Vowing to teach California schools "new lessons of reform and renewal," Gov. Pete Wilson, during his State of the State address on Monday, launched a new agenda for the educational system.
The Wilson plan includes repealing tenure for public school teachers, developing a merit pay system for teachers, creating a "parents bill of rights" that expands school choice and phasing out the 11-volume state education code governing school operations.
On Tuesday, Wilson released his proposed state budget for 1995-96, which calls for a 2.2% increase in per-pupil spending to $4,292 a year (the first such increase since 1991-92), a $55-million increase in community college funding and 2% to 4% increases to Cal State University and University of California coffers over four years.
Backers of Wilson's proposals lauded the attempts to shift the responsibility for improving California education to parents, teachers and students and to reduce the "bureaucratic bloat" in the cumbersome education code.
Critics pointed to reported inadequacies of merit pay systems for teachers in other states. Also, they said, the new budget allocations are not enough to properly maintain current teacher salaries or renovate run-down campuses.
How will Wilson's proposals affect local schools, teachers and students?
Helen Bernstein, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles
"(Wilson) mentioned changing credential rules for teachers to allow retired (professionals) to come in and teach. He must know that we already have that. We have dozens of schools with laid-off aerospace engineers serving as teachers. His proposal of eliminating tenure for teachers sounds good to the public but is misleading. It implies that there are thousands of incompetent teachers in California when the truth is that most teachers leave the system within their first five years. If the governor wants to improve the system, I would suggest he concentrate on attracting more teachers to the industry. We have thousands of vacant classroom positions."
Lawrence O. Picus, director of the USC Center for Research in Education Finance
"The governor's budget proposes the first increase in per-pupil spending in four years. California is currently 44th in the nation in that area. (In 1979), we were 12th. We still need to put more in education. My real concern lies in the cuts proposed for the welfare system. Living on ($547 per month), it would be difficult for those parents to take part in their children's education when they are trying to make ends meet. We must think of the government programs that interact with education."
Blenda J. Wilson, president of Cal State Northridge
"The message in the governor's budget is one of renewing commitment to stability and investment in education. The increases are modest, but reflective of this commitment. A part of this message is that the governor urges adequate financial aid to be provided to poorer students. With the cost of attending a four-year university still increasing, continued financial aid is an assurance of continued access."
Ron Prescott, associate superintendent in charge of governmental relations for the Los Angeles Board of Education
"The proposed budget is basically one we can work with. We have a General Fund problem and this budget takes care of that to some extent. It will support us in meeting contractual agreements with our employees that need to be met. Without it, we would have to cut some programs to provide for those needs. We may still have to."