Monday, March 01, 2004

Super "Expensive" Tuesday

California’s Proposition 55 is all about instant gratification and as such is unquestionably the work of baby boomers, who in classic Peter Principle form, are now firmly entrenched in state government, local PTA, school boards across the state, the powerful teacher unions, and at every level of bureaucracy in state. They are the same folks that can’t ignore tempting credit card mailers from Citicards and insist that if we simply vote for this $12.3 billion dollar bond issue our children’s schools will magically be transformed into well lighted, uncrowded centers of learning. And they smile as they blissfully spout economic illiteracy while assuring us that we can clearly do this without raising taxes.

On Earth, harsh reality dictates that my second grader will be paying for prop 55 long after his own kids have graduated from high school. It is the miracle of compound interest that guarantees that the $12.3 billion in upfront money will balloon to at least $25 billion over the life of the bond. Care to guess how many classrooms won’t be built with the $12.5 billion in interest California taxpayers will fork over to pay this off?

With 12 percent of the state’s students, LA Unified is slated to receive about 25 percent of Prop 55’s proceeds. Apparently this is a reward for the district’s brilliant strategy of blowing millions of dollars on the Belmont Learning Center, sited on a toxic waste heap so fetid that the school will eventually have to be torn down without a single student ever attending school there. Has anybody noticed the missing cacophony of voices from the public school establishment calling for a revocation of LAUSD’s charter over this idiocy? Silence, dead palpable silence.

Proponents argue that schools are overcrowded and badly in need of repairs. Indeed, schools well may be overcrowded, but don’t forget that state law prescribes a maximum body count per classroom in Kindergarten through third grade classes of 20 students per teacher. That doesn’t sound terribly overcrowded, except the law suddenly created a demand for classroom space that didn’t exist prior to the reduction in classroom size. It is also instructive to remember that although everyone takes the overcrowding question at face value, statistically, across the country, there is no correlation between class size and student achievement.

Another stated problem and a corollary but unanswered question is why schools neglected long-term and short-term maintenance of schools? California already spends almost half of all tax revenue on public schools. If routine upkeep and capital improvements are being shunted to the sidelines, what, exactly, are the schools spending the money for? And if kids are foremost on everyone’s agenda why are school unions in places like San Diego putting the muscle on volunteers who provide services to neighborhood schools for free?

Prop 55 provides that local schools must provide 40 percent matching funds to receive funding from this bond issue. That sort of backwards incentive almost guarantees that Irvine schools are going to receive bond money that Compton just isn’t going to see.

On every level California refuses to think creatively about how to provide classroom space, consistently and predictably invoking the Temptations approach that “more taxes will solve everything.” The end result of that process faces us today and it certainly isn’t pretty.

And the Band Played On.

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