An Open Letter To CA Legislators

Dear California State Legislators,

July 18 marked Nelson Mandela International Day. There is so much to celebrate about Mandela but of particular relevance to your job is one of his most famous quotes: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

You and the governor run K-12 education in California. You write the Education Code, which governs schools run by government employees. No other government-operated enterprise in California receives more money.

I’m sure you know that kids aren’t likely to succeed without a quality education. You must also know that, despite spending of $16,000 per student, California is not providing quality educations to most of its six million students. Fewer than half perform at grade level and in a national exam California’s poor students performed worse than needy kids from all but one other state.

Surely you must suspect some of that poor student performance is due to unsatisfactory teacher performance. I’ll bet a majority of you believe teachers should not be guaranteed lifetime employment after only 16 months and that principals should be able to hire and fire employees so that every school is staffed with competent personnel. Presumably you also know you could make those changes with just 62 votes and the governor’s signature.

So, why don’t you? I suspect it’s because of fear of retribution from those who benefit from the current system. Known by acronyms such as “CTA” and “CFT,” they are big businesses and big spenders.

While Nelson Mandela was imprisoned by bars, too many California legislators are imprisoned by fear.

But you shouldn’t be afraid. Fearlessness will be rewarded. Fear didn’t stop State Senator Scott Wiener from leading legislation to de-criminalize HIV status or State Assembly Member Laura Friedman from taking on her city’s most powerful political forces to preserve funding for local services. And it doesn’t stop State Assembly Member Shirley Weber of San Diego from seeking changes to tenure-granting laws that force school districts to make lifetime-employment decisions about teachers after only 16 months on the job. California’s schoolchildren could use more such fearlessness.

One change you could make of particular benefit to California’s poorer students would be to push school districts to pay more to teachers and specialists willing to work in high-poverty zones. Another would be to ensure Local Control Funding Formula dollars make it to the high-needs students it was designed to help instead of being drained by retirement costs. Another would be for you to stop subsidizing health insurance for retired state employees, which would free up more money for higher education and set a powerful example for school districts similarly burdened.

Mandela also said “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” All it takes is 62 of you and the governor to treat California’s schoolchildren better.

Govern For California supports legislators who govern in the general interest.

David Crane
Govern For California


Originally appeared on Medium, 7/21/18.