn’t huge. It’s a few billion in a larger state budget of $200 billion. And the moves he’s making on education are deeply connected to health. His push on preschool and kindergarten is linked to doing more for health for really little kids, and even kids who are still in the womb.

I suspect this early push on Education is a way to mollify those interests first, before he turns to the much more challenging and expensive task of guaranteeing healthcare to everyone in the state. He can’t be at odds with teachers’ union and other Education people at the same time he pushes to remake the Health world. That’d be like fighting a two-front war.

So look for Newsom to start with cheap Education initiatives, while he gathers momentum for a big push on Health.

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