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Education issues start to take shape in California’s governor’s race

Sarah Favot | October 25, 2017

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Antonio Villaraigosa and Delaine Eastin

Even though it’s eight months until next year’s primary election, the candidates hoping to be California’s next governor are starting to reveal their positions on education.

The key issues being discussed? Whether mayors should be given control of their local school boards, a moratorium on new charter schools, and more money for early childhood education.

Also, California Teachers Association announced its endorsement in the governor’s race last week.

  • Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in an interview he believes in mayoral control for all California school districts.
  • In a blog post on Medium, Delaine Eastin, former state superintendent of public instruction, called for a moratorium on new charter schools throughout the state.
  • Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has talked on the campaign trail about investing more money in early childhood education, as has state Treasurer John Chiang. Newsom has also talked about his opposition to for-profit charter schools and about holding charter schools more accountable for how they spend public money.
  • Villaraigosa is the only candidate who would commit to reforming teacher tenure laws.
  • CTA endorsed Newsom last week.

It’s no surprise that Eastin and Villaraigosa are especially vocal about education on the campaign trail. Both have said education was one of the top reasons they entered the race.

Eastin was elected the state’s top education official in 1994 and served through 2003.

In an interview with Capital Public Radio on Oct. 4, Villaraigosa said he believes California mayors should have control of their local school boards.

“I believe that because somebody’s got to be accountable,” Villaraigosa said. “When one person is ultimately accountable, then they get elected or defeated at the polls based on that accountability. What we have currently is a situation where, in too many of these cities, you’ve got seven people who aren’t accountable for success.”

As LA mayor, Villaraigosa attempted to take control of the LA Unified school board, as the mayor has in cities like Chicago and New York. The Legislature passed a bill, signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that would have given him partial control, but the courts said the law was unconstitutional.

An editor’s note to the Capital Public Radio story notes that Villaraigosa has not yet committed to pushing for a new law to give mayors control of school districts, but he supports the idea and will reveal his education policy proposals later in the campaign.

Villaraigosa also supported the Vergara v. California lawsuit that challenged state laws regarding teacher tenure, dismissal, and layoffs. He said he believes that a process where teachers can receive tenure after two years isn’t long enough and that it’s too difficult to fire teachers.

“I just think the buck has to stop with the governor,” he said.

The Sacramento Bee also reported earlier this month on Villaraigosa’s relationship with unions, particularly the teachers union. The story quoted Gloria Marinez, an officer at United Teachers Los Angeles, who predicted the union would campaign against Villaraigosa with the message that he is “bad for public schools.”

“I don’t think teachers forget things that easily,” Martinez told the Sacramento Bee. “Here in LA, teachers are like, ‘Anybody but Villaraigosa.’”

Eastin, in a post published on Medium titled “California Needs a Moratorium on Charter Schools,” wrote: “Too many charters are escaping the rigorous financial oversight, auditing and reporting rules that are required of traditional public schools. They are also not open to all children — cherry picking the best and brightest students and even illegally turning away special education children. In some districts, this exclusivity, combined with aggressive expansion, is leaving vulnerable children in traditional public schools with inadequate resources.” She didn’t provide any examples.

By law, charter schools must accept all students and fill seats based on an open lottery. José Cole-Gutiérrez, who heads LA Unified’s Charter Schools Division, said recently that the number of complaints that charter schools are “creaming the crop” have gone down. LA has the largest number of charter schools in the country.

“The best charters accept all students, have dedicated teachers and strong instructional leaders as principals, open board meetings and minutes, as well as transparent financial reporting overseen by state-accredited auditors,” Eastin wrote.

Eastin served on the board of SIATech California Charter Schools, which operates charter high schools around the state.

She said charter schools have been “co-opted by multimillion-dollar industries.” She said she won’t accept any campaign contributions from state or national charter school organizations.

The education reform community and charter school supporters poured millions into the last statewide election in 2016, outspending teachers unions, and the LA Unified school board race this spring. In the past, teachers unions typically outspent charter school supporters.

California Teachers Association’s backing is also viewed as a key endorsement. CTA is one of Sacramento’s most powerful lobbyists.

Of the top four Democrats running for mayor, Eastin has raised the least amount of money: $321,000 compared to Newsom’s $13 million, who leads the pack in fundraising. Chiang has raised $6.8 million, and Villaraigosa has raised $5 million. John Cox is the fundraising leader on the Republican side with $3.2 million.

The top two vote-getters in the June primary will head to the November general election.

Gavin Newsom

Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco, who leads in polls as well as fundraising, talked about the platform he would adopt at the state Democratic Party’s annual convention in Sacramento in May and included priorities on education.

The Los Angeles Times reported ending childhood poverty in the state would be his “north star.” Newsom also called for the expansion of early childhood education, creating full-service community schools, and making community college free for all of the state’s students.

EdSource reported about Newsom’s comments three weeks ago at the K-12 Water Cooler gathering sponsored by the Advancement Project in Sacramento. Newsom said he was “vehemently against” private for-profit charter schools, and that more scrutiny is needed of how of the growing charter school sector is spending public funds.

“I am not ideologically opposed to charter schools, and there are some extraordinary charter schools out there,” Newsom said, according to EdSource. “But I am all about accountability and transparency. It is public money, and we need to be accountable for that.”

Chiang talked about education and more funding for early education at a panel at UC Berkeley.

According to the student newspaper, The Daily Californian, Chiang said: “If (you’re) investing in higher education, (you’re) too late. If you want to keep someone out of incarceration, you need to invest in early childhood education.”

John Chiang

Eastin supports state preschool, full-day kindergarten, and reducing tuition fees for the state’s public universities.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Sacramento Press Club that he is still deciding whether he’ll run for governor. Coverage of the event did not mention any talk about education. Garcetti has been criticized for taking a less active role in LA Unified school board politics than previous mayors.

Villaraigosa, Chiang, and Eastin attended a forum held by the California Charter Schools Association in March.

EdSource wrote about a debate the four candidates had on Tuesday where Villaraigosa was the only candidate who committed to reforming teacher tenure laws.

John Cox, a venture capitalist, and Travis Allen, an assemblyman from Orange County, are the two leading Republican candidates. Neither candidate has emphasized education so far on the campaign trail, according to reports.

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