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Are These Political Gambits?

Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig has spent nearly a decade waving his arms, talking a blue streak, battling nonstop for every nickel he can squeeze from the state budget for public schools. That’s one reason he’s popular with voters--he does what he was three times elected to do. It’s also what sometimes makes him unpopular in Sacramento--he’s not good at backing down. Honig right now is under a cloud. He’s facing political attack from his governoring body--the State Board of Education. And the state attorney general’s office is probing his wife’s educational project.

Honig, the state’s education cheerleader, has presided over increases in grades and cuts in dropout rates that may be slow but at least are headed in the right direction. On Thursday it was announced that 20.1% of California juniors and seniors who took the rigorous Advanced Placement exams got qualifying marks. That is nearly thrice the number that qualified in the mid-1980s.

But the next day, the State Board of Education voted--in a meeting closed to the public--to hire a lawyer to strip Honig of his powers to make policy in a feud that goes back to his correct decision six years ago to reject science textbooks that softened the case for evolution to strengthen the case for creationism.

Moreover, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren’s office has reopened the files on an education program run by Honig’s wife, Nancy, that encourages parents to get more involved in schools. The first look asked whether the program was truly a nonprofit venture; the answer was yes. Now investigators are asking whether state or federal funds were illegally used to get the program started in some California schools.

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One hopes the attorney general’s office is not pursuing a political investigation. If Lungren’s office has something on Honig, then let it be produced sooner, rather than later. Otherwise, the continuation of an investigation will inevitably seem political. Honig has spent much of his time doing what voters asked him to do--working as an advocate for education. Most people would like to see more public officials spending their time doing the hard work of government, not playing politics.


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