San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, November 5, 1998

Education Challenge for Davis, Eastin
Voters expect Democrats to improve state schools
By NANETTE ASIMOV, Chronicle Staff Writer

Voters wanted to talk about education, and on election day they made their statement to Sacramento politicians -- you have one last chance.

By electing Gray Davis as governor and re- electing Delaine Eastin as schools chief, voters handed Democratic policymakers a charmed opportunity to team up for the first time in nearly two decades.

At the same time, voters rejected a candidate for governor who supported private school vouchers, a candidate for superintendent whose campaign was financed by voucher backers and a ballot measure that would have taken power away from publicly elected school boards.

But the voucher movement still looms large, and voters may be less willing to reject it next time if the Democratic leadership squanders its chance to restore California education to its former standing.

Yesterday, Davis and Eastin said they will not waste their chance.

``The Chicago school system was in worse shape than ours, and they worked miracles in three years,'' Davis told supporters at a rally in Fresno. ``We can show demonstrable progress. I'm going to devote all the determination, tenacity and staying power I can summon up to achieve that.''

Eastin called it ``an exciting day in California. We're going to get things done.''

In a wide-ranging interview, the superintendent said she will ask Davis to end the requirement that students who speak no English take the new state achievement test in English. She will ask him to raise per-pupil spending to the national average of more than $6,000, and support her incentive plan to help low-performing districts improve.

It remains unclear just how much in agreement he and Eastin will be over the next four years. But it seems certain that the new governor will not try to thwart her teacher-friendly reforms, as Governor Pete Wilson often did.

Wilson had his own brand of education reform: Proposition 8, rejected Tuesday by voters. In part, the vast measure would have handed budget and curriculum decisions to thousands of parents, rather than elected school boards. Wilson also endorsed Eastin's rival, Gloria Matta Tuchman, who favored spending public school money on private tuition vouchers.

``Pete Wilson was trying to break through the educational bureaucracy, and was looking for accountability,'' said state Board of Education President Yvonne Larsen, a Wilson appointee. ``His reforms were provocative and innovative. He is frustrated with the entrenchment of the teachers union, and hoped to break through some of the lethargy.''

The California Teachers Association spent millions of dollars to oppose Proposition 8 and elect Davis and Eastin. Yesterday, Davis was quick to address charges that he is now beholden to the lobbying group.

``What I've told teachers is, as soon as the public schools are beginning to turn the corner, the (public) will be more than happy to shower teachers with increases and compensate them fairly,'' Davis said. ``I respect teachers. They know my heart is in the right place, but school is not about them. It's about kids.''

Nor is Eastin ``in our pocket,'' said Barbara Kerr, the CTA's secretary/treasurer. ``She is her own person, and we have a wonderful opportunity to work with a pro-education superintendent and a pro-education governor. We can see that they'll work together and in four years, California education will be at the top.''

School administrators echoed the teachers' hope.

``It's been very frustrating for the past several years having state- level leadership at odds with each other,'' said Bob Wells, executive director of the California Association of School Administrators.

He described Sacramento's maze of education governance: The elected state superintendent uses the bully pulpit to argue for change, the appointed Board of Education sets policy, and the governor and Legislature make the laws and allocate the money.

Nearly 20 years of bickering among them all has made educators feel they are at war, Wells said. ``Now we have a fresh and promising opportunity to have the governor, the state superintendent and the Legislature on the same page,'' he said.

Davis also will be able to make several appointments to the state Board of Education next year, perhaps his most influential opportunity.

In the past several years, for example, the board has steered curriculum in a back-to-basics direction. The board also adopted the new state achievement test before adopting academic standards. And it rejected requests by several local districts to keep bilingual education classes after passage of Proposition 227.