Credit: John Joanino/Advancement Project California
Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin

The transcript below is from a presentation by four leading gubernatorial candidates at Advancement Project California’s Birth to Five Water Cooler conference in Sacramento.  The discussion, which took place on Oct. 2, 2017, was moderated by EdSource Executive Director Louis Freedberg. Each candidate made remarks for five minutes, followed by questions.

This segment features California gubernatorial candidate Delaine Eastin, the former state superintendent of public instruction and assemblywoman. This transcript has been edited for clarity and some explanations have been added in parentheses. The full presentation is available on YouTube here.  

It is wonderful to be here in a room of fellow travelers, and for your understanding of what we must do in this state — of the fact that we are letting our children down in important ways.

I want to just remind everybody that the state constitution says “from all state revenues there shall first be set apart the moneys to be applied by the State for support of the public school system and public institutions of higher education.” Yet that has not been happening.

We’ve dropped to 41st in per-pupil spending in K-12.  Also look at preschool and child development which took the steepest cuts during the big recession in ’07-’08.  Even though child development was only 3 percent of the state budget, it took 20 percent of the hits, and that money has still not been restored.

So it’s time we really do follow the research. We don’t need any more task forces. We have the finest public-research institutions in the world in California. We know we need to pay attention to prenatal care. We know we need to absolutely give children support and child care from zero to three. And we really ought to have universal preschool for all.

When I went to France to visit French preschools, I asked the woman in charge “Do you have research you can share with us on how your more-than-50-year experiment (with early care) has gone?” And she said, “Well, we do not have as many good research institutions as you do. We use your research.”

In The Scientist in the Crib it says the human baby’s brain is really a network wired together by language and love instead of by optic fiber.

We need to have safe, secure, wonderful facilities. And we ought to look at France, where the preschool teachers have the same level of education and the same pay as elementary teachers. It’s time for us to do that in California.

And, for heaven’s sake, it is also time for us to understand that kindergarten should be mandatory and full-day. But when it comes to preschool, many people don’t know we’re behind states like Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma. As a native Californian, it breaks my heart.

We have to not only have great teachers who are paid a living wage; we also need great facilities, so that the children walk into a room where it looks like the grown-ups are serious.

Ninety percent of the brain’s development is by the age of five. We actually have absolutely the best research in the world that tells us we have a lot of heavy lifting to do before age five if each one of those kids is going to have great opportunities

I am ashamed to tell you tonight that we’re 41st in per-pupil spending in K-12, but number one in per-prisoner expenditures in the nation. Budgets are statements of values, and we need to budget for, yes, prenatal care, yes, child care and then yes, child development. We have to fight like heck for that.

I was the honorary co-chair of Prop 10 (the 1998 initiative imposing a tobacco tax for early childhood programs). I went out and fought for Prop 10. And when Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to steal the money, I fought him on that, too. I know what my values are. It’s like the values of a family. You take care of your kids first. You worry about the new car later. You worry about the new couch later. You worry about the vacation later. You take care of your children first.

My favorite quote is Neil Postman’s: “Children are living messages we send to a time we will never see.”

What is our message? I hope it’s one of providing loving, supportive, wonderful care and education before kindergarten — and mandatory full-day kindergarten and great K-12, and wonderful higher education that is free again for kids. And that’s what I’m going to fight to do as governor of California.

The Silicon Valley is here, not because of a confluence of rivers. We have no Tigris or Euphrates. We had a confluence of great educational opportunities in California in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. And, by God, it’s time for us to wake up and smell the coffee, and do what the rest of the first world and most of the second world is doing, and that’s focusing on the youngest among us, and that’s the little kids, and the smallest. And, with that, we’ll have glory. We’ll have a great opportunity for the future. We’ll have a great, great future for California if we do that.

Q&A with Louis Freedberg

Freedberg:  How can California bump up its really low ranking compared to other states in what it spends on K-12 education?

Eastin: Budgets really are statements of values, and it’s a question of us stepping up and doing the right thing by our kids.

It’s time we took a look at Proposition 13 and the commercial/industrial property tax. The fact is that houses turn over more rapidly. Properties of Chevron, Valero, some of the biggest companies in California haven’t turned over since Prop 13 passed. So maybe we should have a higher rate at which commercial and industrial properties are taxed. Maybe, instead of the 1 percent that houses have, they should be at 1 ½ percent. Then we should put that money into things like educating our children from preschool to graduate school.

But then we also ought to change the local rules for passing a parcel tax for hiring the staff. The truth is you need a 55 percent vote to fix the buildings, and a 66 2/3 vote to staff them. If have a choice between sending your kid to school in a beautiful building with a lousy teacher, or have your child be taught by Socrates sitting on a rock, you go with Socrates on the rock.

Freedberg:  Do you think the voters are ready to take on Prop. 13?

Eastin: I do. The fact is when Proposition 13 was approved, Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann both bragged about their landslide victory.  But they didn’t get a 66 2/3 percent vote.

Freedberg:  What is your view of the Local Control Funding Formula?

Eastin: I’m very positive about the Local Control Funding Formula. I’ve said for years we should have a weighted student formula. Having said that, if you’re at the bottom 10 of the 50 states in per-pupil spending, you’re essentially rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

We used to be 5th of the 50 states in per-pupil spending, tied with New York. Today New York is spending twice as much per child as California. We are under-invested. And so LCFF becomes an excuse. There are people in Sacramento saying, “But we have local control now. It’s up to the locals to fix it. Good luck.”

LCFF is a step in the right direction.  But as long as schools are so underfunded in the most expensive state in the union, with the highest percentage and number of poor children and the highest percentage and number of English learners, we need to reinvest in education so that we will be able to say, “We’re in the top 10, not the bottom 10.”

Freedberg:  Under the Local Control Funding Formula, many districts are now getting additional funds, but there are concerns that maybe the funds aren’t going to where they’re supposed to go. You were state superintendent, so you have a real sense of what Sacramento can do and can’t do.  Should Sacramento be more involved? Or do you think we’ve got the balance right now?

Eastin: I don’t think there are enough resources in this system right now. So I think the system is so badly under-funded that there’s sort of a complacency about saying, “Well, we’ve got local control, and its up the locals now” — when the locals are so under-funded. We are the most expensive state in the union.   The state can say, “We gave you a bunch of money.” but local districts can say, “Yes, you also gave us a big bill for pensions.”

The reality is that many districts are not able to put more money into in pre-K or preschool, and/or K-12, because they have to pay the pension costs.  This is a very difficult position that a lot of school districts are in. I really believe that we need a much more realistic understanding of how expensive it is to live in California, how many kids need our extra help, and how we’re not giving them the extra scaffolding, and the money for the extra scaffolding, that local districts would like to provide.

We have the largest class size in America, and the smallest number (per student) of nurses, librarians. counselors. Is that nurse important?  A nurse called my mother and told her to get my eyes checked. Is the counselor important? It was a counselor who called me in and said, “You’re not taking the classes you need to go to the university. ” The librarian got me to read all the biographies of all the women in the library.

So these people are important. I’m privileged to have a school named after me. They used to have a preschool on site, but they had to close the preschool because they needed those classrooms, because of the growth of the student population.

All over California right now, we have people making Hobson’s choices, when we really should be saying, “Education is the most important thing we do. It says that in the constitution. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.

I’m a machinist’s daughter. My mom was a dress clerk. But I got to go to UC — UC Davis. At the time, it was really a stretch for them, but it was still affordable — $82.50 a semester to go to Davis in those days. That included my health insurance.

My best friend went to San José State. That cost $42 a semester. And community colleges were free. Some of you saw the headline that said New York became the first state to offer free community colleges. Not so. California was the first state. We did it for 30 years and we ought to go back to it.

Freedberg:  What’s your take on the Common Core? Do you think it’s making a difference or will make a difference?

Eastin: I think it can make a difference.  It’s good that we have standards, and that we tell people what our expectations are. That’s a good thing.

Having said that, right now in California we have a huge teacher shortage. People ask me, “Why is that, Delaine?” And I say, “The slogan should be, the floggings will continue until morale improves.”

That’s especially in preschool and child development positions. I had a wonderful woman who came to my office to work. She was getting her master’s at Sacramento State, and she loved her job. She was a preschool teacher. But she had to quit that because she only got $600 a month in take-home pay. Six hundred dollars a month. She had four kids she wanted to send to college. So she quit. Her name is Camille Maben (currently executive director of First Five California). I hired her out of that internship.

We don’t want these wonderful teachers to leave teaching, whether it’s K-12, whether it’s higher education or whether it’s preschool and child development positions. We want them to be there, and that means we have to do a better job of giving them the preparation they need, and giving them the salary they need, so that they can afford to do this. This is important work.

In France, they pay the preschool teachers what they pay an elementary teacher, but they have the same level of education. It’s time for us to reach for that star.

The Silicon Valley is here, not because of a confluence of rivers. We have no Tigris or Euphrates. We had a confluence of great educational opportunities in California in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. And, by God, it’s time for us to wake up and smell the coffee, and do what the rest of the first world and most of the second world is doing, and that’s focusing on the youngest among us, and that’s the little kids, and the smallest. And, with that, we have glory! We have a great opportunity for the future. We’ll have a great, great future for California if we do that.

Freedberg:  What is your general view of charter schools? Do you think the state policies are where they should be? Or should there be some limits on charter-school expansion, particularly in some school districts where you’ve got large numbers of students enrolled in charters?

Eastin: I think it’s more nuanced that that. Al Shanker, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, was one of the first big proponents of charter schools. We have some excellent charters. But we have some terrible charters. So I’ve called for a moratorium until we get the rules right. We cannot have people saying, “Don’t bring your special-needs child here because we don’t have a special-ed teacher.” That’s illegal, and it shouldn’t be allowed.

The school districts have to pick their auditor from a list provided by the State of California. The charters don’t. That should not be allowed.

No for-profit businesses should be running charters with taxpayer money.  At the end of the day, yes, we want to keep the good ones that are doing the right work, helping with drop-out recovery, and/or doing some arts magnet or STEM magnet. We want to support those.

But we have to put out of business the people like the charter school in Livermore that was charging Chinese children $60,000 a kid and promising they’d go to UC Berkeley. In that case, the superintendent of Livermore Unified was nimble and on her toes. She saw what was going on and she closed them down, and she’s prosecuting them.

At the end of the day we’ve got to have much better oversight, and then we can have a conversation about which ones should be open and which ones should not be. But too many are breaking the law, and this whole thing about sending the kids home a week before the test, that’s illegal and immoral. We have to look at the system and shore it up a bit. And then we can have a conversation about the charters.

Question from Alejandra with Californians for Justice.  Given there are 6.2 million low-income students, foster youth and English-language learners in our public schools, what specific actions or measures will you take to close the achievement gap, and make sure that all students regardless of race or ZIP code are successful in their education?

Eastin: Number one is universal preschool. Let’s give every child universal preschool that’s high quality.

Second, I’m on the board of Yolo CASA, court-appointed special advocates (for foster youth). It’s one of the few boards I’ve remained on since I started doing this crazy work. Because I believe that every child should have a great education.

I know a wonderful young woman who has gotten her Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I went to her robe ceremony and her high-school counselor was there, and a couple of her high-school teachers were there. And I was there, and her beau and his family were there. There was nobody there from her family. But she made it because she had some good foster people, and a great counselor, and some good teachers. It makes a difference that there are caring people in preschools, in K-12, and in colleges and universities. And we can, in fact, help those kids.

But we have a responsibility to make sure we’re bringing back the counselors — we’re dead last in counselors; bringing back the psychologists — we’re dead last in psychologists; and creating better scaffolding for the kids that may be on the margins.

I know more about ACEs — adverse childhood experiences — than most candidates for anything. And I’m fond of saying, If you’re not from a dysfunctional household, you probably married somebody from a dysfunctional household. Or your best friend is from a dysfunctional household. I’m a triple-dipper.

What we now know about the kids that make it who come from dysfunctional households, two big, key things: One, they got more education than their parents; and two, they had a mentor — most commonly, multiple mentors, most commonly, teachers. You are changing lives for these kids who are at the margins. And I say to all of you, never forget that; because, in fact, we can do this. Over 70 percent of the kids from dysfunctional households become functional adults; but it’s all about giving them the kinds of support after school and in other areas so that they can have a chance. And we can give them a chance.

Question from anonymous audience member: I’m a preschool provider in the state of California, and participating in the quality-rating improvement system. Over the years, there have been a lot of really great things that have come out of that system.

But there’s also the fact that one teacher has got over 3,000 documented observations to do within about a 40-day period for her classroom to get her students, or to stay on the time line that’s set by the Department of Education for the DRDP (Desired Results Developmental Profile) tool.

That’s just one of the things that are impacting the lives of early-learning providers, and, for the first time in my existence as an early-learning provider, we’re losing people with site-supervisor permits and program-director permits, to just poor-quality daycares, because they want to be able to just spend time with the kids.

I hear a lot about research-based programming. Talk to me a little bit about your opinions about program-based research, where we’re actually taking the tools and the information that we learned from what’s being implemented in the classroom, and listen to providers to kind of adjust what we think we already know.

Eastin: Well, to be honest with you, I have read a lot of research on preschool and child development. I read From Neurons to Neighborhoods — you know that tome that came out. I preferred The Scientist in the Crib, it was shorter. But I read them both, and I’ve read a lot of other things.

I believe that we do need to be research-based in the work that we do. That’s important. But the truth is, I had a universal-preschool task force that convened in ’97. The report came out in ’98. It called for universal preschool within 10 years. Don’t look now. That was 19 years ago. So it’s really important that we that we put our money where our mouth is, and we don’t just keep adding things that we want educators to do in preschool. We have to really improve the investment that we’re making.

You know, prisons are an expense; preschool’s an investment. We have research that shows if we spent more money on preschool, we wouldn’t have as many people on welfare, unemployment, in jail.

And so I want to spend the money smartly on making sure not just that we have a bunch of  rigorous requirements, but that we have a requirement that you have, yes, great education; but also that we’re giving these kids the nurturing and the caring and the direct support that they need.

Because, in fact, you know, it’s a game-changer; but if we don’t do that, then we won’t be able to spend enough on prisons. And I just don’t want to spend it on prisons. We have one prison guard for every two prisoners? A $75,000-a-year prisoner? I’m sorry. That’s not my value. So let’s work smarter. But let’s work with the goal of making this a high-quality system that’s in place in five years’ time.

We’ll create a lot of great jobs. Not only building the buildings that the kids are going to be in, but training and educating and supporting the teachers that are going to be there and the other staff that are going to support this effort. And, at the end of the day, we’ll have a smarter, better state. We did this once, remember?

You know, the Silicon Valley is here, not because of a confluence of rivers. We have no Tigris or Euphrates. We had a confluence of great educational opportunities in California in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. And, by God, it’s time for us to wake up and smell the coffee. Do what the rest of the first world and most of the second world is doing, and that’s focusing on the youngest among us, and that’s the little kids, and the smallest. And, with that, we have glory! We have a great opportunity for the future. We’ll have a great, great future for California if we do that.

View the full presentation on YouTube.

Learn more about Delaine Eastin on her website.

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