There is a lot of talk in California right now about how the budget crisis will affect education investments, and I write investments very deliberately because education spending is a form of investment that is supposed to yield future returns. It’s evident that we’ll have to deal with the budget hole by cutting education spending rather dramatically, in fact it is absolutely unavoidable because education spending is about 50% of the state budget and when you include all of the other initiative mandated spending, the state government controls less than 20% of the actual budget… with a $26b hole in the budget the state could cut every dollar spent on things not mandated by voters and there would still be a deficit.
Okay, so we’re going to have a less generously funded school system, a system that already competes for last place in the country in terms of educational quality. There is also the reality that we will dramatically reduce our funding for community colleges and at the same time raise fees, a reality for the California State University system and the University of California system.
While we are going through this fiscal realignment is it not also appropriate to ask what we are getting out of our education system? K-12 is a basket case and parents with economic means opt out of the system while those on lower income tiers are effectively denied something every child deserves, a quality education.
Community colleges are long held up as filling a gap in the higher education system but is the outcome valuable for the students, not to mention the taxpayers who fund the system? California’s state university system ($3.5 billion from the state) is on par with other state university systems and the UC system ($18.5 billion from the state) is world class, on par with private institutions considered the best in the world.
Here’s a proposal to consider which would address all of the issues on the table:
1) Blow up and recreate K-12 education. There is no evidence to support the notion that pre-K (Headstart) does anything for children beyond providing state funded day care, so eliminate it and refocus K-12 on accomplishing primary and secondary education and chunking 9-12 grades to two years of traditional high school and 2 years of college prep.
2) Eliminate the community college system. An AA degree is worthless in the real world, and if the 2 years of college prep courses in what is now high school do their job, students will be ready to move to a 4 year university.
3) Expand the CSU system.
4) Establish a vocational training system. Not every young person is going to be an accountant, lawyer, or computer programmer. In addition to mechanical, building trades, and healthcare professionals, the state would greatly benefit from a vocational system that trains young people for careers in restaurant and food service, environmental vocations, and transportation, among many others.
5) Privatize the UC system. The $18b that would be saved could be devoted to #3 and #4, with enough left over to fund a financial aide system for qualifying state resident students. The UC system has proven that it can compete with other private institutions, let’s allow them to fully compete with the private institutions by removing the feigned outrage over executive salaries and fee increases. If we have an expectation that the UC system should remain world class, then unleash it from the shackles of political oversight.