Dear Gov. Jerry Brown,
I write this letter as a common man, a taxpayer, a husband and a father who has a keen interest in the general well-being and future of this state.
I harbor no illusions about the enormity of the task before you, before us. It will be a long and difficult road out of this current crisis. I believe a good place to start is in using common sense. Here is my attempt at doing that.
The budget for education accounts for well more than half of general fund expenditures. Coupled with the fact that social services have been decimated, it is on cuts to education that I focus my attention. Education is, I acknowledge, the sacred cow for voters and votes, but it is, in my opinion, the obvious place to make significant changes.
The single most important shift in education policy and administration would be to outsource. The private sector can do many things cheaper, faster and with much greater efficiency.
Grounds supervisors in most of our public institutions make more than the average teacher. Many of our institutions have created their own print shops with costs of production well above the open market. Maintenance, grounds, printing, transportation and career services are all areas that can be outsourced at a fraction of the cost of hosting these services in-house.
Eliminate community education and extension programs that are not self-sustaining. While these programs may have value, we should not support them in the current budget climate.
Eliminate dual enrollment. Under the current system, California taxpayers cover the cost of students attending two schools. Even in the best of times, this practice seems suspect. In our current crisis, it is nothing short of absurd.
End enrollment-based funding. It is my opinion that no single policy has done more damage, resulted in more fraud and undermined the values of education than the enrollment-based funding at the core of our community college system. Under this system, Full Time Equivalency (FTE) drives all decision-making, student needs be damned. Most Californians would be shocked by the low retention rates plaguing the system. Community college funding should be based on course and program completion.
Monitor student progress and limit access. One local community college to the north takes great pride in and highlights students graduating with five, six or even more associate degrees. This is not something of which to be proud. It is an embarrassment and represents a failure of the system at many levels. Students should be given the opportunity to explore possible options, but a limit should be set on the total number of units that taxpayers are expected to support.
Eliminate public affairs offices and all advertising expenditures. At some point, it was decided that school districts and community colleges needed spin control. Almost every K-12 district and community college in the state has an office of public affairs. In addition, many have large advertising budgets. Really? I’ll leave it at that.
Change compulsory education laws. This could be the most controversial of my recommendations, but it comes from experience. I sincerely believe we should lower the age of compulsory education to 16 and allow those students who wish to do so to matriculate to their local community college. The positive implications of this move would change the face of education in our state.
Finally, we need to let our young people know that not everyone needs to go to college. In fact, the skilled trades are far more lucrative in our current climate, and indications are that there will be a shortage of skilled trades workers in the coming decades.
An entire cohort of students were brainwashed to believe that they had to go to college to succeed. This has never been true, and it is not true today. Just ask the countless college graduates struggling to find a job to pay off their student loans.
We must do something. We have to change the way we do the business of governing this state, and there seems to me to be no better place to start than those areas identified above.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you further.
— Tim Durnin is a father, husband and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com for ideas, comments, discussion and criticism.