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November 03, 2010

Millions spent on failed ed reform campaigns don’t add up

In the aftermath of the election, I couldn’t help but engage in a little fiscal thought experiment about how folks of a certain socioeconomic class spend their money. On the one hand, we have Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Oprah pledging to give $100 million to Newark’s troubled schools. Was it a last-minute attempt to redeem his image in response to the movie The Social Network? Sure. Is it money well spent? You bet.

Then there’s billionaire Meg Whitman spending about $142 million of her own money on a losing bid for California governor. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Had she won she no doubt would've thought the money was well spent. But today it appears this was one gamble the former eBay CEO shouldn’t have made. (At least on eBay, when you lose a bid, you only lose out on nabbing that vintage lunch box.)

Like many politicians, Republican and Democrat, Whitman pledged to improve public education. She promised to get more resources directly into the classroom — an admirable goal. She also took a stand by promoting the movie Waiting for Superman in her ads. But what might she have accomplished by funneling her campaign war chest straight into the public schools?

For starters she could have wiped out the $113 million budget deficit for San Francisco’s school district. Then she could have given $1 million to each of the 23 persistently low-performing schools in San Francisco, her home county of Santa Clara, and neighboring San Mateo. That would have left her more than $5 million to fund a science and technology program at Bay Area high schools. She might have even had enough left over for a killer original Dudley Do-Right lunch box — for those school lunches she might have been invited to with thousands of thankful children.

Oh well. Maybe the next time some well-heeled candidate decides to bankroll their way into politics, they’ll look at Whitman think, What better things could I do with this money?


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that's sobering, isn't it? We seem to have our priorities screwed up.

There is a great parable from Sunday school that goes, "give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for life." Yes, Meg could have given the money she spent on the campaign to schools. But what happens when that donation is used up? What the schools need is a restructuring of the budget so more of the $67 billion we spend a year (http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/fr/eb/cefbudget2009-2010.asp) gets to the classroom. My local district spends $7200/student compared to the states budget of $11,000/student. The schools need a more stable source of revenue. We need to attract business to California so we can have a bigger tax base. I've seen many friends, colleagues, and high tech business move to other states (Arizona, Texas, to name a few) because our state has created the worst business environment imaginable. So yes, Meg could have fed some of our schools for a while, but then she might have fed them for life, if she had won.

I agree with Teacher-in-Training: teach a man to fish. Meg should have won. She had a plan for fixing California, and I like that she didn't ask us for a dime for her campaign. Jerry Brown had money from the powerful unions. Funny how nobody in the media mentioned that. Jerry Brown had his chance to be Governor and he did a terrible job. He is a silver-spoon trust fund baby (anyone old enough to remember daddy, Pat Brown?) who never had to really work for a living, as opposed to Meg, who is self-made. So here we go again - California down the chute. I'm tempted to jump ship and move out of state myself!

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