Out of Control Policy Blog

Tom McClintock on California Education Budget

California State Senator Tom McClintock has one of the funniest and really saddest takes on the California education budget in the LA Daily News:

To understand education budget, start with math
By Tom McClintock

The multimillion-dollar campaign paid by starving teachers unions has finally placed our sadly neglected schools at the center of the budget debate.

Across California, children are bringing home notes warning of dire consequences if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's scorched-earth budget is approved -- a budget that slashes Proposition 98 public-school spending from $42.2 billion this year all the way down to $44.7 billion next year.

That should be proof enough that our math programs are suffering.
As a public-school parent, I have given this crisis a great deal of thought and have a modest suggestion to help weather these dark days.

Maybe -- as a temporary measure only -- we should spend our school dollars on our schools. I realize that this is a radical departure from current practice, but desperate times require desperate measures.

The governor proposed spending $10,084 per student from all sources. Devoting all of this money to the classroom would require turning tens of thousands of school bureaucrats, consultants, advisers and specialists onto the streets with no means of support or marketable job skills, something that no enlightened social democracy should allow.

So I will begin by excluding from this discussion the entire budget of the State Department of Education, as well as the pension system, debt service, special education, child care, nutrition programs and adult education. I also propose setting aside $3 billion to pay an additional 30,000 school bureaucrats $100,000 per year with the proviso that they stay away from the classroom and pay their own hotel bills at conferences.

This leaves a mere $6,937 per student, which, for the duration of the funding crisis, I propose devoting to the classroom.

To illustrate how we might scrape by at this subsistence level, let's use a hypothetical school of 180 students with only $1.2 million to get through the year.

We have all seen the pictures of filthy bathrooms, leaky roofs, peeling paint and crumbling plaster to which our children have been condemned. I propose that we rescue them from this squalor by leasing out luxury commercial office space. Our school will need 4,800 square feet for five classrooms (the sixth class is gym). At $33 per foot, an annual lease will cost $158,400.

This will provide executive washrooms, around-the-clock janitorial service, wall-to-wall carpeting, utilities and music in the elevators. We'll also need new desks to preserve the professional ambience.

Next, we'll need to hire five teachers, but not just any teachers. I propose hiring only associate professors from the California State University at their level of pay. Since university professors generally assign more reading, we'll need 12 of the latest edition, hardcover books for each student at an average $75 per book, plus an extra $5 to have the student's name engraved in gold leaf on the cover.

Since our conventional gym classes haven't stemmed the childhood obesity epidemic, I propose replacing them with an annual membership at a private health club for $39.95 per month. Finally, we'll hire an $80,000 administrator with a $40,000 secretary because, well, I don't know exactly why, but we always have.

Our bare-bones budget comes to this:
5 classrooms -- $158,400
150 desks @ $130 -- $19,500
180 annual health club memberships @ $480 -- $86,400
2,160 textbooks @ $80 -- $172,800
5 CSU associate professors @ $67,093 -- $335,465
1 administrator -- $80,000
1 secretary -- $40,000
24 percent faculty and staff benefits -- $109,312
Offices, expenses and insurance -- $30,000
TOTAL -- $1,031,877L

The school I have just described is the school we're paying for. Maybe it's time to ask why it's not the school we're getting.

Other, wiser, governors have made the prudent decision not to ask such embarrassing questions of the education-industrial complex because it makes them very angry. Apparently the unions believe that with enough of a beating, Gov. Schwarzenegger will see things the same way.

Perhaps. But there's an old saying that you can't fill a broken bucket by pouring more water into it. Maybe it's time to fix the bucket.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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