Most every other blog related to economics is talking this morning about the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics going to Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson for their work in institutional economics. But since I know nothing about these folks, that's about all I'm going to say about that.
Instead, I want to take a moment to write about something that is slightly off-topic for this blog, though not entirely, since it does have to do with the quality of education, at least in California. Last night was the deadline for Governor Schwarzenegger to act on the hundreds of bills that were sitting on his desk; he had been threatening a blanket veto if legislators didn't strike a deal on water reform but apparently, he blinked on that one. Instead, he signed or vetoed a bunch last night, including a veto on AB 8. AB 8 was introduced by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D - Santa Monica) and would have created a working group to structure a comprehensive overhaul of California's school finance system. For those readers who don't know, in my research life, I do work on school finance reform and teacher labor markets; in 2008, I spent several months in Sacramento working with Brownley on what would become AB 8, so I obviously am biased about the merits of the bill. I'm also the first to admit it was not perfect - I don't entirely disagree with parts of the Governor's veto message, in which he expresses concern that the bill "provides the appearance of activity without actually translating to achievement". But on the other hand, the working group created under AB 8 would have required that folks in Sacramento continue thinking about reforming the system and how dollars are allocated to districts, at a time when most people only want to focus on the total dollars allocated. I certainly get that when the pie is shrinking, everyone just wants to protect their piece, but the way the school finance pie in California is distributed is shamefully unequal and incoherent. And part of the reason for that is that every time the pie does grow, there is no over-arching structure for the system so everyone just clamors for a bigger piece for themselves. AB 8 was an opportunity to think about and create that over-arching structure (if anyone is interested, my personal vision is closer to what was in earlier versions of the bill, originally introduced as AB 2159 in the 07-08 session. Still didn't go far enough but it was the most we thought was feasible).
California has been talking for years about how messed up the school finance system is. There have been several major policy and research projects that all agree that the system is convoluted and incoherent (including the California Master Plan for Education (2002), Getting Down to Facts (2007), and the Governor's Committee on Education Excellence(2008)). By vetoing AB 8, Schwarzenegger has said that he doesn't think it's important to be thinking about ways to fix the system. If there is one thing I learned during my time in Sacramento, it was that legislation really is more about politics than governance so I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I still have to say I think he's an idiot.
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