An Open Letter to Assemblymember Kevin McCarty
RE: Assembly Constitutional Amendment 9 – OPPOSE, UNLESS AMENDED
Dear Assemblyman McCarty,
I write in respectful opposition to Assembly Constitutional Amendment 9 (ACA 9) as it is presently constituted. Full disclosure – I was the runner-up candidate for the constitutional office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on the November 2022 general election ballot. While considering the following comments in that light, please understand that my sentiments are more of an effort to provide a policy for better overall governance in education rather than a self-serving attempt to retain a political office for future campaigns.
As such, I appreciate that you are willing to have the discussion regarding the present condition of the Superintendent of Public Instruction – the office is in serious need of review – and consider what a future position may look like, if it exists, at all. I am very interested in discussing possible amendments with you and your legislative colleagues and hope we can reconstruct education governance that ultimately puts the needs of parents and children first, protects their interests and allows for self-determination.
While it may be worthwhile for the voters to determine if they are well-served by an elected, independent and nonpartisan statewide Superintendent of Public Instruction, having a partisan governor appoint a chief over public schools to oversee a bloated and disconnected California Department of Education bureaucracy will likely have no positive effect on the academic outcomes of our public schools. In fact, it could be argued that the position will become more politicized and further removed from the will and auspices of the voters.
Unless ACA 9 is amended to decentralize all administrative functions of the 2,400 employees at the Department of Education currently overseen by the Superintendent of Public Instruction andits $109 million annual budget, this proposal is not supportable.
When reading recent news accounts of this proposal from the legacy media, one might get the impression that the Superintendent of Public Instruction is without much power or control over our government schools, is anachronistic and needs to be appointed so that we can have wide, systemic improvement in our academic outcomes. This assumes a lot and while the premise may stand, the conclusions are strained.
As I converse with numerous and diverse Californians every week, I am more persuaded that they are less interested in a single, statewide educational official. Fewer even know the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction even exists. To create a policy of appointing the position based upon the whims of any governor and powerful special interests only serves to centralize system and create distance between a well-intentioned bureaucrat and the students and parents they are meant to serve. Though it is often messy, local trustee elections are the best vehicles for providing strong education pedagogy and oversight. Handing over the Superintendent of Public Instruction to the governor is not a singular move; it has a series of significant consequences including the displacement of a massive bureaucracy in the California Department of Education (CDE).
Without considering any fundamental reforms, this proposal amounts to simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The governor already has a cabinet that is overcommitted and cannot get much done. One need only look at our roads, water, energy, health care, etc. to understand that appointed secretaries under the governor’s existing organizational chart are largely symbolic and have very little influence over a grotesque and metastasizing leviathan.
Giving the governor another appointment will create no educational utopia.
As has been demonstrated time and again, Sacramento bureaucrats are the wrong people to hold any power and control over education policy if the goal is “to improve academic performance,” as stated in the governor’s budget documents. Transparency in the department already is scant and the legislature has shown little interest in providing oversight of the outcomes for nearly six million public school children in our traditional, neighborhood schools.
Real accountability, instead, comes from the thousand elected local and county school boards across the state with regular and relevant input from local citizens and parents.
An Alternative – Distribute the Responsibilities
If it be the will of the people to eliminate the only non-partisan constitutional officer in the state, this proposal should be amended to distribute the bulk of transferable responsibilities and $109 million dollar budget to the 58 county boards of education throughout California. Any technical transactions or federal fund transfers beyond the expertise of a county board can be capably handled by a handful of technicians at the Department of Finance or State Controller’s Office. Conferring the relevant authorities and responsibilities to the 58 boards of education would be consistent with the state’s constitution. In Article IX, Section 3 et seq, the counties are already granted significant duties in education administration. For instance, county boards of education deal with any number of issues including:
- Special education,
- Non-public schools,
- Charter school approval
- Financial oversight of the districts in their jurisdiction, and
- Acting as an appellate board.
County boards are largely composed of mature professionals with impressive resumes and executive experience leading to stable governance. Further, each county can determine the bounds of their regional educational needs and culture. This allows parents, community and business leaders among the several counties to create the kind of education and academic culture that appeals to them. In short, Sacramento is not San Francisco, is not Orange, is not Yuba, is not Riverside, is not Del Norte, is not Kern, and so on and so on.
Disassembling an Ottoman-esque department could result in some legitimately disjointed duties and obligations for which the legislature would have to provide some guidance. Where the Superintendent of Public Instruction is required to sit on a particular board or commission, like the California Teachers Retirement System, it makes sense for the legislature to routinely appoint a county superintendent to fulfill those duties for a set period of time.
And while the legislature is considering dismantling ineffective and indulgent agencies, ACA 9 should also include the elimination of the State Board of Education. All of the trustees are appointed by the governor, their work is largely ceremonial and – as the current occupants have shown us – their political agendas shine through their actions and inattention to parental inputs. One might feel differently if they could adopt a scientifically sound literacy program for the state or produce a cogent math curriculum or framework without controversy, but they have not and do not seem capable of doing so in the current political environment; thus, solidifying reservations Californians should have if the governor were to appoint the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The state board’s role is handled much better by the county and local boards of education.
Again, unless the powers and authorities are delegated to local regional educational governance bodies, such as the county boards of education, where the voters have a voice in their local trustees, this proposal is nothing but a voter disenfranchisement, undermines our democratic process and diminishes our California Republic.
I am available to participate in the process of creating a better proposal and am willing to consult with you at length on this particular measure. However, without the amendments outlined above giving voters a more direct choice in the education of their children, I must respectfully oppose ACA 9.
Vice President of Education Policy & Government Affairs