An Open Letter To California’s Senate Education Committee

There’s a scene in the Monty Python film Life of Brian in which a committee meets to discuss a resolution condemning Roman oppression while their hero, Brian, is being led to his crucifixion. A resolution wasn’t the sort of action Brian needed at that time. But at least he got a discussion.

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Bugs In California’s K-12 System

Imagine if one of Apple’s products had a software bug. Do you think Apple’s management would act immediately to fix it? Of course it would. Now ask the same question about California’s K-12 school system, which operates under rules established by the state legislature and governor. Would they act immediately to fix a bug in that system? They should — but they don’t. Nowhere is that failure more apparent presently than in the school district in the state’s capital city, Sacramento.

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“You Have To See Sisyphus As A Happy Man.”

Those are the inspiring — yes, inspiring! — words of Wolfgang Schäuble, longtime German politician and Angela Merkel’s finance minister until 2017. When asked in a Financial Times interview why he had once compared himself with Sisyphus, who was condemned forever to push a stone up a hill only to see it roll back down, Schäuble said:

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Pusillanimous In Sacramento

Some legislators are afraid to take on the toughest special interest.

In 2012 the California Legislature and Governor Jerry Brown asked voters to approve a big sales and income tax increase to better fund schools. Voters approved the measure and per-pupil spending has risen 60 percent since then to $17,160 per student. One would expect schools to be faring well.

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The Economist: California’s teachers’ strikes conceal a conflict of generations

Teachers are striking over pay as pensions and health-care costs are eating up budgets

“I like cats, unicorns and peace, but I love my teacher!” declares one sign, with two rainbows, held by a young pupil at Crocker Highlands Elementary School in Oakland on a weekday morning. She should have been at school, but instead she joined her mother and thousands of Oakland’s teachers outside City Hall. Oakland’s teachers are asking for higher salaries, support staff and more. Teachers in nearby Sacramento may be next to put down chalk and pick up placards.

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California’s Tax Increases Haven’t Translated Into Service Increases

Proposals to increase federal taxes are very much in the national news lately. Some of the proposals are designed to expand programs but many are about income or wealth redistribution. In contrast, tax increases at the state level of government are usually about expanding programs or addressing deficits. That’s because states provide ~90 percent of domestic government services and have balanced budget requirements while the federal government provides few services and isn’t required to balance its budget.

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MacGuffins, Innumeracy And Politics

Alfred Hitchcock often made use in his films of a “MacGuffin,” which according to Merriam-Webster is “an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance.” (emphasis added.) The MacGuffin itself is usually irrelevant to the plot. What matters is the effect it has on the audience.

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From Whom The Money Flows

Why support must continue long after winning elections.

Pasted below are screenshots from opensecrets.org showing 2017–18 campaign committee* fundraising by the two most senior members of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the US House of Representatives. Until the Democrats flipped the House in November, Republican Kevin Brady was the Chairman and Democrat Richard Neal the Ranking Member (the most senior member of the minority party). After the flip, Neal is now the Chairman and Brady the Ranking Member. First let’s look at Brady’s fundraising…

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Could California pension system be underwater?

Rolling up big paper profits on stocks and other capital investments during 2017 and most of 2018 was very easy, and the California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation’s largest pension trust fund, took full advantage of the opportunity.

Its strong earnings, particularly in 2017, narrowed a yawning gap between its assets and future liabilities for pension payments to state and local government workers.

But it was short-lived and CalPERS has not only regressed but could actually be underwater because of a new way of calculating its liabilities.

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Rationalizing California's Corrections Compensation

Later this year California Governor Gavin Newsom will negotiate a new contract with state prison workers that must be approved by the legislature. The consequences are big, especially for discretionary programs supplied by the state’s General Fund.

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LAUSD’s Temporary Settlement

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Unified School District reached agreement with striking teachers. The settlement is at best temporary because structural issues were not addressed.

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Accretion of Discount

Those of you interested in state, local and school district pension obligations should add an esoteric phrase to your vocabularies: “Accretion of Discount.”

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AP: Strike or no strike, pensions problematic for LA schools

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Strike or no strike, after a deal is ultimately reached on a contract for Los Angeles teachers, the school district will still be on a collision course with deficit spending because of pensions and other financial obligations.

School systems across California are experiencing burdensome payments to the state pension fund while struggling to improve schools.

The problem is especially acute for districts like Los Angeles Unified that will see a financial hit in part because of steadily declining enrollment.

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LA Times: As teachers’ strike looms, L.A. schools aren’t failing us. We’re failing them

On the eve of a massively disruptive strike that would hit families at more than 900 schools, Los Angeles Unified teachers say they deserve a better deal on pay and working conditions.

The district has given some ground in recent days but argues that on at least the money issues, budget projections are grim despite a current reserve, and you can’t give away what you don’t have.

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Sacramento’s Silliest Subsidy

In December I turned 65 and became eligible for Medicare, the national health insurance program for people my age and older. Medicare is fantastic — and fantastically cheap — insurance. But, believe it or not, if I was a retired California state employee, I would also be entitled to a state-provided health insurance subsidy that this fiscal year will cost taxpayers $2.6 billion — more than double the cost ten years ago.

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Facts Matter: Spending Per California Student

If I had one wish for 2019 it would be that journalists and elected officials cite original sources of information about K-12 spending in California, a subject about which far too many too often cite unauthoritative sources.

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One Last Task For Jerry Brown

Prevent a strike at LAUSD

On January 7, Gavin Newsom will be sworn in as governor of California. On January 10, a strike has been scheduled by the LA teachers’ union (UTLA) against LA’s school system (LAUSD). A strike will impact 600,000 students — including many who get health and nutrition services at school — and their families plus the members of other unions that, unlike UTLA, have reached agreement with LAUSD.

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