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Valley Perspective

Eastin's Reliance on Old Stats Does Schools a Disservice

New figures rank state higher in per-pupil spending and give lie to claims that dollars necessarily equate to greater student achievement.

July 12, 1998|GEORGE RUNNER | George Runner is a Republican assemblyman representing the Antelope Valley and portions of the Santa Clarita Valley

For several years, we have been told that our schools are performing poorly because California lags far behind other states in education funding. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin continues to assert that California ranks 37th in the nation in per-pupil spending, $1,000 below the national average. However, new figures from the legislative analyst's office, a nonpartisan fiscal and policy advisor to the state Legislature, indicate that California is only an estimated $342 below the national average in per-pupil spending.

Republicans and Democrats agree that we need to shore up our schools financially and implement tougher standards and accountability measures that will result in higher levels of student achievement. But Eastin's statements about inadequate funding have created a crisis atmosphere in which the infusion of money is being touted as the only solution.

The fact is, simply spending more does not necessarily make our schools better.

Contrary to Eastin's position, California has made significant strides in recent years in education funding, having spent an estimated $5,789 per pupil in the 1997-'98 fiscal year, according to new data reported by the legislative analyst. The new data place California 29th in per-pupil spending nationally. In two budget years, we have increased spending by more than $1,700 per pupil. Over the last three years, we have increased funding by $5.5 billion. Eastin's bleak assertions are based on data provided by the National Education Assn., a national teachers union. In response to the legislative analyst's findings, the superintendent is now arguing that the new rankings reported were based on flawed data.

In fact, the legislative analyst's information is derived from data collected by the U.S. Department of Education. Eastin's own state Department of Education provides the federal government with the data she now claims are flawed.

Although Eastin and others continue espousing the notion that additional spending can bring California better results, the direct linkage is specious at best. New Jersey ranked first in per-pupil spending but produced students who ranked 12th in fourth-grade math scores, while Utah ranked 50th in per-pupil spending but its students ranked only one level lower on those same math tests. Students in Texas, a large state with demographics similar to California's, ranked 9th in fourth-grade math while spending was at nearly the same level as California's. California ranked 41st on the same test.

Clearly, more money is not the only solution. Spending must be coupled with other factors, such as increased parental involvement, high classroom expectations and increased student responsibility, all of which come at no great additional monetary cost.

Additional funding should be provided to continue purchasing new standards-based textbooks, investing in computers, ending social promotion and using empirically tested and proven teaching methods and curricula. We all support education spending when those dollars are spent wisely.

That California schools need to improve significantly is not a matter of partisan dispute. However, the superintendent's refusal to acknowledge work that is being done to improve education does a great disservice to teachers, parents and students. Legislators on both sides of the aisle, the governor and taxpayers concerned about our schoolkids are working to bring California back to the forefront of public education. We can all get there together.

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