Saturday, May 06, 2006

California proposition recommendations

It’s nearly election time again here in California (the rest of you may skip this post; we’re not voting on anything silly or, you know, Californian” this time, although one of the initiatives is sponsored by an actor). There’s still time to register, if you need to do that. Here are my recommendations. Comments are welcome. The voter’s pamphlet is here (pdf).

Prop. 81. Sigh. I am against bonds as a method of funding anything. They’re an expensive way of funding something, they’re regressive in that they provide their purchasers an undeserved tax deduction, and place tax obligations on future citizens to pay them off--taxation without representation. So normally I would vote no, but since I like libraries and don’t want to vote against them, I will take the intermediate position of not voting for or against 81.

Prop 82. There’s no problem with regressive taxation in Meathead’s initiative, although the use of a dedicated tax, even one on well-off incomes, means that the level of funding is determined by factors unrelated to the needs of the pre-school system, which is just bad budgetary policy.

Now, while I support public education, the thought of state-run pre-school creeps me out. 82 provides for a centrally determined curriculum, which would inevitably focus on some sort of measurable standards, like the test-based No Child Left Behind. Let’s hold off turning the rugrats into automatons until they’re at least, I don’t know, five. Like fishermen, we should throw back the little ones and wait until their souls get bigger to crush them.

The program would be voluntary, in theory, but the more they try to integrate it into the K-12 system by focusing its curriculum on preparation, the more it becomes de facto mandatory, as kindergarten already has, because if it can do what they say it will do, any kid who hasn’t gone through it will be behind the curve. That’s not pre-school, that’s actual school. And that’s if it works; if it doesn’t, then the money could be better spent (textbooks, computers, teacher pay, extending the K-12 school-year, etc etc).

I also worry that this program will compete with K-12 for teachers. California’s public school system needs to find 100,000 new teachers in the next decade. Since paying a decent wage to teachers seems to be contrary to the laws of the known universe, I don’t see where those teachers and the pre-school teachers are supposed to come from, but I imagine some barrels would have to have their bottoms well and truly scraped.

(Post-election update: both props lost, 82 by 61-39, I suspect based
less on the merits or demerits of pre-school than on a disinclination to spend money, even the money of rich people.)

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