Gov. Jerry Brown eliminated the office of the state secretary of education, but aside from that symbolic and inconsequential act, his proposed education budget for 2011-12 contains no real reform ideas. California’s new chief executive should use National School Choice Week, the last week in January, to consider innovative ways to give parents and their children greater choice in schools, which also save taxpayer dollars.
There’s no lack of big ideas for Jerry Brown to contemplate. Across the country, new governors and legislative leaders are proposing a variety of innovative large-scale school-choice programs. In Florida, new governor Rick Scott has proposed a form of school-choice vouchers for parents.
Under the Scott plan, the state would deposit an amount, equivalent to 85 percent of state per-pupil funding, into an education savings account that parents could use for private-school tuition, virtual schooling, or private tutoring for their children.
“Parents should figure out where the dollars are spent,” says Scott, so “if the parents want to spend it on virtual school” or “whatever education system they believe in, whether it’s this public school or that public school or this private school or that private school, that’s what ought to happen.”
Gov. Scott’s plan would also allow students to take online classes full-time, part-time or by individual courses. In contrast, California’s education regulations hamper students from choosing online learning alternatives.
According to the new book “Short-Circuited: The Challenges Facing the Online Revolution in California,” published by the Pacific Research Institute, one key regulation prevents students from enrolling in virtual charter schools, where instruction takes place through the Internet, if students don’t live in the county in which the school is chartered or in a contiguous county as if the Internet somehow changes from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Jerry Brown could click the delete button on these regulations, which would increase individualized learning for students and savings for California’s depleted treasury.
Nevada’s new Gov. Brian Sandoval is proposing a state constitutional amendment to establish a school-choice voucher program. Sandoval’s proposal would allow all private schools, including faith-based schools, to participate in the program by repealing the state’s so-called Blaine amendment, which prohibits public expenditures for supposedly “sectarian purposes.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that publicly funded vouchers go to parents and do not directly support private schools, including religious ones. California has its own state Blaine amendment, and Jerry Brown should take a cue from Gov. Sandoval and seek its repeal.
In Pennsylvania, Republican and Democratic legislators have joined to propose school-choice vouchers for children from lower-income families. In the first year of the program, vouchers would be available to students in failing schools; in the second year they would be available to students in a failing school district. Any low-income student would be eligible the third year.
So far, Jerry Brown seems determined to keep the current government-run education system in place without significant change. His large proposed cuts are likely intended to get voter backing for tax increases that will prop up the status quo. As other states are demonstrating, however, more imaginative paths are readily available.
On the campaign trail, the new governor claimed that, above all, he was independent and willing to stand up to the special interests. Now is his time to prove it.