Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource (2014)

Ah, 2018. For you, perhaps a time to celebrate over Dungeness crab and Chardonnay. For me, I once again ate crow with a splash of vinegar as I wrote my annual predictions column.

I wouldn’t bring up last year’s column, but I know some of you would Google it and taunt me with comments to EdSource. Spare me; I didn’t whiff on every prediction for 2017; I threw in a couple my near-blind dog Dewey could have guessed right.

More on 2017 later. For now, a look ahead at a year that promises to be momentous. Here are more than a dozen predictions for 2018 you can bet your Bitcoin on. Note: I chose only what’s quantifiable, so I won’t predict a bonanza in personalized learning. And, though the November election will be the most watched event, I won’t predict odds of candidates I may write about.

The scale ranges from 1 to 5 “Fensters,” with 1 meaning no chance, and 5 meaning highly likely.

State budget

Last year, I wrote. “Keep one eye on Washington and the other on Sacramento this year to see if the Trump and Brown administrations are in conflict or in concert on a bunch of issues.” Bad advice. The Republican Congress’ year-end tax cut is making Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature cross-eyed. The new $10,000 limit on deductions for state and property taxes, likely federal budget cuts to offset a whopper increase in the national debt and erosion of the Affordable Care Act that millions of Californians rely on, are bad omens. They will doom chances that Brown will increase spending next year for education priorities, like expanded preschool, beyond the minimum funding for Proposition 98.

Fortunately, according to a projection by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, 2018 could be a bountiful year for Prop. 98. That could enable Brown to pay the final installment on the Local Control Funding Formula, his landmark financing law, in his last year in office — two years ahead of his original projection.

Tax reform

The new federal tax cut, capping state and local tax deductions, will make it harder to pass new taxes in California and may boost chances for a repeal of the 12-cent- per-gallon increase in the gas tax — an initiative led by Republican gubernatorial candidate Travis Allen.

But one tax idea may get serious attention: creating a “split roll” property tax in which commercial and business properties would be assessed more often at market rate, and therefore pay a larger share of property taxes. Passage will require amending Proposition 13, which severely restricts property tax increases, a monumental obstacle until now. But voters may reason that businesses should pay more since many also will reap the biggest benefit from the federal tax cut.

Pensions

The cost-sharing formula that the Legislature passed in 2012 to keep California’s two mammoth public pension systems solvent is squeezing school districts. By the time payment increases level off in three years, districts’ contributions to CalPERS, which covers hourly school workers, and CalSTRS, which covers teachers and administrators, will have risen by $6 billion per year, to more than $10 billion annually.

The California School Boards Association is calling on Gov. Brown and the Legislature for help by recalibrating the Proposition 98 formula to recognize the pension mandate’s burden.

Help for districts may come from another source, however — the courts. One reason pension costs are high is a 1947 California Supreme Court ruling that established pensions that are in place when a public employee is hired are binding. The current high court has agreed to hear two court cases, Cal Fire Local 2881 v. California Public Employees’ Retirement System and Marin Association of Public Employees v. Marin County Employees’ Retirement Association, challenging the so-called sacrosanct California Rule affirming the vested right.

Though not predictive, the Brown administration supports giving the Legislature more discretion to modify pension benefits, and his office will argue the case before the high court. Sometime this year, Brown will nominate his fourth justice, which will make a majority on the court.

Amending the funding formula

In an EdSource article last month, we asked two dozen education leaders and other astute observers to suggest a way to improve the Local Control Funding Formula. The most common ideas were:

1. Make it easier to track what districts do with funding dedicated to low-income, homeless, foster youths and English learners;

2. Increase the proportion of districts’ base funding;

3. Reduce the requirements and length of the Local Control and Accountability Plans, districts’ annual budget and planning guides.

I posed this question to Brown: Would it be wiser to negotiate needed fixes to the law while you’re in power or watch the Legislature and the next governor pick away at the funding law in ways you might regret? He didn’t ring me up, so I’ll answer for him.

DACA

Each day is more nerve-racking for undocumented immigrants brought to America as children. In September, President Donald Trump reversed President Barack Obama’s executive order establishing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protects recipients from deportation and grants renewable work permits. Trump then suspended his action until March to give Congress time to pass his version of immigration reform, with some form of permanent legal protection for DACA recipients in exchange for money to build a wall along the Mexican border. As the year ended, there was no sign of a deal. Meanwhile, the Legislature last year passed a number of laws preventing school districts, universities and state and local police from cooperating if federal agents do come looking for our neighbors.

About a quarter of the nation’s 800,000 DACA recipients live in California, and of those, about 72,000 attend California community colleges and universities. Whether they get a path to citizenship may come down to Republican legislators asking themselves the question, Is it politically wise to go nativist or instead, to be welcoming to those who have always considered America home? Letting DACA expire will create havoc in young people’s lives, with many students quitting jobs and college, though perhaps few immediate deportations.

A brawl with Washington

Just before Christmas, California got an ominous letter from one of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ top lieutenants, who cited a dozen pages worth of objections to the state’s plan for meeting the demands of the Every Student Succeeds Act. In exchange for federal aid, the law, among other things, requires that states act to close achievement gaps between low-income students and their wealthier peers and fix the worst-performing schools.

While Brown has been governor, California has tangled with Washington over standardized testing, teacher evaluations and other dictates, and state officials argue that their approach to school improvement is legal and wise.

Get ready for a battle royale over school reform with federal threats to dock billions of federal education dollars for California.

Bad news for CTA

Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court, with a conservative majority intact, will certainly rule workers don’t have to pay fees to the public employee unions that represent them. The court would have reached the decision two years ago, in a case brought by a group of California teachers, had not Justice Antonin Scalia died of a heart attack.

The new case, Janus v. AFSCME, out of Illinois, represents an existential threat to unions like the California Teachers Association. Based on what has happened elsewhere, a third or more members could choose to stop paying fees. So expect a year of activism while the CTA, the biggest spender in Sacramento, and its locals are still at the top of their game.

In the Legislature

In 2017 decisive action on some controversial bills was put off until this year. Some of those are likely to re-emerge than others in 2018.

Note: (AB 1217):Pupil instruction: state school: STEM instruction; (AB 1220):Certificated school employees: permanent status; (SB 328): Pupil attendance: school start time

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  1. Gregory Anderson 5 months ago5 months ago

    Thanks for this interactive and engaging and informative piece!

  2. Mike McMahon 5 months ago5 months ago

    Would have liked to be able to enter our own predictions of the likelihood of your predictions coming true in 2018.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 5 months ago5 months ago

      Good idea, Mike. We’re looking into it. Meanwhile, go ahead and use the space.