Saturday, January 12, 2013


Editorial in the Lompoc Record |

January 11, 2013 12:00 am  ::  We’ve made no secret of our belief that California’s various levels of education are in trouble, some more deeply than others.

To be absolutely fair, the same could be said for public education in many states across America, but in California’s case the problems are especially worrisome.

There was a time in what now seems like the distant past that California’s public education system was the envy of not just America, but much of the world. Good schools turning out top students are among the reasons for Silicon Valley and other centers of knowledge and innovation.

It started in the K-12 system, where California students usually ranked among the nation’s best and brightest. Those schools fed into community college and university systems that were the gold standard of post-secondary education.

Things have changed. Colleges and universities are still doing fairly well — but in some cases that’s because students from other states and countries are drawn here to earn their degrees.

The K-12 network is in serious trouble, in just about every way imaginable. Elementary students who were once among the academic elite now scramble along near the bottom, many of them scoring very low in core academic disciplines. There have been many attempts to fix the leaks, but those efforts usually devolve into finger-pointing and internecine squabbles, not fixing the plight of students within the system.

One of the problems is that, while public education spending represents the largest segment of the state budget each year, California still spends less, proportionately, on public education than the national average.

We aren’t suggesting that we simply spend more on education, because throwing money at the problems hasn’t seemed to help. As we have said in the past, it’s more an issue of how the money is spent, and on what.

This issue is as complicated as the California Education Code is long. That code cries out for an overhaul that simplifies just about every aspect of education funding and management.

Such a general overhaul doesn’t seem to be on the California Legislature’s agenda for this session, but there is a proposal that could simplify higher education for some students.

A bill has been introduced in the Assembly that would create a pilot program to help students earn a bachelor’s degree at a state university for $10,000.

That sounds like a daunting sum, especially for young students from the middle or lower economic strata — until you learn that would be the total cost for the four-year degree, at a time when many California universities cost upward of $30,000 a year in tuition and fees. Even the lower-tiered CSU costs can run close to $10,000 a year.

The Assembly bill proposes a pilot program targeting students in Chico, Long Beach and Turlock, and the low-cost degree would be reserved for students majoring in science, technology, engineering or math.

The trick of lowering the cost would be achieved by requiring CSU to waive normal tuition and book fees for students enrolled in the special program.

It sounds like a decent proposal — until you look more closely at the politics.

The bill has Republican sponsorship in a Legislature dominated by Democrats, with a Democrat in the governor’s office. And it appears many of those Democrats have their own, different strategies for lowering college costs.

Politics increasingly manages to put up barriers to progress. We see it at the federal level, and here in California. It will be interesting to see — at both the federal and state levels — if common sense has any chance at all.

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