California is girding for battle over spending and union power. Gov. Schwarzenegger, legislative Republicans, business leaders, and taxpayers are facing off against legislative Democrats and government employee unions over the state’s budget priorities. Education spending is the issue. The governor proposed an increase of $3 billion to $50 billion, up from $47 billion spent last year. The California Teachers Association (CTA) union calls this increase a draconian cut and wants $2 billion more.
Looming just behind the Sacramento summer struggle over the budget is the paycheck protection initiative likely to be on a November special election ballot. This measure increases liberty for government union employees by giving them the right to opt in to paying the political action portion of their dues instead of having the dues automatically deducted. Considering the importance of the budget and the paycheck protection initiative, it’s no surprise the CTA union has mortgaged their headquarters for $50 million to pay for ongoing ads slandering the governor, his budget, and his reforms.
What is the substance of the schools funding debate? Including all sources of education spending, the governor has proposed spending $10,084 per student for 2005-2006. This is an increase of 6.46% for education spending for kindergarten to the community college level. When factoring for added students, the increase is 5.46%. The governor’s budget proposes ending a state subsidy of the teachers’ retirement system, a subsidy that was supposed to end in 2000, thus shifting the cost to local school districts. This would lower the net effective increase to 4.47%. The Consumer Price Index impact takes the increase down to 2.14%. Mind you, all of this is for a system that, according to the National Education Association website, pays its teachers the most in America. California teachers are paid an average of $58,287 a year, 25% above the national average.
When a real 2.14% increase is called a cut, can taxpayers be blamed for questioning the math competency of their unionized educators?
State Sen. Tom McClintock, the likely Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, recently penned a column titled “A modest proposal for saving our schools.” In it, he paints a school funding scenario that would make any taxpayer ask serious questions about where all those billions are actually spent.
McClintock begins his financial analysis of school spending by setting aside the more than 30% of the budget earmarked for school bond debt service, the pension system, special education, child care, nutrition programs, adult education and 30,000 school bureaucrats. This leaves “a mere $6,937 per student” which he proposes spending in a hypothetical school of 180 students.
At this point, the senator really gets rolling. He proposes we spend $33 per square foot for a school with, “executive washrooms, around-the-clock janitorial service, wall-to-wall carpeting, utilities and music in the elevators…[and] new desks to preserve the professional ambience.” Then, we hire five teachers, all of whom formerly served as associate professors in the California State University system. We allow these new teachers to assign twelve brand new $75 textbooks every year for each student and pay, “an extra $5 to have the student’s name engraved in gold leaf on the cover.” To keep our kids fit, we provide them a gym class consisting of, “an annual membership at a private health club for $39.95 per month.” Lastly, we hire a principal at $80,000 per year and a secretary at $40,000 to round out our hypothetical school’s budget at $1,031,877.
McClintock’s school budget even leaves a reserve of $216,703 – more than $1,200 per student for, “necessities like paper, pencils, personal computers and extra-curricular travel.” “After all,” the Senator writes, “what’s the point of taking four years of French if you can’t see Paris in the spring?”
Proving that if we did not have Sen. McClintock we would have to invent him, he concludes his column by observing that we should ask why we are not getting the schools we seem to be paying for. He recalls the old saying “That you can’t fill a broken bucket by pouring more water into it,” and concludes that, “Maybe it’s time to fix the bucket.”
This year, Governor Schwarzenegger proposes to pour $3 billion more into the broken bucket while the CTA union wants $5 billion more. Success in the special election this November followed by reelection of the Governator in 2006 (with Sen. McClintock as his lieutenant governor) will begin a political realignment in California that may finally “fix the bucket.”