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Contra Costa Times Your Turn

Times Editorial was Wrong about State's Education Moves. Editorial response by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, published on December 16, 2011.

Ignoring the price tag doesn't make it free.

While every Christmas shopper understands this simple truth, the Times unfortunately ignored it in its recent offhand look at education issues facing California.

First, it concluded that our state should join the 11 others that have applied for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, to provide schools with "the flexibility educators have been seeking."

Unfortunately, what strikes the Times as flexibility comes wrapped in nearly 100 pages of federal red tape, spelling out nearly a dozen new mandates that would cost between $2 billion and $3 billion to carry out—without a dollar of new resources.

Who among us believes—with a financial emergency facing our schools—that now is the time to undertake elaborate and often unproven programs dictated by Washington, the very people who gave us No Child Left Behind in the first place?

Not the state PTA. Not business leaders. Not school administrators. Not teachers.

The same one-sided analysis holds true for the Times' lament about the rejection of California's recent application for federal Race to the Top round three funding.

While I strongly disagree with some of the policies embedded in this program, I signed on to California's application because I was ready to set those concerns aside to let local school district efforts proceed.

The state's fiscal situation, however, required that our application shield other districts—as well as the state itself—from the costs of committing to new programs. However, federal bureaucrats would have none of it, rejecting our application out of hand.

They did so because we would not commit to a one-size-fits-all model for improving schools, or dictating and paying for an overhaul of the systems used to evaluate teachers at all 10,000 California schools.

Developing and implementing the new evaluation systems alone would cost roughly $480 million—10 times the entire amount Washington was prepared to award.

It's unfortunate that the seven school districts that have embraced all elements of this program won't get a share of these dollars. Together, they represent nearly 1 million students—more than several of the states now in line for these funds.

But bowing to federal demands would have shifted significant new costs elsewhere—including to more than 5 million students attending other California schools that would have gotten nothing in the bargain.

The Times seems to have forgotten its previous positions opposing "unfunded mandates." The people of California voted into our constitution a prohibition of such top-down cost shifts, which means that the governor and I could not impose the federal edicts on local schools without paying for them through other cuts in the state education budget.

The unstated but inevitable consequence of the Times' stand? A new round of school closures and teacher layoffs. Sounds more like a road to nowhere than a Race to the Top.

Tom Torlakson is the state superintendent of public instruction.

Questions: Communications Division | communications@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0818 
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