California’s K-12 system is in a state of emergency.
Enrollment is declining, caused by a number of factors including COVID shutdowns, stagnant or declining population or people pulling their kids out of school because they no longer trust the system. School funding is also down because it is tied to attendance
Nearly half of LAUSD students have been chronically absent this year, though chronic absenteeism is a problem statewide.
And while many educators are distracted by things like striking, school renamings and reducing educational standards and degrading curriculum, students are suffering greatly.
According to recent standardized tests, a majority of kids are not up to standards in English, math or science. And California is leading the nation in illiteracy, with only 77 percent of adults considered mid- to highly literate, as EdSource reported last month.
And while these problems are getting worse, they are not new. The state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, has not adequately addressed these issues.
His big campaign push in 2018 was to increase pupil spending, which came to the delight of the public employee unions that funded his campaign.
And education spending has increased, largely due to the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, but California’s government proves time and again: More spending does not guarantee results.
In 2018 Thurmond won by fewer than two points over education reformer Marshall Tuck and had it not been for a Democratic wave election inspired by opposition to then-President Donald Trump, Tuck, who is also a Democrat, probably would have won and maybe California’s students would have seen some progress.
Under Thurmond, the superintendent’s office has been dogged by allegations of a toxic workplace as senior staff fled during his tenure. Meanwhile, Thurmond hired his buddy for a top position, but his buddy never moved from Philadelphia, earning Thurmond significant criticism and claims of cronyism.
California schools endured some of the longest COVID closures and strictest measures, and yet Thurmond seemed nowhere to be found during the reopening debates.
“His low profile as California struggles to resolve this massive educational disruption raises questions about how effectively he’s using the power of the office,” Calmatters reported.
Thurmond seems to have very few ideas. To address declining enrollment he organized a task force, which is a popular trick in the state government to give the appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing.
Another popular trick by some Democratic politicians to deflect from their dismal records is to evoke Trump, which Thurmond does on his campaign website.
“Fighting for education starts with opposing the efforts by President Trump and Betsy DeVos to defund our public schools,” the website reads.
For the people just joining us, Trump and DeVos haven’t been in office in over a year and they were never the cause of California’s education woes. Trump was awful in so many ways, but Thurmond is the one who oversees California education and has little to show for it.
It’s clear things need to change. It’s also clear Thurmond is incapable of bringing that change.
Lance Christensen, however, can provide that change.
I first met Christensen in 2015 when I was still a news reporter. Having just moved to Sacramento from D.C., I was looking for sources in the Legislature and stumbled across him in former Senator John Moorlach’s office.
Christensen was a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian – always an odd fit in a government job – but he had a passion for public service. Instead of wanting to burn the place to the ground, as one might expect from a libertarian, he dreamed of making it better, making it efficient, making it serve the people.
Christensen always took the time to explain complicated subjects, like pensions, to me and loved debating policy. He’s a policy wonk’s policy wonk and deeply understands the issues facing California.
Under Moorlach, Christensen ran one of the most efficient offices in the California Senate – his staffers worked hard, learned new skills and grew as professionals.
Most of all, Christensen is a strong advocate for education. He’s someone who loves learning – again, ask him anything! – and has an advanced degree from Pepperdine. He has spent years advocating for educational opportunities for all, which includes school choice. But education is not solely a matter of policy with him – as a father of five, he has skin in the game.
Does this make him the right person to lead California’s public education system? I think so. I don’t agree with him on everything, but the fact that he’s not the preferred choice of public employee unions makes him the best fit.
There is nothing wrong with public employees unions having a voice, but under the current power structure they are the only constituency that seems to matter. Shouldn’t kids and parents should matter too?
He would employ a kids-first approach to the job and he has the skills, knowledge and experience to serve the state’s students and lead the education system to be one of the best in the country.
Give students a chance. Vote Lance Christensen for Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Follow Matt Fleming on Twitter @FlemingWords.