Education Funding

California Leaders Set Up Own School Committees

By Joetta L. Sack — April 19, 2005 3 min read
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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell have formed separate committees to study ways to improve education in the state.

Both panels are planning to tackle at least some of the work of the Quality Education Commission, which was authorized by the legislature in 2002 to study the adequacy of education funding.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, appointed 15 members April 8 to the Committee for Educational Excellence, which, he announced in January, would supplant the Quality Education Commission. The new panel, led by Theodore R. Mitchell, the president of Occidental College, will have a broader scope in recommending school changes than the commission that was scrapped by the governor.

In particular, over the next two years, the Committee for Educational Excellence will examine not only the distribution and adequacy of education aid, but also governance, school leadership, and recruitment and retention of teachers and administrators.

The committee will take a collaborative approach to examining finances and adequacy when it meets for the first time next month, Mr. Mitchell said.

“This is a committee that is bipartisan because there are not Republican ideas or Democratic ideas, but ideas that will make a difference for kids,” he said. “That will be our watchword.”

BRIC ARCHIVE

Meanwhile, the P16 Council named April 11 by Mr. O’Connell, a former Democratic state senator, will focus on creating better transitions grade to grade from prekindergarten through college. The 44 members of the bipartisan panel will be led by Barry Munitz, the president and chief executive officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust and a former California State University chancellor.

The group, which is slated to meet for the first time on May 17, will build on Mr. O’Connell’s 1-year-old initiative to improve high schools, said Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for the state superintendent. The P16 Council, which Mr. O’Connell announced in December, does not have a time frame for its work.

“Different segments of California’s education system have been working in isolation for too long,” the state schools chief said in a statement last week. “We can better help our students meet the challenge of high standards and high expectations if the entire system is better coordinated.”

Some observers say that both committees have the potential to bridge factions that have been warring with one another on school issues.

Cooperation Pledged

Sacramento’s political scene has been particularly prickly this year, with many education groups fighting Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposals to change the state’s school aid formula and teacher-tenure system, implement merit pay, and require districts to shoulder more administrative costs. (“School Groups in ‘Dogfight’ With California Governor,” March 30, 2005.)

Mr. Mitchell of Occidental College said the governor’s commission would reach out to members of the teachers’ unions and other groups that Mr. Schwarzenegger has been at odds with recently.

“We want very much to have input from formally constituted groups and informal groups as well,” Mr. Mitchell said. “There have already been informal conversations with the teachers’ unions, and we hope to keep those lines open.”

Skeptics question the value of the new commission after the governor has already advanced a broad education agenda. In an April 8 conference call, California reporters hammered Mr. Mitchell with questions about why the governor was pushing forward with his far-reaching education proposals before the committee could do its research and make recommendations.

“Our task is to work on long-term policy prospects for state,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Whether they circumscribe some of governor’s proposals, I don’t know, because the committee hasn’t met yet.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger remains committed to his other proposals, added Julie Soderlund, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Ms. McLean, the spokesman for Superintendent O’Connell, said the P16 Council would not compete with the governor’s committee, and she added that the chairmen of the two panels were close colleagues from the world of higher education who would likely collaborate.

Further, some members, including San Francisco schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and University of California regent and former Paramount Pictures president Sherry L. Lansing, will be on both panels.

“The two commissions are going to work closely together, and are not contradictory in any way,” Ms. McLean said.

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