Yesterday’s GOP gubernatorial debate

If you missed it, here it is:

(Sorry if the sound is a bit spotty; C-SPAN has it too, but that’s not embeddable.)

My take from the panelists’ table: My colleague at the Merc, Ken McLaughlin, nailed it in reporting that Poizner did what he had to do, coming out swinging from the very first question until the final moment. It’s what any candidate who’s so far down in the polls would do, and I think he did it pretty well, although I didn’t see any TKOs that are likely to evolve into race-changers. They both flubbed the final, “lightning-round” question on naming a specific, voter-approved ballot initiative that encumbers the budget and should be re-examined now in the face of our fiscal crisis; Poizner came up with one after he’d taken a few minutes to think about it, during his closing statement, but repealing the measure he eventually named – a millionaire’s tax levied to pay for mental health services – actually wouldn’t help the general fund at all.

Yes, mine was the question perhaps most ignored by both candidates. I’d asked Poizner about the “open carry” movement, in which gun enthusiasts say they’re exercising their constitutional rights and defending their personal safety by carrying unloaded firearms in plain sight in public places; a pending bill supported by the California Police Chiefs Association would essentially outlaw this, and I asked whether the chiefs are wrong to support this ban, and why. Poizner spent most of his time following up a previous discussion about changes in his policy positions since his 2004 Assembly race, but eventually got around to saying he opposes any new gun control bills, no matter who supports them; Whitman spent about four seconds of her rebuttal saying she agreed (possibly the only time that word was uttered yesterday).

My second question, to Whitman, was on education funding: I noted that California remains toward the bottom of the heap in per-pupil spending, and asked her – if she believes K-12 education already has enough money to prepare our children for college and the workplace – to address many parents’ concerns about increased class sizes, pink slips sent to thousands of teachers, and the elimination of art and music classes, nurses and counselors, and summer school sessions. She said the K-12 system already has enough money, and the key is to move more of it from administrative overhead into the classroom.

But I’m having trouble substantiating her claim: Is there too much non-classroom administrative overhead? Per the Education Data Partnership:

California ranked next to last among states on the ratio of total school staff to students in 2005–06, according to the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics). The state had only 72% as many school staff members as the average state. With respect to school and district leadership, California had 0.4 district officials and administrators per 1,000 students that year. That was considerably lower than the U.S. average of 1.3 per 1,000 students, and lower still than the average of 1.8 per 1,000 students in Texas and Illinois. California had only 33% as many district officials/administrators as the national average and only 63% as many school principals and assistant principals.

With respect to teachers, California ranked 49th, with 75% as many as the national average. California ranked 51st—last—on guidance counselors and librarians. The state had only 1.1 guidance counselors per 1,000 students, compared with an average of 2.1 nationally, and only 0.2 librarians per 1,000 students, compared to 1.1 nationally.

And, from the summary of this 2005 RAND study:

California’s demography presents extraordinary challenges to public education and it may be the case that these challenges cannot be effectively met unless the state’s K–12 system is funded at relatively high levels. However, California school districts have experienced comparatively low levels of funding compared to funding in most other states. California’s schools have been further stressed by extreme fluctuations in real spending per pupil. These relatively low funding levels in California’s K–12 schools reflect comparatively low effort relative to the state’s capacity.

The comparatively low funding afforded K–12 public education in California can be seen in the resources the schools are able to make available to their students. A substantial portion of the state’s teachers are not fully qualified and state certified. California continues to have the second highest pupil-teacher ratio of any state. And despite substantial progress in dealing with school facilities over the past 10 years, California continues to lag the nation in addressing K–12 facility needs.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.