Can Meg Whitman Possibly Keep Her Education Promises?

Yesterday, California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman — when she wasn’t dealing with the fallout of having allegedly employed a housekeeper that she knew was undocumented — was in San Jose talking up her plans to revive California’s economy. One of the key planks in her plan is getting more resources into California’s K-12 classrooms and investing $1 billion in California’s higher education system.

In fact, during the gubernatorial debate this week, which took place at the University of California, Davis, campus, Whitman touted her plan for investing in higher education. Watch it:

But can Whitman possibly keep these promises? For one thing, one of her main economic proposals is entirely eliminating the state’s capital gains tax, which will cut state revenue by about $4.5 billion per year. In all, her tax plans will cost the state $10 billion per year, all of which comes right out of California’s general fund.


And what does the general fund pay for? Mostly education. More than half of the fund covers California’s K-12 and higher education programs. In addition to the loss of revenue her tax plan would entail, Whitman has also promised to cut an additional $15 billion out of the general fund. Unless she plans to entirely eliminate the state’s corrections system, she’s going to have to cut into education funding to follow through on that promise, while digging the state’s fiscal hole even further with irresponsible tax cuts.

Now, Whitman would likely answer my skepticism that she can follow through on her plans by saying that she can find substantial savings within the existing pot of education money. Leaving aside that her tax plan likely translates into necessary reductions in current spending, California already has one-third to one-half the national average of administrators per pupil and lower numbers of support staff, so finding easy savings within the system is not as easy as Whitman says.

According to the San Fransisco-based research institute Next 10, “current policies will leave per pupil spending in California $3,200 (23 percent) below the national average by 2015.” Whitman is going to have to significantly rethink her budget plans, find a magical pot of savings that others haven’t, or be satisfied with per pupil spending dropping even lower under her watch.