What is Wrong with Education in California?

Meuser speaks about education in the state of California and what has led us to the place we are at where California is receiving a failing grade.

In my opinion, the 1971 California Supreme Court’s decision of Serrano v. Priest is a major reason why the state of California is receiving a failing grade when it comes to education. The Serrano court attempted to be fair to the economically depressed. Instead, the court ended up hurting all students in this state. The Serrano court took what had been a local issue and turned it into a state issue.

Very few will argue that California used to have one of the best educational systems in the United States if not in the world. Very few will argue that California now has one of the worst educational systems in the United States according to a plethora of leading indicators.

Californians are concerned about their children’s education; however many will say that this concern does not translate to the state spending on education. The question is: What can we do about this problem? I will be the first to admit that I do not have a magic wand that will return California’s educational system back to a world leader. However, that being said, I wanted to take a minute to remind everyone how things were different in this state when we led the world and where we are now. Maybe in understanding our past, our state legislature can start making some decisions to help us restore California greatness.

Many love to point a finger at Proposition 13 as the culprit for why California has so many problems in this state. However, I would like to make the case that the problem actually started several years before with a bunch of trial lawyers who pursued a case to level the playing field between the rich and the poor.

In the 1960s, California’s schools were funded by property taxes. The vast majority of each school district’s funds were based upon how much each school district was willing to tax itself to pay for its student’s education. School districts were full of local businessmen who derived a benefit from having a better school district.

However, in 1971, the California Supreme Court ruled that the way California funded its school system was unconstitutional because each child in California did not have equal educational resources. The result of Serrano was that there was a shift in funding from local school districts to Sacramento.

The state of California saw a transition where local school districts lost a lot of their control. Collective bargaining for teachers soon arose and school boards found it next to impossible to get rid of underperforming teachers. Basically, it was the golden rule: "He who holds the gold, makes the rules." Sacramento was now paying for education and thus they were controlling the rules of the game.

In 1970, almost 50% of the money that was spent on education was actually spent on teacher’s salaries. This percentage has been dropping steadily ever since. In the meantime, while the percentage of school budgets being spent on teachers has been declining, the percentage of money being spent on school administrators has steadily been increasing. Sacramento keeps imposing more rules upon the school districts thus resulting in school districts having to hire more administrators in order to deal with all these new rules.

As a result of Serrano, what has happened in this state is that we have made what was supposed to be a local issue into a state issue. By trying to be fair to all students, we ended up hurting all students. Rather than helping the students who were the most economically depressed, we ended up hurting all Californians.

The problem with having Sacramento in charge of schools is that there is limited control by those who are the most affected. When you had local school boards in control, if a school board made a mistake, it did not take too much community involvement to get rid of an entire school board. However, it would take billions of dollars to drastically change the state legislature in order to change the way that the state is handling education.

I was recently talking with one teacher who says that he does not have enough time to teach the United States Constitution. Teacher after teacher informed me that Sacramento has imposed so many rules upon them that students are not learning the basics. They feel that regulations are ruining our student’s future to allow some administrator can simply check off a box and report back to Sacramento that minimum requirements have been met.

I believe that if we want to see our schools succeed, we need to return power back to the people by returning control of our schools back to our local school boards. We need to let teachers teach. According to the Contra Costa Times, my opponent, Mark DeSaulnier believes that it is the state’s responsibility to hold school districts accountable.

What incentive do voters in San Diego have to replace their local senator because there is a problem with schools in Contra Costa County? A state senator is not the proper person to be holding school boards accountable. The local school board should be accountable. Rather than watching our local taxes go to the state and then having a portion sent back to the school districts, it would be better if the local tax remained local.

If elected, it is my goal to help restore California greatness. In order to do this, we need to start going back to the principles that were in place when California had one of the best educational systems in the world. Instead of dumbing down our schools to the lowest common denominator, it is time to push our schools to excel in every level.

For 40 years we have tried Sacramento’s control over our school system; Sacramento’s grade on running California’s school system is an F-. If we want to return to the best schools in the world, we need to take what is being treated as a state issue and return it to a local issue. Local control is how we succeeded before and it is how we will succeed in the future.

Mark Meuser is a candidate for State Senate District 7. You can follow him on Facebook.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Californicated1 October 27, 2012 at 05:02 PM
One of the things that I have also noticed when the customers I was working with were also the local public school districts is that the newer neighborhoods and the schools in them had a "leg up" on the older districts with the older neighborhoods and facilities--Mello-Roos taxes. The people in those newer neighborhoods had to pay those on top of their existing taxes on their property. These taxes go towards putting in public schools, parks, streetlights, streets and sidewalks, sewer lines, gas lines, water mains and even power lines, internet and cable TV into these new subdivisions. The older established neighborhoods, especially the ones built long before Mello-Roos went into effect don't have that income that Mello-Roos brings in. Add to that the problems when one has to retrofit existing structures for things like computer networks and network connectivity, where at Oakland Tech--Clint Eastwood's old alma mater--the server room was the old photo lab next to the library. And retrofitting the older buildings costs more money to a school district than building a new building that meets the current standards and expectations that the community and the state believe it should meet. And that is part of why we have these great inequities in the public school systems throughout this state from what I have seen.
Kevin Gove October 28, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Serrano vs. Priest was about ensuring adequate funding for all schools regardless of where they are. It was a landmark case and certainly not the problem with our schools. It attempted to equal the playing field where affluent districts were able to enjoy the benefits of a better education (higher pay for teachers, better facilities/resources) while keeping taxes lower for their residents. Lessor school districts didn't have the property tax base to keep up and in an attempt to keep pace they had to increase taxes. With the passage of Prop. 13 and the booming population during the 80's further created pressure on infrastructure and if anything it hasn't been able to create the type of educational equality that was hoped for. Mr. Meuser is proposing something that would benefit those affluent districts at the expense of those without. It is this selfish attitude that seems to permeate politics lately. I long for a time where we can think beyond our own individual needs knowing that when everyone has that same opportunity we all benefit. Mr Meuser doesn't have the vision or share the same values that I think will move us forward. And he won't be receiving my vote.
Sidnee Marie October 29, 2012 at 02:43 AM
It's not JUST Sacramento that is piling on rules and regulations ---No Child Left Behind has done a banner job of doing that as well. Let's stop pretending that SACRAMENTO is the reason teachers dont' have time to teach important things. The end result of NCBL is that only math and reading are important enough--because they are on the tests. I know plenty of school districts in this state that don't teach social studies, science or art because they dont' give the "biggest bang for the buck" on the state tests. What is killing educaiton is a bunch of people who have no idea what goes on in schools making the policy decisions, changing them again and again, and then not having the patience to give them a chance to succeed before changing them yet again.
Frank Mockery October 29, 2012 at 08:11 PM
A good education has no bearing on either being smart or having a modicum of common-sense ! Otherwise Republican Mark Meuser would have recognized the folly & futility of his dismal candicacy for a State Senate seat for which he is woefully unqualified ! On the other hand he could have made the Presidency his goal in his first attempt at public office & he'd have about as much chance of winning that race as this one ! Be smart,vote for experience & common-sense - not inexperience & nonsense ! Tell your friends & neighbors to Vote for State Senator Mark DeSaulnier !
Californicus October 30, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Disappointing analysis of Serrano vs. Priest to say the least. The case revolved around fairness in taxation, where neighborhoods poor in property values were being taxed at a higher rate than neighborhoods rich in property values. A frustrated taxpayer was tired of paying higher taxes and brought suit, something Mr. Meuser should appreciate.


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