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The Schrag Plan: Six Fixes for California Schools

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Writing at California Progress Report, the author Peter Schrag, who has forgotten more than I'll ever know about California, outlines six approaches that Gov.-elect Jerry Brown could take to improve and restore funding for the state's schools. Here they are:

    *Extend the temporary tax increases – the boost in the vehicle license fee, the sales taxes and income taxes -- that were enacted in 2009 and will expire in 2011. Voters in 2009 rejected the equivalent of such an extension, but if the extension were earmarked for education, they might react differently. That’s not a good budgeting strategy, but it would be good for the schools.

    *Restore fiscal authority to local districts, something that would simultaneously allow local voters to increase property taxes for schools and increase district responsibility in spending. It could also restore some interest and involvement from members of the business community and other local leaders in running for school board seats and/or in funding candidates, thereby reducing the power of the unions that now dominate many local elections.

    *Reform the pension and retiree health benefit arrangements for all future employees by requiring greater employee contributions and reducing the scope of, and eligibility of family members for, coverage.

    *Eliminate more categorical programs and state school mandates, like the 20-1 class size formula, except those required for assessment of school and student performance and those protecting vulnerable groups – ethnic and language minorities, the handicapped, the poor.

    *Continue to reduce the seniority factor, both in pay scales and in such things as bumping rights in teaching assignments. Develop more effective means of judging teacher performance, combining student achievement data, and principal and peer evaluations. This is not easy, but even a crude approximation might be better than the formulas based almost entirely on seniority and often irrelevant graduate degrees and credits.  

    *Institute a split property tax roll under which large businesses are assessed on the actual value of their real estate, not on the basis of some long-past property transfer or the frozen valuations of the 1970s.  If the gains from realistic assessments could be retained in the local community, and not, in effect, become the property of the state, a lot of Californians might leap at the chance.

    What do you think?

    My take: This seems like a coherent and reasonable approach, though politically difficult. (And the final measure, a split roll property tax, would touch off a political World War III, since it would represent a direct attack on Prop 13). One wonders if Brown is up for this much change.