Saving schools, one brownie at a time

As a tired California public school mother who receives no support from the New America Foundation and is not an Irvine senior fellow anywhere, perhaps Joe Mathews' wonky cover piece, "The Mystery of Prop. 98," was not meant for me. Still, Sunday morning, I fired up the coffee pot, set my daughters in front of their cartoons and heroically clawed my way through the piece -- because with "two dogs in the fight" (entering first and third grades), I want to know what the people who have time to read are reading.

Here are the bullet points I got:

1. Proposition 98, which protects public education funding levels from the whipsawing vagaries of state revenues: Imperfect, complicated, creepy.

2. The California Teachers Assn., Proposition 98's most dedicated lobbyists: Powerful, messianic, secretive.

3. John Mockler, author of Proposition 98, commissioned by the CTA: Ambivalent, regretful, George Clooney-like. Mockler didn't say, "I’m a janitor" like Michael Clayton, but it felt like he did.

Nowhere in this lengthy public funding analysis was there a mention of any -- oh, what's the word? -- children. California children are the very citizens who depend on our schools, our teachers and the cost-of-living-adjusted-or-not dollars we pay them. Unfortunately, it's hard for children to get a word in edgewise in The Times' Op-Ed pages, as they haven't studied the longitudinal analyses in all the white papers and even my (I think rather) bright 7-year-old would insist on festooning the margins of her essay with ponies.

In short, children -- and the tired parents who bake brownies to glue their California schools together year after year -- are the world's worst lobbyists. They don't have the concentration to parse all the budget shortfalls, they don't have the advocacy money and they don't have the time. Which doesn't mean that we're not trying to get better. Recently, a grass-roots group of us put together a rally -- which included finding a way to camp 150 people -- at the state Capitol. Our first victory was finding Sacramento on a map; our second, literally squeezing pillows and blankets into 15-seat minivans, which we funded the old-fashioned way -- swiping the Visa.

As California remains, by certain measures, one of the 10 largest global economies and near last in state per-pupil public education funding, thank God our kids do have a big creepy friend in the teachers union, in the same way seniors have AARP and (may he rest in peace ... no really, may he) Howard Jarvis.

Here on the streets, we need all the help we can get. I would go on, but like so many other non-paid nonmembers of the think tankery, I'm baking as fast I can.

Sandra Tsing Loh, a contributing editor to Opinion, is an LAUSD mother, KPCC commentator and a writer whose newest book, "Mother on Fire," will be released in August.

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