Candidates: Give children a good education

By: Julie Drake

LANCASTER – With public education the primary topic, the Antelope Valley School Boards Association welcomed candidates for state and federal office Tuesday at Lancaster High School for the sixth annual Education Summit.

The forum featured Congressional candidate Bryan Caforio, who seeks to unseat Rep. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale); state Senate candidate Johnathon Ervin; Assemblyman Tom Lackey and challenger attorney Steve Fox; and Los Angeles County Supervisorial candidate Darrell Park.

Knight was in Washington and could not attend the forum. Assemblyman Scott Wilk, who is running against Ervin for the 21st Senate District, did not attend. Kathryn Barger, who is running against Park to succeed retiring Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, also did not attend.

Barger is Antonovich’s chief deputy. Park is a former White House Office of Management and Budget staffer.

After the candidates introduced themselves, moderator Dennis Meyers, the California School Board Association’s assistant executive director of governmental relations, asked them about the one thing they would do, if elected, to improve public education.

“Support every child like they are our most important resource,” Park said.

Fox, a former teacher who served in multiple elected offices over the years including the state Assembly before Lackey beat him in 2014, said he would like teachers, administrators and trustees to have input in the legislative process.

“Whether it’s Common Core or whatever it is, you should have a say in what it’s going to be; no more constant changes,” Fox said.

Ervin, an aerospace engineer and a military reservist who has children in Westside Union School District and Antelope Valley Union High School District, said he would like to get parents more involved in the process.

“Parents are absolutely critical to the children’s success. The teachers have our kids most of the day and if we could just get the parents in the school a little bit more, I think we could be better off,” Ervin said.

Ervin added the top priority is to make sure schools are fully funded.

“As a legislator I need to be able to make sure you guys have the tools you need and the resources to make sure our kids are educated,” Ervin said.

Lackey said Career Technical Education is getting attention from the state Legislature, but it needs more.

“It needs funding. We’re talking about it now and it’s got a little bit of money, but we’ve got to do much more, and that’s what I hope to do,” Lackey said.

“What we don’t want is for Washington to be imposing these ridiculous outsider rules upon our local school boards, our state, who know best what we should do,” Caforio said.

Caforio, an attorney who is running for Knight’s 25th Congressional District seat, said he would make sure school boards and the state have the funding they need.

“This is an investment in our future and we need to make sure that our elected officials in Washington are giving the necessary resources to you so you could put them to the best uses so we could give every kid moving forward the opportunity to succeed,” Caforio said.

Meyers also asked the candidates about school funding in California and what they could do to help with the issue.

Fox, who co-authored the state’s rainy-day fund when he was in office, said it is over-funded now.

“I think we could use a good chunk of that, whether it’s one time for specific projects that we have in education (like) capital improvement, I think we could release some of those funds back to the schools and give you more autonomy on how you can spend it,” Fox said.

Ervin said the state needs to pass Proposition 55, a Nov. 8 ballot measure that would extend for 12 years an income tax increase on Californians who earn more than $250,000 a year.

Called the Children’s Education and Health Care Protection Act of 2016, the ballot measure would extend an income tax that was imposed under Proposition 30, passed in 2012, and is scheduled to end in 2018. Prop. 55, if passed, would extend the tax through 2030 to fund education and health care.

“I supported Proposition 30 as well; my opponent didn’t. I have to bring that up because I think it’s quite irresponsible for him not to support that,” Ervin said. “Funding is obviously an issue and so what I’d like to do is kind of cut the fat in Sacramento.”

Lackey said he does not support Prop. 55 because it relies on too small a part of the population to be successful.

“What happens is we become very, very reliant on that income thinking the economy is going to continue to produce like it is now,” Lackey said. “The economy is very, very cyclical but yet we don’t adapt our budgetary cycle for that kind of change.”

Lackey added he does support Proposition 98, the voter-approved initiative that guarantees a minimum funding level for schools.

“We’ve funded education more than we ever have and so I’m very thankful for the income,” he said. “Because of the way Proposition 98 is worded that extra income went toward education.”

Ervin responded that “while the politicians in Sacramento have figured it out, we can’t afford to short-change our kids.” He added students can’t wait for lawmakers to figure out what to do with the state’s tax structure.

“I’ve seen the reality,” Lackey countered. “The reality is when the funds stop coming the programs stop flowing.”

Caforio said the federal government needs to fully fund Title I and Title II, which are facing shortfalls, as well as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“It’s in the law that 40% of the funding for those (special education) programs are supposed to come from the federal government. And yet historically the Washington politicians are only authorizing 16% of the funding. That’s outrageous,” Caforio said.

He added his mother was a special education teacher, so he knows how important such programs are to schools and their communities to help special needs students to help them succeed.

Park worked for 10 years in the Office of Management and Budget in the White House complex where they balanced the federal budget four times.

“We owe it to our kids to help them become the responsible adults they deserve to be,” Park said. “And that means spending money, small amounts of money, on before school and after school, getting them tutoring if they need it.”

Meyers also asked the candidates about charter schools, special education and the challenges small school districts face.

In regard to charter schools, Ervin, who grew up in Flint, Michigan, said he understands the struggles of parents to get their children an education.

“Our public schools are there for everyone and every child should have the opportunity to be successful in school. So what I’d like to see is a level playing field as far as public schools and charter schools,” Ervin said, adding charter schools have a slight advantage.

Lackey said not all charter schools are created equal.

“Some of the charter schools are a farce and they need to be identified as such and eliminated from public funding,” Lackey said.

Lackey added it is important not to stereotype charter schools and all public schools.

“Some of them are very powerfully successful, some of them are a joke, and most that are a joke are taking away from public funds and exploiting children,” Lackey said.

Caforio said there are some great success stories in charter schools and others that are bad.

“What we need to do is make sure if you’re taking money away from public education, you need to have the same accountability, the same transparency in place to make sure that the kids at those schools are having the opportunity to get a good education,” Caforio said.

Park said he is the happy product of 12 years of public education.

“We need to redouble our commitment to public schools,” he said. “Not just the infrastructure, not just the teachers, not just the students, not just the parents, but a commitment that we will treat our public education system as the important fundamental bedrock of why our country is strong,” Park said.

Fox said when kids leave public schools, they leave behind special education students, who cost more money to educate, leaving less money for other students.

“Perhaps one of the solutions might be charter schools can’t grow unless they take their percentage of special ed kids with them,” Fox said. “So they have the same responsibilities and the same shared costs.”

Fox also said charter schools treat their teachers differently and that those teachers do not have the same protections as their counterparts.

“The answer isn’t yes or no charter schools,” Fox said. “The answer is how do we do it, how do we make it work, how do we make it fair. How do we ensure our kids get a good education?”

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