What wouldn't California do for $700 million right now? That's not a rhetorical question. With U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan parceling out more than $4 billion to states that conform to his vision of school reform, California's Legislature is just one of dozens that are frantically revamping their states' education systems for some of that cash. Should California succeed, its share would be somewhere between $350 million and $700 million.
To obtain the money, Sacramento must pass legislation that would serve as the basis for an application. This has given Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a perfect opportunity to push for more parent choice and fewer restrictions on charter schools, while the teachers unions have pushed an agenda that would handcuff the charter movement. There is some merit to both sides' proposals -- charter schools should be more accountable, and parents should have more say in the education process -- but they have been poorly executed in ways that could have negative repercussions. Applications for Duncan's "Race to the Top" grants are due in January, so who has time for a thoughtful debate?
This isn't how we help kids learn. Yes, $700 million could rehire a lot of teachers and buy new textbooks. But it's a one-time grant that adds up to less than 2% of what the state spends on schools annually. California will live with the consequences of this race-to-who-knows-where legislation for a long time.