Two Democrats spar on education
By Peter Hecht -- Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 7:28 pm PDT Monday, April 3, 2006
LOS ANGELES - It wasn't the great debate that both campaigns promise is coming.
But the two Democratic contenders for governor at least showed up in the same city and the same place - though two hours apart - Monday to contrast their visions for improving student achievement levels in California's struggling public schools and increasing access to higher education.
Steve Westly, the state controller, promised to raise K-12 funding by changing the payout formula for the California Lottery to offer a smaller percentage in prizes for lottery ticket buyers and a larger share of revenues for schools.
Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, sold his plan to tax high income earners and close corporate tax loopholes to pay for training and recruiting more teachers for public schools as well as rolling back student fee increases at the University of California and California state university systems.
Angelides also chided both Westly and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who say they don't support a tax increase, for being in denial over how to fund education.
With the June 6 primary election nine weeks away, the two Democratic candidates preened their educational credentials and differing philosophies before the state convention of Education Trust - West, an advocacy group working on improving the quality of education for economically disadvantaged students.
Westly, the first to address the gathering at the Omni Hotel in Los Angeles, remarked on the challenges faced by many minority and low-income students and charged that California is turning its back on public education.
"We have tied their (students') hands with funding cuts, crowded classrooms and broken schools," he said. "If we want a high school degree to stand for something, we have to stand by our kids."
Angelides, noting that California has the largest number of low-income students and English learners of any state, complained that the state ranks near the bottom in education spending, declaring: "We are never going to have first-rate schools with second-rate levels of investment."
Turning his attention to Westly and Schwarzenegger and their stated resistance to raising taxes, Angelides said: "Let's be clear. I'm the only candidate for governor who will do what it takes to fully fund our schools and balance the state budget."
Angelides has proposed closing unspecified corporate loopholes and raising taxes on families earning $500,000 a year or more to generate more revenue for education.
On Monday, Westly pledged to squeeze more money out of the California State Lottery.
Currently, the lottery guarantees 34.1 percent of revenues from ticket sales for K-12 schools, 53.9 percent for prizes and 12 percent for administrative overhead and retail commissions. Westly told the gathering that he wanted to cut percentage of the lottery prize money by an unspecified amount and shift some of the prize money to schools.
His proposal seemed to challenge assumptions by state lottery officials, who have frequently said that big dollar lottery payouts lure more ticket buyers and, as a consequence, a greater share for education. Lottery revenues account for about two percent of total education funding.
In an interview, Westly said he wasn't sure if he would need to bring a new initiative before voters to rewrite the lottery funding program from the 1984 voter-approved California Lottery Act or whether he could into law a reform measure passed by the Legislature.
"While it was passed by voters," Westly said of the lottery initiative. "a lot of voters thought more money would be going to education."
Though Angelides didn't comment on Westly's plan, his campaign director, Cathy Calfo said in a statement Monday: "Instead of real plan, Steve Westly has offered a phony lottery reform proposal that incredibly calls for slashing prizes while still selling the same number of tickets."
The two Democratic candidates also disagreed on whether to roll back tuition increases approved by Schwarzenegger for the University of California and the California State University systems. Angelides said he would drop the tuition rates for all students to the levels before Schwarzenegger took office.
Westly said he would seek a targeted increase in financial aid for lower-income students, but not a tuition decrease for all students.
If this is an accurate story, I have a question.
Why did the Education Trust not ask this question
Which of you will promise to end the underfunding of public education in California?
(We rank about 36th out of 50)
The Education Trust should have asked, and a candidate should have answsered.
I am looking for that candidate.