It is a wonder of our time that California's governor and state superintendent of schools cannot mention the word education without shoving and daring each other like fifth-graders in a schoolyard at recess.
It also is a shame, because the subject is so crucial to this state's future, because Superintendent Bill Honig knows what he is talking about and Gov. George Deukmejian seems to guess as he goes along, because the shouting invariably drowns out the merits of the discussion.
Honig properly insists that the long-range plan for school reforms in all 12 grades of public school that began in 1983 calls for adding to each year's base. The process cannot be stopped any more than a contractor cannot claim he has finished work on a 12-story building until he has finished all 12 floors.
Deukmejian argues, properly, that he was generous with money for education as long as he had it and, improperly, that there is no harm in falling $650 million short now that he has other claims on the state budget.
His defense against Honig's persistence began with an attack on schools for doing a rotten job and now has shifted to a call for a commission to study something, whether the question of faculty and administrative sloth or the need for more money is not clear.
Honig is further irritated by Deukmejian's proposal to parcel out $700 million in state revenues that he claims exceed a limit on state spending imposed by a constitutional amendment that voters approved at the height of the state's tax revolt. Deukmejian has that wrong, as the state Senate made clear with a proposal to put most of the $700 million into the hands of school districts.
As Deukmejian has declined to sit down and talk with Honig about that, the superintendent of schools dialed the number of Michael Jackson's radio talk show on KABC Tuesday, got on the air, and pounced on the governor.
The governor denounced the call as the kind of thing fraternities do, and took apparent satisfaction in calling Honig a lawbreaker for proposing to break through the constitutional spending limit. But if there was any discussion of the role of the best possible education for its young people in California's efforts to keep its cultural, economic and technological lead over other states and, indeed, most of the world, it was drowned out in the shoving and daring.
The merits of the case for a larger education budget were tipped further in Honig's favor on Wednesday with the release of an analysis by the National Education Assn. of school spending nationally. Despite recent bigger budgets for schools, California has fallen from ninth place among the states in spending per pupil to 33rd. Its per capita spending is nearly one-third below that of New York.
Deukmejian's contention that money isn't everything will obviously have some political appeal in a state where the number of taxpayers with children in public schools is far outweighed by the number who do not.
But that appeal will wear off if he pursues policies that ignore overcrowded schools, second-best faculties, dropouts and an expanding pool of ill-educated and unskilled labor while other states wisely give education spending the high priority it deserves.