New leadership in CA, agenda doesn’t change
(Calif.) Although former Assemblyman Tony Thurmond was only sworn-in Monday as California’s twenty-eighth Superintendent of Public Instruction, a major piece of the education agenda for the next year has already been decided.
If press reports are accurate, Gov. Gavin Newsom—who also took the oath of office Monday—will propose spending $1.8 billion on early learning programs.
Thurmond, who won a hard-fought campaign by less than 2 percent, has a long list of ideas that he would like to pursue going forward. But like many things in Sacramento, his agenda will only become reality with the support of Newsom and one of the governor’s key supporters, the California Teachers Association.
“We must reduce the achievement gap and supply social services to children whose needs outside of the classroom are not being met,” Thurmond said in a statement Monday. “We cannot rest when so many of our students are falling short of meeting our high academic standards. We have to work harder and smarter for every student.”
Politically, Thurmond and Newsom are linked by the backing of the still powerful CTA.
The union played a critical role in helping Newsom win the June primary over former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragosa, who was the favorite of the charter school movement.
The teachers union was also instrumental in getting Thurmond elected in November over Marshall Tuck, a former charter school administrator who once worked for Villaragosa. The CTA helped Thurmond overcome an enormous fundraising advantage as well as a deficit of 86,000 on election night.
Weeks later, after all the ballots were counted, Thurmond won by 187,000 votes.
The Thurmond-Tuck race was by far the most expensive in state history for the superintendent’s office, costing more than $61 million—nearly double what was spent in 2014 when charter advocates first backed Tuck in his race against incumbent Tom Torlakson.
So the salient question becomes what direction does the CTA want education policy to go over the next four years.
Without a doubt, the biggest issue facing all public employee unions is the devastating ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer that ended mandatory dues for government workers who choose not to join a union.
Even before the ruling, lawmakers in Sacramento moved to soften the blow by requiring school districts to provide union representatives greater access to employee orientations. There are also new rules on how and when teachers are notified about opting out of the dues-paying membership.
It would not be far-fetched that if the CTA had other ideas, Newsom and Thurmond would both be ready to give their support.
Look also for a harder line on charter schools.
A small group of wealthy charter school advocates spent millions in the closing days of the June primary running ads decidedly negative and personal ad against Newsom. Some of the same tactics were thrown at Thurmond.
After losing in both races, it should not be surprising if new restrictions on charter growth or operations are proposed.
Teachers will also want the state to open up the treasury to enhance salaries and benefits. California has a rainy day fund of close to $14 billion, and although Newsom has said he will protect that money, no doubt there will be pressure on him to earmark some of it that will eventually become high wages for teachers.
Much more will be known later this week when the governor unveils his first budget proposal.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Newsom will propose spending $1.8 billion to expand child care services and pre-kindergarten programs to low-income families.
Even with the recent downturn on Wall Street, California coffers are swelling with almost $2.3 billion more in revenues that projected back in June. While that is good news, it is not likely to translate into big additional dollars for schools because of the voter-approved funding formula.
Under Proposition 98, schools are likely to receive in 2019-20, what they got this year.
Thurmond, who served on the school board of his hometown Richmond before election to the Assembly, has his own ideas too. Some that fit well with Newsom.
According to a release he sent out Monday, Thurmond also wants to expand early education and after school programs “to help close the achievement gap.”
He wants to make “college and career pathways accessible to all students,” and alleviate the “teacher shortage so that all schools have highly trained and certified teachers.”
Thurmond said that the state needs to improve the student data system to “allow better research and analysis of student learning.”
At the top of his list, however, is school safety. Thurmond wants to reduce gun violence and to provide more school-based mental and physical health services.