Facing a highly unwelcome recall election this year, embattled California governor Gavin Newsom is now proposing multi-billion-dollar education initiatives, including adding another grade for 4-year-olds. But is he trying to spend his way out of a potentially career-razing moment in his governorship?
Newsom is pitching this proposal as a prescriptive for lower-income families most significantly impacted by over a year of COVID-19 lockdowns and remote learning. Indeed, these Californians suffered privations that many did not – either across the country or the developed world.
Often, lower-income families had two working parents who strained to support their children at home during quarantines and very regularly had to take them to their workplace with them. As opposed to families of greater means who could afford makeshift classrooms at home presided over by a non-working parent, the stay-at-home orders made remote learning for many lower-income families anywhere from challenging to untenable. And single-parent households faced even greater logistical challenges in attempting to normalize education for their children during this unprecedented year.
A Taxing Problem
So, on the face of it, these seem like worthy attempts to deal with the as yet unknown short and long-term impacts of COVID on California’s most needy students. This super-sizing of education would be paid for with a massive influx of tax dollars in a state where residents now often pay as much or more state tax than federal tax. This price-gouging of the electorate has resulted in an historic pilgrimage away from the Golden State. But Newsom is doubling down.
At a cost of 20 billion dollars over several years, if approved by the legislature, Newsom is betting big with his constituents’ money that this proposal will both address an educational need and help deliver him out of the maw of the recall election. Aside from the transitional year to Kindergarten – a proposal pitched by actor/director and notorious Trump-hater Rob Reiner back in 2006 – funding would also be earmarked for after-school and summer programs for lower-income families. This extra year also happily serves the current ends of the Critical Race Theorists who are rolling out professional inculcation of Ibram X. Kendi’s incendiary ideas at lightning speed to California teachers – and would give them an extra year during which to indoctrinate 4-year-olds into the race-first fold.
But as is often the case with hasty fix-it proposals – the devil is in the details.
The Politics Behind the Plan
Such a massive plan is the kind of cornerstone on which campaigns are built. Newsom could have pitched this proposal before being elected in 2018 – or any time since. That he is now making such a dramatic pitch could be seen by the cynical as a shell-game distraction from the serious concerns Californians on both sides of the political aisle have about his leadership – and from the looming recall election. After the egregiously elitist moment when he was caught violating his own lockdown orders back in November at an exorbitantly pricey Napa Valley restaurant, Newsom’s new policy proposal sends a loud message to lower-income citizens that he feels their pain.
The governor is also currying favor with one of the most influential teachers’ unions in the country, which exercised its sheer power and political will over the last year. Based on the disclosure of emails, it was revealed that the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) put pressure on the CDC to stutter-step on full school re-openings before the 2020/2021 school year – and the CDC complied. This impressive display of political might has certainly not been lost on Newsom, who knows full well that if teachers’ unions can strongly influence the decision-making of the Centers for Disease Control, it could make life very difficult for him indeed in a dicey recall election.
More Effective Solutions
As usual, however, the proposal looks a lot like the evergreen and discredited impetus of elected officials to throw money at a problem rather than drill down on the best path forward toward efficacious results. Currently, California’s classrooms have 32 to 34 students for every teacher. That ratio is 24-1 for grades K – 3. This is likely the foremost consideration among parents who opt for private schools and charter schools: smaller class sizes.
By putting educational funding toward reducing class sizes, instead of after-school programs and another grade, Newsom could use one stone to fell two birds. He would vastly improve teacher access, education, and learning opportunities for every student in California while simultaneously beating back the “threat” to public education represented by charter and private schools.
Of course, requiring all elected officials to have their children attend public school would be the most cost-efficient remedy for what ails. With demonstrative, hands-on re-investment in public education by the most powerful and privileged and following the example of elected leaders, this measure would raise all boats. But then Newsom wouldn’t have been able to send his children to the elite private schools they attended during the COVID-19 lockdowns when 99% of other children were forced to learn at home.
On the surface of it, however, the governor’s proposal at least sounds good. And in a year where he is clinging to power like a man on a precarious political ledge above a yawning, career-ending crevasse, it may be enough.
But not if Caitlyn Jenner has anything to say about it.
Read more from author Pennel Bird.