K-12 Education

Correction, Governor Newsom

Earlier this week, students in my public policy class at Stanford talked about their experiences as high school students during COVID. Several attended California public schools that were shut down longer than anywhere else in the country. The consequences went well beyond learning loss to include depression and greater difficulties for poorer parents who relied on school lunches or could no longer drop kids at schools while they went to work. Coincidentally, Governor Newsom just gave an interview about that same subject to a reporter who summarized the conversation this way:

But that last line is not correct. At 2:11 in the interview Mr. Newsom incorrectly claims that local control of schools is a “constitutional construct,” but there is no such requirement in the California Constitution. Even the “local control funding formula” he cited to support his assertion is statutory, not constitutional, and therefore as subject to amendment by the governor and a simple majority of Legislature as is everything else in the Education Code that governs California school districts. There are countless examples of state control over schools in California, which is why Mr. Newsom was correct when he admitted that he and the Legislature “allowed” local control during the pandemic. That’s exactly what they did.

Mr. Newsom is just the latest version of the elected California state official who claims not to have authority over schools when it suits their political purposes. In the case of COVID, the governor and Legislature didn’t fight to open schools because they were too afraid to fight with school employee unions who preferred schools closed. In contrast, governors and legislators in some other states, including gutsy officials in some blue states, fought hard to keep schools open.

Parents of school-aged children in California shouldn’t have to worry that they short change their kids by sending them to public schools. But worry they must, and that will continue for so long as they elect officials who don’t back students and their families even when it means taking on school employee unions.