Even though California voters approved $7.3 billion in new bonds in November to repair schools and build new classrooms, that funding won’t begin to meet the state’s continuing need for more classroom space, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said last week during his State of the State address.
Laying out just a few of his education priorities for the first year of his second term, the Republican said he would ask the legislature to approve $11.6 billion in additional bonds to build another 15,000 classrooms and to renovate 40,000 more. That would be on top of the 10,000 new classrooms and the 38,000 that will be renovated thanks to the bond measure approved last fall.
“We must invest in education,” said Gov. Schwarzenegger, who approached the podium on crutches because of a broken leg from a skiing accident. “I have seen the need with my own eyes as I’ve toured schools throughout the state. I went to a school with bedsheets on the windows rather than blinds. I went to a school that was so overcrowded, the gym locker room was used for teaching space.”
In addition to building and renovating school facilities, the governor said he wants to add public accountability to the state education system, giving parents easy access to such information as whether a school offers preschool, art, or music and data on a school’s dropout and graduation rates.
“If you can get information about a car online, why can’t you get information about your local school online?” he said in his Jan. 9 speech to a joint session of the legislature.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, a former Democratic state lawmaker who also won re-election last year to his job, which is officially nonpartisan, praised the governor’s plan to make information on local schools more transparent.
“School accountability depends on openness about school progress,” Mr. O’Connell said in a press release.
The superintendent also said he welcomes a continuing emphasis by the governor on career and technical education.
“With our world-class content standards for career-technical education, students can benefit from a rigorous academic experience at the same time they are gaining relevant experience that will prepare them for success in the increasingly competitive global economy,” Mr. O’Connell said.
Gov. Schwarzenegger has started the new year with a strong effort to find common ground with Democrats—a theme that was evident in his speech.
“This year I want to talk about ‘our vision,’ ” he said, “because I think we all want the same thing for Californians.”
Barbara Kerr, the president of the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said that, for now, the union’s relationship with the governor has improved.
“It’s better than 2005,” she said, referring to the year the CTA and Mr. O’Connell launched a legal challenge against the governor over funds the state borrowed from the education funding formula to help balance the budget. The matter since has been settled.
While building classrooms is important, Ms. Kerr added, “equally or perhaps more important” is having enough qualified teachers in those classrooms.
In his budget, released Jan. 10, the governor calls for a $10 million initiative called the EnCorps Teachers Program, a public-private partnership with business and industry to attract 2,000 experienced retirees into teaching, with training to take place through the state’s existing intern program.
Mr. Schwarzenegger already has scored points among Democrats—who control both houses of the legislature—with a plan for almost universal health-care coverage of the state’s more than 6.5 million uninsured residents, including about 750,000 children.
Under his plan, all uninsured children whose families are below 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines—or about $60,000 for a family of four—would be eligible for the coverage, even if they were not legal residents.
Children above that threshold would be required to be covered by private insurance. Employers that don’t provide insurance, as well as doctors and hospitals, also would be required to help pay for the program, which is expected to cost about $12 billion a year.
A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2007 edition of Education Week as Calif. Governor Seeks $11.6 Billion More for Facilities