It used to be said that patriotism was “the last refuge of scoundrels.” Nowadays the façade behind which political rogues reside are the happy faces of children.
A case in point was the ubiquitous political ad featuring Governor Jerry Brown and a group of cheering kids. The obvious message was that whoever voted for Proposition 30 was doing so “for the children.” By implication, those voting against Prop. 30 were Ebenezer Scrooge clones whose hearts were unmoved by the tears they brought to the faces of little tykes.
If there were a truth in advertising requirement for political ads, the cohort standing behind Gov. Brown would have been officers from the California Teachers Association. When these mugs lit up at the mention of Prop. 30, folks would rightly conclude that this “temporary” sales and income tax increase was primarily “for the union”—specifically for a pension program that’s unfunded by tens-of-billions of dollars.
As those officials know, the word “fungible” concerns a thing’s interchangeability—including the idea that money taken from pot A can easily be shifted to pot B, and vice versa. Thus, if more money comes into a vessel that’s designated for classroom education, it becomes easier to divert funds for other purposes.
Fungibility is why lottery revenue didn’t prove, as advertised, a tremendous boon to education in the state and why Prop. 30 won’t cure its “funding problem.”
Indeed, the only reason education and public safety were specifically on Prop. 30’s budgetary chopping block is because the governor placed them there to extort a tax increase from voters. In effect, he pointed guns at schools and public safety and said the only alternatives were a tax rise or shooting kids and police officers.
It’s not a strategy that would have worked if the budgetary “trigger” mechanism were aimed at the multi-billion dollar bullet train or insolvent public employee pension programs.
The biggest deception of all, however, is that a lack of money is education’s most serious problem. This fallacy has been illustrated and ignored countless times. Even the late Democrat Senator Patrick Moynihan concluded that the correlation between money spent per pupil and positive academic outcomes was “derisory.”
Instead of the much-ballyhooed teacher-student ratio, Moynihan pointed to the rigorously ignored parent-student ratio as the most critical factor related to student success—a measure largely beyond the reach of legislators.
Two things politicians could change for the better with respect to education include requiring greater teacher accountability and increasing parents’ power to choose where their kids go to school. Neither policy will change as long as happy-faced CTA lobbyists own Sacramento.