News

Prop. 82 boosts powers to state superintendent

Proposition 82, the initiative backed by Rob Reiner that would provide
universal access to preschool for California four-year-olds, would
dramatically increase the power of the state superintendent of public
instruction, while circumventing the state board of education in creating a
new $2.7 billion preschool program.

Under the plan, the state superintendent would be responsible for setting
the money counties will receive per eligible pupil. Individual counties can
choose to divide their money how they see fit–directing more money to
special needs children or English learners, for example. But those county
plans must be okayed by the superintendent.

“Decisions about per-pupil spending are made by the governor and the
Legislature in the budget process,” says Dede Alpert, former Chairwoman of
the Senate Education Committee who was a champion of state-funded preschool
in the Legislature. “That would be a new power for the superintendent.”

But Alpert said that given the current convoluted system of California
education governance-which is split between the state board of education,
the administration’s education secretary and the superintendent-putting
responsibility for the new program in the superintendent’s office “probably
makes the most sense.”

“There are definitely new responsibilities,” said state superintendent Jack
O’Connell. “It’s an expansion of responsibility. But we are currently
engaged in oversight for state preschool, and we get very high marks for our
work. We’re prepared.”

The department currently oversees about $200 million in state preschool
programs. The Department of Social Services also runs some state-sponsored
programs for pre-kindergarten students.

Prop. 82 would be a dramatic boost in the superintendent’s budget. If
passed, the initiative is expected to raise about $2.7 billion annually for
preschool.

In addition to determining the per-pupil spending level for every eligible
preschool student, the superintendent would have unlimited power to use
money for “outreach,” to raise awareness about new preschool programs. But
critics of the initiative and of Reiner say that is a recipe for misuse of
public funds, allowing the state superintendent to promote themselves using
state money.

The decision to give jurisdiction over Prop. 82 funds to the state
superintendent had to do with accountability, says Yes on 82 spokesman
Nathan James. “The goal was to make sure there was one person who was
directly accountable for the success of the program,” he said. “Since the
SPI is a statewide elected official, it made the most sense to have that
accountability rest right at the top.”

O’Connell has been a vocal proponent of the Reiner initiative. He has joined
Reiner on campaign stops around the state advocating for the initiative,
which will appear on the June ballot. O’Connell was the only statewide
candidate to receive financial support from Reiner last year. Reiner
contributed $1,500 to O’Connell’s reelection campaign last June.

O’Connell says his strong support for the measure is based on new data about
early childhood development that shows preschool is vital to a child’s
future. “If we wait until high school to address the achievement gap, it’s
too late,” he said.

But the measure lost support this week from Sen. Don Perata, who had
endorsed the measure. “Upon reflection, I believe Prop. 82 would become yet
another obstacle impending prudent governance of the state,” Perata wrote in
a letter to Reiner this week.

Perata’s endorsement reversal caps what has been a bad week for Reiner.
Reiner stepped aside as head of the First 5 Commission after coming under
fire over from critics who say he inappropriately used state money set aside
in a tobacco tax initiative to promote the new preschool initiative. Now,
some of those same critics say the same potential for missue of state money
exists within Prop. 82.

“Is there a risk that the superintendent would use these funds for self
promotion? You better believe it,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard
Jarvis Taxpayers Association and a member of the No on 82 campaign
committee. “The question is, is that an appropriate use of taxpayer money?”

Prop. 82 would levy a new 1.7 percent income tax on individuals who make
more than $400,000 per year, or couples who make more than $800,000 per
year. The money would be used to provide free preschool for every
four-year-old in the state.

James says there has been an attempt by initiative opponents to conflate
criticisms of Reiner’s Prop. 10, which created a new tobacco tax to fund
early childhood development programs, with Proposition 82, but he says “the
initiatives are very, very different.”

James said unlike in Prop. 10 each individual county must come up with its
own plan of getting the word out to parents that their children would be
available for free preschool through the state. That plan must also be
approved by the state superintendent.

County outreach programs would fall under the 6 percent cap on
administrative costs set by the initiative. The Legislative Analyst
estimated that by 2010-11, those costs would total about $175 million,
growing over time as the program is phased in.

But the initiative also gives power to the superintendent to conduct
additional outreach above and beyond what is authorized under the county
plan. According to the LAO’s analysis of the measure, any state-sponsored
outreach program would be outside of the 6 percent cap on administrative
costs.

The inititive gives the superintendent wide latitude to spend money on
“targeted outreach


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