Appearing on Fox News host Greta Van Susteren’s show Monday night, Mitt Romney said that America’s schools have gotten worse because “we’ve basically given our school system to the teachers unions.” As an example, he pointed to California, noting, “it used to have some of the best schools in the country, and now it’s ranked near the very bottom.”
While Romney is right that California’s schools have gone from among the best to among the worst in the past 30 years, he misses one of the main reasons why, and he might not like it — tax cuts.
Specifically, a ballot initiative enacted in 1978 called Proposition 13 that capped property taxes, which were, at the time, the primary funder of public schools. As the Santa Monica, California-based think tank The Rand Corporation noted:
Indeed, Proposition 13 marked a dramatic turning point in funding for K–12 public education in California. Revenues and expenditures per pupil had grown fairly rapidly both in California and nationwide until the early 1980s. But California fell well behind the nation by the late 1980s. Despite recent funding increases for K–12 education, California schools have continued to spend far below the national average. Measured in year 2000 dollars, spending per pupil in California went from more than $600 above the national average in 1978 to more than $600 below the national average in 2000.
Prop. 13 — which also makes it next to impossible to raise any new revenue in California to address the state’s dire budget problems — is a good example of what happens when taxes are cut without regard for the consequences. And it appears Romney is in denial about the consequences.