In California, bad politicians don’t fade away, they run for governor. The latest is Delaine Eastin, the former superintendent of public instruction best known for trying to kill off homeschooling. In announcing her bid, she told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m a very frustrated person who’s been watching from the sidelines for some time now…. I want people in Sacramento who are going to put the children first again.”
The Times reported, “Eastin, 69, said she is concerned that the state’s elected officials no longer see public-school funding as a top priority. In particular, she is critical of a lack of support by Gov. Jerry Brown and current lawmakers for additional preschool funding and for failed efforts at implementing full-day kindergarten…. I’m very committed to running. I’m going to do my very best after the first of the year to run a winning campaign.”
But where’s the money going to come from, Delaine? Already, under Proposition 98, K-14 schools get about 40 percent of all general-fund money. Proposition 30 in 2012 was passed to keep up funding levels with another $7 billion wallop to taxpayers. And Proposition 55 this year maintains the wallop.
The Times article neglected to mention her most notorious action as superintendent: trying to put homeschoolers under the state’s oppressive thumb. Yet homeschoolers commonly win spelling bees and other contests. By contrast, as EdSource reported, “California students are among worst performers on national assessment of reading and math…. Overall, California students continue to rank near the bottom on the national assessment: Fourth graders scored 46th in the nation in math, and 47th in the nation in reading; eighth graders ranked 43rd in the nation in math and 42nd in reading.” And that was after Eastin’s eight years of enlightened rule as top state education honcho.
As to homeschooling, it’s one area of state government that’s reasonably rational. Parents don’t have to be certified teachers, but do have to set up a private school in their home and keep track of student progress. They send the paperwork to the state. Nowadays, there are numerous online courses and many sensible public school districts accommodate homeschool families, especially through charter schools. And there are many associations, such as sports teams and musical and arts groups, to deal with what’s called “socialization” with other kids.
Eastin didn’t like all that freedom going on. As the Homeschool Legal Defense Association summarized her actions, “During her reign, acrimony developed between the public school and homeschool communities.
“This acrimony was a result of Ms. Eastin’s position that home education through the private school exemption was not valid. She asserted that the homeschooling parent had to either be a certified teacher with a current certificate, or under the oversight of a public school independent study or charter school program.
“One of her employees, Carolyn Pirillo, systematically sent letters to public school officials advising them of the position of the California Department of Education (CDE) regarding home education. The battle became so pitched between the two forces that just before Ms. Eastin left office[in Jan. 2003], she wrote a letter to all the legislators in California requesting that legislation be passed to make sure that homeschoolers were accountable to the state.”
I recall this well as I wrote about homeschooling frequently as an Orange County Register editorial writer. What happened was the homeschoolers turned out to be great political organizers. They wrote thousands of letters to state legislators. Even liberal Democrats pledged they wouldn’t touch current homeschooling laws. So no new laws came about.
Her successor in 1993 was Jack O’Connell, a savvy longtime state senator and assemblyman. He immediately reversed Eastin’s policy. Said his deputy general counsel, Michael Hersher, “We’re simply going to stop saying that every homeschooled child is truant. I think homeschooling is as individualized as the students and parents and you can’t really generalize. There are children who excel academically and others who are just running the streets.”
That was backhanded there at the end. But Linda J. Conrad, the Homeschool Association of California’s legal chair, clarified the situation, “Since most, if not all, of the truancy problems suffered by homeschoolers in the past several years have been a direct result of the [California Department of Education’s] position regarding the legality of home-based private schools, this is a major victory.”
The fact is, the superintendent of public instruction shouldn’t even be elected, but appointed by the governor. That way the governor, the job everyone concentrates on during elections, is responsible for more than just funding. In similar fashion, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education is not elected separately, but appointed by the president.
I hope Eastin runs long and hard in a 2018 gubernatorial race that already includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Treasurer John Chiang, and could include former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and who knows who else. She’ll be a great reminder of the worst actions of government toward students. Republican candidates should start their campaigns by taking aim at Eastin. What a great target.
Meanwhile, there actually is a Delaine Eastin Elementary in Union City, part of the New Haven Unified School District. How is “socialization” going there, the bugaboo word always flung at benighted homeschoolers? According to the school’s website, “Please notify your teacher or site administration if you see or experience discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or bullying. Complaint forms are attached below.”
The school advertises itself as “Home of the monarchs.” Maybe Delaine Eastin should run to be California’s queen.
Longtime California journalist and freelance writer John Seiler’s email is: firstname.lastname@example.org