Education

Foes Seek Cooperation After Calif. Showdown

By Linda Jacobson — November 15, 2005 6 min read
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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to look for ways to join with his political opponents to improve California’s failing schools, observers in the state say, instead of pushing proposals like the ones state voters firmly rejected in a special election last week.

The defeat Nov. 8 of all three Schwarzenegger-backed ballot measures of direct concern to schools and teachers gave the state teachers’ union and Democrats a decisive victory over the Republican actor-turned-politician, who faces re-election next year.

“He’s really going to have to reform education at the local level,” said Lisa Snell, the director of education and child welfare at the Reason Foundation, a think tank in Los Angeles that espouses free-market-based policies. “I think he’s going to have to work within districts rather than trying to pass statewide, one-size-fits-all reforms.”

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Gov. Schwarzenegger did not make any comments the day after the election, but a spokesman, Rob Stutzman, said in a briefing with reporters that the results showed that the voters did not want a special election and that they want “the problems of this state to be fixed here in Sacramento.”

“There’s important work to be done and important cooperation to be forged,” he said, adding that the governor plans to work “across the aisle” to address issues such as the state budget and teacher quality.

The ideas embraced by the governor met with a string of rebuffs:

• With the defeat of Proposition 74, new teachers will continue to serve a two-year probationary period. Proposition 74 would have extended the period to five years and made it easier to dismiss ineffective teachers. Fifty-five percent of the voters cast ballots against the proposal.

National organizations focused on teaching were watching the measure.

Josh Greenman, the director of strategy and communications at the Teaching Commission, a privately organized group based in New York City that advocates a broad range of teaching policy, called the vote “an unfortunate outcome.”

But he said more still could be done to improve teacher quality, including rewarding high-performing teachers and creating incentives to attract teachers to low-performing schools.

• An overwhelming 62 percent of voters also turned down Proposition 76, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plan to place new limits on state spending and to make Proposition 98—the minimum-school-funding guarantee that voters passed in 1988—more subject to annual decisions by the governor and state lawmakers.

“I do believe that with the defeat of Proposition 76, the people of California have once again sent a clear message that they want to invest in public education,” said state schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell, who had joined the California Teachers Association in campaigning against the measure.

In defeating Proposition 76, Californians echoed the protective attitude toward education spending that voters in Colorado showed on Nov. 1, when that state voted to suspend its strict Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Colorado’s TABOR law has limited annual spending growth and kept the state from fully funding an education finance formula. (“Colorado Voters Suspend Revenue Limits”, Nov. 9, 2005.)

• Finally, on a measure that would have affected thousands of public employees—including public school teachers—53.5 percent of voters rejected Proposition 75, which would have stopped such employees’ labor unions from using dues or fees for political purposes without getting annual consent from individual members.

The CTA, the California affiliate of the National Education Association, and other unions argued that the proposal would hinder their efforts to fight ballot initiatives that they viewed as damaging to public education.

“Let’s hope the governor has finally heard the real will of the people and understands that his agenda was wrong for California,” CTA President Barbara Kerr said in a statement. “It’s time for the governor to keep his promises to our students by giving our schools the resources they need so all children can succeed.”

The three ballot measures last week that would have affected education had set up a bitter—and expensive—battle between the governor and the California Teachers Association. (“Calif. Teachers Rally Against Ballot Measures”, Oct. 26, 2005.)

Meanwhile in New York state, voters last week rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have altered the budget process by requiring a contingency budget, based on the prior year’s budget, to take effect if the governor didn’t win approval for his spending plan by May 1 of each year. Supporters of the measure said it would lead to budgets that were on time—something that has happened only once in the past 21 years—and greater fiscal accountability.

Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, opposed the amendment, as did 53 percent of the voters. Mr. Pataki said the proposal was dangerous and would interfere with a governor’s responsibility to run the government.

Chance for Common Ground

The fate of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s favored measures in California’s special off-year election was widely viewed as a test of the governor’s 2006 re-election chances. Mr. Schwarzenegger, who came to office two years ago with the recall of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, has seen his approval ratings slide this year, even though he has said he would like to run again.

In stumping for the initiatives, Gov. Schwarzenegger had contended they were needed to reform state government and bring spending under control.

After his defeats last week, Ms. Snell of the Reason Foundation said that shifting his attention to helping schools in “financial and academic distress” would be an agenda on which Gov. Schwarzenegger could find more common ground with his opponents.

As the governor prepares for his State of the State Address in January, she said, he might also be preparing an early-childhood-education initiative in the hope of pre-empting Rob Reiner, the actor-director who has become a leading advocate of universal preschool and is considered a potential Democratic candidate for governor next year.

Mr. Reiner spearheaded a successful early-childhood-services ballot initiative in 1998 and hopes to qualify another measure for the June 2006 ballot that would raise taxes on wealthy Californians to pay for preschool for 4-year-olds across the state, regardless of their parents’ income levels.

Ms. Snell called Mr. Schwarzenegger’s chances of being elected to a second term “weak to fair to middling.”

In addition to the failure of the three education-related measures, the governor’s plan to transfer the job of legislative redistricting from state legislators to a panel of judges was turned down by nearly 60 percent of the voters. Californians defeated all eight measures on the statewide ballot, including one that would have required parents to be notified at least 48 hours before an abortion is performed on a minor. More than 52 percent of the voters rejected the proposition.

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