‘Subsidiarity’: About broad push for local control? Or upping teacher pay?

‘Subsidiarity’: About broad push for local control? Or upping teacher pay?

Joel Fox has an analysis piece at Fox & Hounds that looks at the governor’s push for “subsidiarity” on education policy and wonders if what Jerry Brown is touting will segue to a larger agenda:

“… is there a next phase to this move toward subsidiarity?

“Does this mean that more funding should be the responsibility of local officials and local voters? There are about a half-dozen measures sitting in the legislature that would make it easier to raise local revenues by lowering the vote count from two-thirds to 55% of the voters to pass taxes and bonds in local elections.

“Was the message to the legislature that making it easier to raise taxes locally would reinforce the notion of subsidiarity? Even if the governor was not delivering a message, some legislators will make the argument.

“Subsidiarity could replace ‘revenue enhancement’ and ‘investment’ as the new code word for local taxes.”

Maybe the main agenda is the usual one: enriching teachers

unionpowerql4I think Joel is right in that we’ll soon see efforts to make it easier for local governments to raise taxes to use for local needs. But maybe the main agenda driving “subsidiarity” is even simpler: keeping the most powerful political force in California happy.

I refer to teacher unions. So many of the recent flaps and controversies at California schools in some way relate to efforts, legal or otherwise, to free up more of districts’ operating budgets so more money can be secured for teacher pay hikes. I wrote about this angle last fall for Cal Watchdog.

“Jerry Brown’s seemingly successful push this summer to divert school funding specifically to English-language learners, foster children and disadvantaged children … had a second, unrelated component: It eliminated 32 of 45 state requirements on how funds were spent by local districts.

“Why was this paired with the focus on high-need students? To appreciate what’s going on here, you need to understand what’s been the biggest headache facing the teachers’ unions: The fact that in recent years, budget woes have prevented hundreds of thousands of teachers from getting pay raises except for the ‘step’ raises most get for 15 of their first 20 years and the ‘column’ raises they get for taking meaningless graduate coursework that doesn’t even have to be in the field they teach.

“So what have teacher union-dominated school districts done to free up funds in the operating budget? Over the past five years, they’ve illegally forced students and their parents to pay for basic classroom instructional materials. And they’ve moved aggressively to use 30-year borrowing to pay for basic expenses like routine maintenance and for short-lived technological tools like laptops and iPads.”

The biggest budget diversion yet

“Now they’ve figured out another scam — one disguised by Jerry Brown’s flowery rhetoric. The legislation proposed by the governor … also sharply increased local authority over school decisions by reducing most state restrictions on how funds are used — reflecting Brown’s ‘subsidiarity’ theory that the closer decision-making is to those directly affected, the better quality it is likely to be … but even before it passed the Legislature, the ‘revolutionary’ funding change was amended to weaken safeguards making sure the additional funds actually ‘followed’ the high-need students and weren’t diverted to adult compensation. …

“[Depending on how rules are interpreted,] school districts could meet their reform requirements by offering just one new program for high-need students. If they did so, unless that program was extremely costly, the result would be a big infusion of unfettered funds into districts’ operating budgets.”

And there’s also this angle about “subsidiarity” that no one in the media ever write about it: The driving factor between the two biggest school reform efforts in modern U.S. history — the campaign triggered by 1983’s “Nation at Risk” report and the “No Child Left Behind” push of 2001-02 — was the belief that reform was impossible at the local level, so it had to be driven from the top-down.

Why? Because at the local level, where teacher unions dominated school districts, the interests of teachers would usually trump the interests of students.

Life in the CTA-CFT matrix

Now this is where Brown wants authority to rest — and just as an infusion of new funds goes into state K-12 schools. This is not a coincidence, as I wrote in November:

“Like Neo figuring out how life was coded to work in ‘The Matrix,’ everything about California politics is much easier to understand once you realize that by far the top priority of by far the state’s most powerful group is protecting the interests of veteran teachers. Considering how easily Jerry Brown got his education funding change through the Legislature, it should have been obvious something devious was going on.”

From discussions I’ve had with a couple of prominent reformers, I know this is their take as well. Will the MSM ever figure this out? We’ll see.

One think-tanker figured this all out 25 months ago.

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