The transcript below is from a presentation by four leading Democratic 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 Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who was formerly mayor of San Francisco. This transcript has been edited for clarity and some explanations have been added in parentheses. The full presentation is available on YouTube.
I had the privilege of serving as a mayor of not just a city, but a mayor of a county, San Francisco. As a consequence of taking the oath of office around 2004 and 2005, there was a big push in this country to take over school boards. There was a push, emanating from cities like New York and Chicago, a little bit in Boston. In San Francisco we chose a different path.
We decided, instead of taking over the school board and asserting “mayoral control,” that we would begin the process of building partnerships and developing a framework of engagement with our schools.
We called those partnerships not just “public/private partnerships,” but “public/public partnerships.” There’s an important distinction between “public/private partnerships” and “public/public partnerships.” The whole idea was not only to strengthen the relationship, but also to recognize our unique roles and responsibilities and delineation of authority.
We actually entered into a memorandum with our school district and called it a “Partnership for Achievement.” It laid out a series of goals and strategies to strengthen the relationship between the city and county and the independent school district. It also set out a course to do some things that were quite novel for cities to do.
In 2008 San Francisco achieved the goal of preschool for all. It didn’t just assert it. It implemented a Preschool for All program. We’ve also made investments in arts education, every child, every classroom K-12. We’ve put arts education back in schools.
We recognized the importance of blended intervention — linking health and education by putting wellness centers back into our public schools to deal not only with physical health needs, but adolescent and mental-health needs.
We built strong partnerships that allowed us to pay our teachers more, to celebrate our teachers, to look at our teachers not as sparring partners, but working partners, and to deal with the demoralization in a profession that’s being attacked day-in and day-out — not just by members of one particular party, but, sadly, by members of all political parties.
We built a framework for engagement that now is best described as community schools. We call them full-service community schools. And it’s a framework that I want to engage and advance throughout the entire system.
I’m a passionate supporter of preschool for all. I’m a passionate supporter as well for recognizing that preschool comes often too late. And that’s why we’ve laid out a strategy for a prenatal plan, recognizing the brain development that occurs in the womb.
In a state where half of our births are Medi-Cal births, we recognize the opportunity for interventions such as the Nurse-Family Partnership, to advance much broader-scale interventions.
We also strongly believe in the importance of paid family leave and the importance of those early opportunities to engage not just mothers but also fathers. San Francisco has fully funded paid family leave, something we need to advance at a much broader scale in the state of California.
These are the kinds of partnerships — this is the kind of investment — that I am enthusiastically looking forward to engaging as your next governor, and recognizing the incredible power as it relates to not just front-loading education, but also beginning to have a conversation about the importance of back-loading education, particularly as it relates to skills development and as it relates to changes in our economy.
We talk about leaving people behind, but we recognize that many people start behind. We all recognize the importance of focusing on the readiness gap before we have to address the achievement gap.
We have to change the paradigm — from top-down to truly bottom-up — and begin anew with a different kind of strategy, a different kind of engagement of intervention. I think we have a unique opportunity as we turn the page from the foundation Gov. Brown has provided us, and to move to another level with your next governor.
Q&A with Louis Freedberg
Freedberg: The current governor says we just don’t have the funds to expand preschool to all children. Would you, as governor, commit to preschool for all?
Newsom: Yes I would. Look, “localism” is determinative. In San Francisco, we didn’t wait for the Schwarzenegger administration. We didn’t wait around for Washington, D.C. We took responsibility. We stepped up. We created a budget set-aside through Proposition H approved by voters in 2004. And we also created a set-aside for school-enrichment programs.
Am I committed to this? Absolutely. Why? Because it’s a developmental imperative. It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have in the world we’re living in.
I serve on the CSU Board of Trustees and the UC Board of Regents. For seven years, the cost of remediation and the issue of equity have been front and center. That’s because our interventions come too late. So we’ve got to create, as we say in psychology, “a pattern interrupt.” We’ve got to focus on the root causes, not the symptoms, and that’s why it’s imperative to do this.
We can do a lot at the state level, but we can also be resourceful at the local level to create the conditions that one of my children champions Margaret Brodkin talks so much about — for local set-asides, to look at potentially lowering the thresholds for set-asides for children and youth programs, for local bond thresholds, etc. That obviously, that gets to the Prop 13 conversation. It gets into the service-tax conversation.
Freedberg: But where do you stand on Prop 13? Would you be willing to go back to the voters to take a look at that, particularly on the commercial-roll side of things?
Newsom: Yes — The commercial/industrial side and that stubborn conversation we have over years and years and years around how people play the LLC/ “S-corp” and “C-corp” game in terms of a change in ownership. Absolutely, this needs to be subject of conversation and debate and I’ve long been up front in advancing those conversations. So the answer is “yes.”
Freedberg: Prop 30 was viewed as reversal of California being the anti-tax state that started with Prop. 13. Could you see going further and going back to taxpayers to generate more revenue to fund these programs?
Newsom: The answer is yes. I think there are a lot of novel proposals out there. We can broaden the tax base. We can actually tax the economy that exists today, not the economy of 100 years ago, which is our current tax structure. There have been a lot of proposals even beyond “tax reform,” and that includes the oil-severance tax and other opportunities to be a little more creative. We’re not out of the woods, and I think everybody recognizes that.
We’ve also got some demographic challenges, and that’s the “silver tsunami” that’s coming to California. Over the next ten years our senior population is going to explode by over 78 percent. And that’s going to put enormous pressure on our resources — as people want to live in place, and live in dignity and are living longer. We want to be there for our seniors. I don’t want to create the conditions where we’re choosing one over the other. So this tax-reform conversation, broadening the tax base, is absolutely critical.
Freedberg: What about looking at also the really early years, not just preschool, but zero through three, and how to support infant care and toddler care, which is even more expensive and out of reach of so many Californians. What would you do as governor to deal with those early years?
Newsom: One could argue our intervention at preschool comes too late. The neuroscience tells us billions and billions of neural connections are made in just the first three months. We talk about the importance of the first three years. But those first three months are even more impactful, and that’s why issues of prenatal care become profoundly important.
This has come home to me in a deep way. I have four young children. The youngest is one, three, five and one that just turned eight last week. The power and importance of prenatal care was certainly brought home to me over the last decade,
We already have the points of intervention, with half of our children being born into Medi-Cal. We have extraordinary programs, like the Nurse-Family Partnerships, the home visits off the charts. The work that First Five does on “Talk, Read and Sing.” The return on investment of these programs is off the charts. And so it’s absolutely essential. All those things are profoundly important.
You need a champion, though. You need a mayor, a governor working with mayors, that elevates the status of this science in a way that enlivens people to be fully participatory, not just parents, but the community, in understanding the critical nature of these bottom-up interventions, so that you don’t have the need for interventions later on which are extraordinarily costly, and the remediation costs that don’t necessarily lead to the outcomes that people would like to see. It’s because we simply aren’t making those early investments. So I’m deeply committed to prenatal care, and zero to three, in addition to preschool.
Freedberg: One issue is how much we are paying early childcare preschool workers. What would you do as governor to try to increase those wages, which in turn affects the quality of the services that are provided?
Newsom: Quality is the key. And quality also comes with credentials. Quality comes with costs. But we also know quality comes with an ROI (return on investment) — great outcomes.
Just having access is not the end goal here. It’s quality access. You might have a bachelor’s degree, and you’re teaching preschool. It’s one of the lowest-paid degrees in terms of credentialing that exists.
In fact, I remember seeing a study that may be a year old. $11.61 was the average worker pay in early childhood education. And 90-plus percent of them are women. Close to 50 percent are Hispanic. So there’s a social-justice aspect to this as well.
So we need to invest in professional development and invest in wages, and, by the way, that includes childcare wages. In San Francisco we made the investments. We created the conditions with the public so that they understand the importance of this, so that when we asked them to step up and support us (at the ballot box), they were prepared to do that.
That’s what we need in a governor — not just to support these things, but to create a public narrative around these things so that when we ask the public to help us, they’re ready to do it, and we’re not pushing against public opinion.
Freedberg: Regarding K-12 schools, California has moved in major new directions under Gov. Brown — notably the Local Control Funding Formula and the Common Core. Do you think we are on the right track in terms of the reforms that are in place in the schools?
Newsom: I’m a big supporter of LCFF. I’m concerned there are a lot of pundits out there, people who are ready to pull the plug after just a few years. I’m not. We’re just a few years into this.
I think it’s profoundly important to support this effort. It’s not just a slogan for me. Localism is determinative. It’s a bottom-up, not top-down strategy. The power and importance of culturally competent solutions at the local level is a core value of mine. I want to see it advanced.
Obviously, we’re worried about those test scores, but we’re just three years into that (the administration of the Smarter Balanced tests). What never gets much attention is there are 14 other states that actually showed a decline in their language and reading scores, which suggests maybe some deeper questions and issues (about the test itself).
We wanted to see the success students showed on that last test (in 2016) continue with results on this year’s test. But we are making progress, and I want to stay the course, but address these equity and achievement issues and continue to make sure there’s transparency in terms of LCFF and accountability. I mean, we’re all about transparency and accountability, but we have to actually follow through on what those words mean and be a little bit more aggressive in advancing those principles as well.
Freedberg: On the issue of local control, how much should Sacramento be prescribing to districts, particularly around the accountability provisions in the LCAPs or how much local control really should there be?
Newsom: If I had to come up with a sound bite about the state’s role, it would be “big on the what, small on the how.” That’s the state’s role.
As a former mayor, as a former county supervisor, and someone who does believe in local control, I think the state should set forth large, audacious goals, provide the resources, but recognize that resourcefulness is at the local level, along with the innovation and the capacity to act anew and think anew. That’s where I come down in terms of broad strokes on the issue of local control.
Freedberg: So that would continue under your governorship, the move to devolve decision-making to the local level?
Newsom: I’m not a command-and-control guy. One the big problems with school reform has been this top-down, not bottom-up approach.
Freedberg: California has been pretty receptive to charter schools, by and large, over the years. But some districts have expressed concerns that too many charter schools are siphoning off too many kids which in turn are affecting the budgets of some district. Do you think we need more control of charter schools? Or do you think California has it right where we are at the moment?
Newsom: I think we’ve got to get under the hood. I’m not ideologically opposed to charter schools, and there are some extraordinary charter schools out there. But I’m all about accountability and transparency. This is public money, and we need to be held accountable for that public money.
I think it is time. There’s been enough evidence of some abuse, significant abuse, and self-dealing conflicts that I think deserve some scrutiny, and are not getting as much as I think some of these organizations should.
I’m four-square against this notion of monetizing the public schools. They’re not economic units. I’m vehemently opposed to private charters. And I think that we need to take a good look at some of these out-of-state charter-management organizations that have come in-state that are not necessarily performing as they should, and they’re not necessarily as accountable as they should be.
Freedberg: Do you see a realistic way to increase the California’s low ranking in terms in terms of how much it spends on its kids?
Newsom: Yes. We have to. We’re on the bottom 10. We all have the goal to get in the top 10 in per-pupil investment, but we have a long way to go. It’s about finding new sources of funding, new dedicated sources of funding, and looking at our tax system and seeing what we can do to make sure that Prop 98 truly is a floor, not a ceiling.
But it’s also about resourcefulness. It’s also about elevating these issues in public discourse and the public debate.
The reason San Francisco was able to do this was because we had champions. We had leaders. They weren’t necessarily people in formal authority. They were people that had moral authority like many of you in this room who were leaders in your community, who created the conditions that allowed us to go the voters and make the case for the imperative of investing in children. We were overwhelmingly successful in those endeavors in 2004, 2010 and 2016. We created the Children’s Fund in San Francisco in 1991. It was a five-year process to support that effort. And that’s the kind of leadership we’re going to need in this state.
It’s not an indictment of Governor Brown. I have an immeasurable appreciation for the governor. We have the opportunity next year to elect a governor that has four young kids that’s experiencing those realities in real time, that not just interested in these issues, but is truly passionate and committed to these issues. And to having a children’s cabinet, a body within the governor’s office that’s working on connecting these dots, working on addressing these core issues, not just during a legislative session, not just in response to something, but in a sustainable way. I think it’s profoundly important and long overdue in this state. And so I commit to you that being advanced if I’m privileged to be your next governor.
View the full presentation on YouTube.