Kashkari proposes to shake up California school system

Neel Kashkari, a Republican candidate for governor, will release an education plan Tuesday that would send more money to individual public schools instead of districts, give campuses flexibility like their charter counterparts and provide free college tuition to some students in exchange for a piece of their future earnings.

“California used to boast one of the best education systems in the nation, and we do know how to fix our schools,” Kashkari, a former official with the U.S. Treasury Department, said in a statement accompanying the 33-page plan. “States around the country have implemented bold reforms that can help improve educational outcomes for our students, both in our K-12 schools and in our institutions of higher education. With the right leadership and the right reforms, we can transform our schools to lift achievement and rebuild California’s middle class.”

Trailing in the polls just weeks ahead of the primary election, Kashkari continues to nip at the heels of heavily favored Gov. Jerry Brown, assailing the Democrat for failing to lift the state from its poor standing in two key policy areas: jobs and education. His white paper last month proposed a 10-year corporate-tax exemption for out-of-state companies that bring in at least 100 new jobs. It called for changing overtime rules and relaxing provisions of the state’s environmental quality laws.

Kashkari and GOP frontrunner Tim Donnelly both have ripped the governor for sticking by his proposed $68 billion high-speed rail project.

In rounding out his two-pronged campaign, Kashkari envisions a schools system that boosts achievement, reduces income inequality and eliminates poverty. The plan lauds the work of former GOP Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for increasing the achievement of inner-city and minority students, contrasting that with California fourth-graders’ 46th ranking in math and reading. It notes three of the nation’s top 10 cities with the highest income inequality are San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles.

Kashkari says Brown’s campaign is based largely on the myth of a comeback, but that under the incumbent’s watch the middle class has been deeply harmed. Meanwhile, he says, Brown has been absent from the national debate even as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and U.S. Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have sought to bring the wealth gap to the forefront nationally.

A Brown campaign spokesman would not comment ahead of viewing the plan.

In his plan to be unveiled Tuesday, Kashkari will propose rerouting K-12 funds directly to schools but would not discontinue funding to districts altogether. He says a new funding formula being implemented across the state does not address the needs of students concentrated in larger districts. Kashkari says his plan would send more money to classrooms, but it does not specify a percentage.

Kashkari also wants to strike the “vast majority” of the state education code to give schools the flexibility currently available to charter campuses. Without the state guidelines in place, schools would presumably be able to set longer school days and school years and reward teachers based on a variety of currently unavailable factors.

It would seek to protect and expand charter schools – limited to increasing by 100 sites a year – by eliminating the statutory cap.

Many of the ideas could find favor among school reformers but will likely run into trouble with other powerful interests. Mike Myslinski, a spokesman for the California Teachers Association, said the group would need time to read and digest the proposal before issuing any comment. The CTA, which is endorsing Brown, is strongly supportive of the governor’s funding formula, which aims to help students most in need.

Kashkari’s proposal also attempts to change higher education, noting the growing student debt that results from spiraling tuition increases. It would link campus performance to state funding. The University of California and California State University campuses would have to teach 20 percent of their courses online within four years. Students across the university, state college and community college systems would be allowed to take credited courses from professors working at institutions across the state.

Four-year students majoring in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics-related field could become eligible for a scholarship program that gives free tuition in exchange for a relatively small percentage of their earnings once they enter the job market. Similar programs have been adopted in Oregon, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to the plan.

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