This has been a breakthrough week when it comes to math and reality at the Sacramento bureau of the L.A. Times. Evan Halper actually wrote a story that noted the compromise budget slightly increased spending instead of continuing his career-long, grossly misleading practice of describing a cut in a projected spending increase as an actual, real-world, hard-dollar cut.
But the LAT’s George Skelton continues to reside in an Alternate Math Universe. Here’s what he wrote today:
This Legislature is the most polarized — the most budget-gridlocked — since, well, probably ever. Republicans flat out won’t raise taxes, at least easily identifiable taxes such as income and sales. Democrats have cut as deeply as they’re going to into education and social services.
Social services spending has been flat — but education has absolutely not been cut.
But we’re going to hear this junk nonstop. The minute that budget is enacted, the fight over the 2009-10 budget begins. If Skelton, the governor and Democratic lawmakers and most of the media get their way, here’s how it will be framed: Will Californians finally accept tax hikes or will we (metaphorically) begin beating innocent school kids by forcing more cuts in schools? Will the cheapskates punish the children? Oh, the humanity.
Bunk. Here’s the truth:
1) School spending has not been cut. It is up by 78 percent — far more than the rate of inflation and enrollment growth — over the past 10 years.
2) By a 3-to-1 margin, school superintendents say they would rather have more flexibility than more money. That’s because …
3) The K-12 budget is treated like a jobs program by Sacramento. The Legislative Analyst’s Office says $2 billion could easily be freed up if 40-odd mandates creating jobs of marginal value were scrapped. It’s no wonder that …
4) The most comprehensive study ever of California public schools, overseen by Stanford experts, found no correlation between spending and school quality. If there is …
5) How come we haven’t seen significant gains? Adjusted for inflation, we spend more than ever per student.
The conventional wisdom will ignore all these points. The conventional wisdom will be wrong.
I’m a libertarian lite, not one who scorns “government schools.” I’m not a dolt. I want good public schools. I agree that good schools should be the No. 1 priority of the state government.
But except for the growth of charter schools, the sort of serious school reform seen in so many other states just hasn’t been attempted. The result, as both the Stanford study and a Pacific Research Institute study point out, is that there is a wide range of performance among school districts with similar demographics. This means that much of the school budget is spent in ways that amount to throwing good money after bad.
In a state with a rational education policy, everyone would agree that the underperforming schools should emulate the overperforming schools. Instead, everything is boiled down to the manifestly untrue argument that school quality is a function of school spending — an argument the CTA has mystifyingly got most of the media to buy.
Why would so many journos go along with this? Don’t they remember the SacBee’s awesome series on categorical spending from a few years ago? Don’t they realize teachers unions operate out of self-interest?
I don’t get it.
Posted by Chris Reed