California, Arizona Offer Startling Contrast in Educational Scenarios
What a difference a state makes.
My nephew Steve recently informed me that he and his wife Andrea – lifelong New Yorkers – want to move west. Highest on their list of priorities for a future home is fulfilling the educational needs of their kids, 5-year-old Danny and 4-year-old Molly. Having lived in the Golden State for almost 40 years, they sought my advice. The conversation went something like this:
Steve: So how are the schools in your neck of the woods?
Me: Well, looking at the big picture, not very good. Just 34% of California 4th-graders scored proficient in math on the pre-pandemic 2019 NAEP, placing the state 44th nationwide. And now, due to the teacher union-orchestrated school shutdowns, math scores of California’s 8th-graders show they have the knowledge and skills of 5th-graders, according to an analysis of the state’s 2021 Smarter Balanced test. California also has the lowest literacy rate in the country. That may be due in part to our large immigrant population, but other similar states like Texas, Arizona and Florida have fewer illiterates.
Steve: But I’ve heard the state doesn’t spend enough money on education. Is that true?
Me: Nope. Before the latest barrage of post-pandemic money, California was in the middle of the spending pack nationally, yet we’re way below average in student proficiency. And people are noticing. Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, public school enrollment in California dropped by more than 175,000 students.
Steve: But wasn’t that due to the pandemic?
Me: Okay, yeah, in part. But the pandemic alerted many to the power of the California Teachers Association, the most powerful teachers union in the country. In March 2021, the U.S. Department of Education released data showing that California lagged behind almost every other state in the country in reopening schools, largely at the insistence of CTA. People took note and according to a recent poll, Californians are the least supportive of local teachers’ unions than voters in any other state polled – with 29% of voters viewing teachers unions negatively. Several studies have shown that Covid-related school shutdowns occurred more frequently in states and municipalities with strong teachers unions.
Steve: Sounds like the teachers unions aren’t really for the kids, huh?
Me: Ya think! At the union’s behest, firing bad teachers is just about impossible. In fact, ten years ago, a case was brought against CTA, claiming that on average, just 2.2 of the state’s 300,000 teachers (0.0008 percent) were dismissed for unprofessional conduct or unsatisfactory performance in any given year. Compare that to 8 percent of employees in the private sector dismissed annually for cause.
Steve: So basically, you’re saying that there are maybe 24,000 teachers who have no business in the classroom?
Me: Yes, and the bad news about CTA doesn’t stop there. In March, the union hosted a gathering in Los Angeles titled “2022 Equity & Human Rights Conference.” The purpose of the meeting was to ensure that teachers stressed the important things to children. No, not the three Rs, but rather diversity, equity and gender studies.
Steve: Gender studies? Uh, I’ve heard about that. But Danny is a traditional boy who likes riding his bike in the mud and Molly is a girl who likes to dress up her dolls. And Andrea and I are just fine with that.
Me: Hah! Say that in a school in Weirdifornia and you might be arrested as a Neanderthal. In fact, in much of the state your kids can be brainwashed on sexual and gender matters, and you’ll never know about it. In Ventura, for example, lawyers recently gave a webinar which gave teachers suggestions on how to encourage their students to embrace a new gender identity without their parents finding out. Also, at a CTA conference in October 2021, teachers were advised on “best practices for subverting parents, conservative communities and school principals on issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.” And late last year, AB 1184, a bill cosponsored by Planned Parenthood, became law. This “prohibits insurance companies from revealing to the policyholder the ‘sensitive services’ of anyone on their policy, including minor children (starting at age 12), even though the policy owner is financially responsible for the services.” The term “sensitive services” refers to all health care services related to mental or behavioral health, sexual and reproductive health, sexually transmitted infections, substance use disorder, gender affirming care, etc. The bill doesn’t detail the kindly sounding “gender affirming care,” but as defined by the University of California, San Francisco, it’s hormone therapy and a laundry list of surgeries including vaginectomy, scrotoplasty, voice modification, etc., ad nauseam.
Steve: I’m speechless! Is there any time left to teach – I don’t know – math?
Me: Oh yes! But not in a way you would recognize. Still a work in progress, the new state math framework has not been finalized yet. One version had suggested that finding the right answer “and showing your work” is a symbol of white supremacy. Social justice reigns supreme in the state, you see. Another iteration of the framework stressed “student-led instruction.” But it’s been shown repeatedly that direct instruction led by a qualified teacher is more effective in teaching the subject. The only good news is that as of June 30, thanks to public outcry, the state Department of Education temporarily postponed adoption of the framework. But we do have AB 101 on the books. It requires all California high school students to take a one-semester ethnic studies class to graduate, starting in the 2029-2030 school year. While the state has issued a controversial model curriculum, it will be up to each individual school district to determine content. With 1,037 districts in the state, school board meetings over the next few years will be bloody battlegrounds.
Steve: Somehow, California, isn’t looking real appealing to me right now. Who’s in charge of the mess?
Me: That would be state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who is in the pocket of CTA. Need I say more?
Steve: No, please don’t. Is there any good news?
Me: Yes! But it’s in Arizona. Its public education system is not world class, but it beats California in almost every category. And most importantly, the legislature has just passed a universal Educational Savings Account (ESA) bill. When Gov. Doug Ducey’s signs HB 2853 into law, every family in Arizona will be eligible for the program. Participants will receive about $6,400 per year per child, which can be used at the parents’ discretion for private school, homeschooling, learning pods, tutoring, or any other kinds of educational services that best fit their kids’ needs outside the traditional public school system. Any family that wishes to opt out of their local public school – or who already has – would be allowed to join the ESA program under the bill. In brief, this ESA ensures that all families have the freedom to choose whatever form of education best fits their child’s needs.
Steve: Wow! That’s terrific! But doesn’t a set-up like that cost taxpayers more money?
Me: To the contrary. As the Goldwater Institute explains, “…the ESA program costs roughly $6,400 for a typical student, compared to the more than $11,000 that state and local taxpayers spend on each public school student (not even counting the cost of federal spending on top of that. Each time a student leaves a public school for an ESA, over $600 is immediately added back to the public school system, even though it no longer serves that child—which means there is more money for public school students on a per-pupil basis, thanks to the ESA program.”
Steve: I’m speechless. Who could be against such a program?
Me: I’ll give you one guess.
Steve: The teachers union?
Me: You’re catching on, Steve! The Arizona Teachers Association insists that programs like this “take scarce funding from public schools, are rooted in racism, and don’t give parents real choice.” This should tell you that teachers unions excel at one thing.
Steve: Which is?
Steve: I think my mind’s been made up.
Me: One last thing. I need to stress that not all schools and teachers in California are bad. Some are wonderful, in fact. But what happens if you get less than wonderful teachers for Danny and Molly? You’d probably send them to a private school, which means you’ll also still be taxed by the state even though your kids are not in a government school. In Arizona, you only pay once, and have a choice as to who gets your tax dollars.
Steve: Thanks, Unc! Grand Canyon State, here we come!
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.