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The California Testing-Funding Paradox

Although California ranked 45th out of 50 states on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, voters there continued their financial support of public schools ("Election day was a sweepstakes for schools across California," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13). 

The facile explanation is that California is solidly liberal.  But the recent election provided some surprises.  Voters in rock-ribbed conservative Kern County, where 56 percent of them were in Donald Trump's column, approved 11 of 12 school bonds.  True to form, voters in liberal Los Angeles County approved 28 of 29 school-funding measures. Statewide, voters passed Proposition 51, which will provide $9 billion in school bonds.

Critics say that voters are throwing good money after bad schools.  But Californians do not accept standardized test scores, whether on NAEP or on any other instument, as the sole evidence of educational quality.  They also realize that the state's public schools are heavily populated by English-language learners and those from impoverished backgrounds.  As a result, they're more willing to be patient than voters in other states.

What I see happening, however, is further dramatic growth in the number of charter schools across the state.  The Los Angeles Unified School District already has 225 charter schools, more than any other system in the country.  These educate about 16 percent of the overall student enrollment.  Giant philanthropies want even more charters to open. If I read the tea leaves correctly, traditional public schools throughout California will see enrollment significantly shrinking in the years ahead.  That will create a scenario where voters will be forced to decide if they should continue their largess.

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