Monday, May 20, 2013

Lasken re-post from Flashreport: Letter to CA GOP Chair Jim Brulte

I am pleased that you have achieved the chairmanship of the California State GOP, and that you intend to grow its membership in response to recent electoral setbacks, both nationally and at the state level.

I am writing to you because I feel strongly that the only way the state Republican Party can increase membership is through understanding of issues. Efforts to increase the Hispanic membership in the GOP, for instance, show no such efforts of understanding. The party faces generations of Democratic money funneled towards Hispanics through unions and Democratic-leaning institutions like school districts, and this will not be offset by vague promises of a “big tent." I have written in these pages about concrete steps other than immigration reform that the state GOP could take to increase Hispanic membership ( and do not need to repeat these here.

My goal in this letter is to point out events occurring last week involving Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget, which the party could use to its advantage if it were properly directed. As we have all been reading, the Gov. claims that, because of passage of Proposition 30, we have a healthy state of affairs in the California budget, at least as far as education. Never mind, for now, that Brown has achieved this through piling debt upon debt (everyone has read this in the papers but it has failed to make an impression- people tend to care about the immediate picture). Yet on May 14, the Gov. gave the state GOP a potential gift, the Achilles heal of his budget and in fact his governorship: The Governor announced that he would allocate $1 billion of state money to pay for the Common Core Standards (CCS).

What are the CCS? They are the Obama administration’s signature education initiative- national academic standards to replace the standards of individual states. Certainly like most of the public you’ve heard of them, and may have been impressed by what appears to be a 100% bipartisan buy-in. Even Mitt Romney, who you would have thought could have benefited from criticizing CCS, showed remarkably little understanding of it, in particular believing that the federal government would pay for it. It is to be paid for by the states- all of it. The national price-tag is estimated at $10 billion, and the bill for California is low-balled at $1.6 billion by the state Dept. of Education. Brown has rounded this off to $1 billion, which he says we can now afford because we have agreed to tax ourselves per Prop. 30.

And what is it that we’ve agreed to tax ourselves for? We are purchasing brand-new standards, touted as the latest and greatest. Certainly they are better standards than those found in many other states, especially Southern states (as I found when I did an assessment of state standards for the Fordham Institute). But the problem in CA is that we already have world-class academic standards, for which we paid a few billion twelve years ago. We spent a few billion more on textbooks to match our standards, and a few billion more on state standardized tests to match the textbooks. Brown has put us on the hook for several billion, not one billion, for a product that will have virtually no impact on the classroom, siphoning precious funds away from our bankrupted schools and entailing several years of confused transition, while Brown seeks political cover by transferring funds from “wealthy” districts to “poor” districts. If he used the several billion he’s throwing away on CCS, he could raise per pupil funding for all kids.

The Governor’s announcement that he will fund CCS was on Tuesday of last week. As of Friday, the reaction and/or criticism from the Republican Party, or anyone else, has been…let me check…yep, non-existent. Like Romney at the national level, our state GOP does not understand this issue at all. Perhaps what it doesn’t understand is that in order to prove itself to be a party with principals and understanding, it may have to buck some powerful lobbies, in this case the publishing and testing industries, poised now to clean up in California, as the Governor cleans up politically.

Mr. Brulte, I appreciate your attention to my argument, and it’s an honor to be able to address you through the Flashreport, the journal of cutting edge Republican thought in California. I would very much like your reaction to these thoughts, as well as the reaction of other state GOP activists. As someone who wants to see actual improvement in state GOP health, rather than feel-good words ad nauseam, I would appreciate your response.