Private Schools and Public Health

Private Schools and Public Health

Over the course of the past decade I’ve watched a fair amount of bills make their way through the California Legislature.  I’ve had occasion to lobby in support of, or opposition to dozens of measures, interact with hundreds of legislators and staff, and offer testimony before numerous legislative committees.  Sometimes my efforts contributed to outcomes that are consistent with my hopes.  At other times I’ve been left disappointed.  Such is life. The State Capitol is something of a battlefield on which strategy and execution play important roles, but where the advantage obtained from the exercise of raw power cannot be overstated.  Win or lose, the formal legislative process is almost always conducted in a decorous manner in which even bills that stand little or no prospects of passage are subject to an informal code of legislative etiquette.

It’s against that background that a recent indignity suffered by AB 337 (Jones-Sawyer) stands out like a sore thumb.  This is a piece of legislation designed to provide beginning teachers with a modicum of relief for spending money out-of-pocket to purchase classroom supplies and materials.  The relief was to have come in the form of a statewide dollar-for-dollar tax credit to a maximum amount of $500 in a tax year.  The benefit would have become available to fulltime public and private school teachers during their first three years on the job – a period during which they can be expected to earn at-or-near the bottom end of the pay scale.

In essence, the law would have given qualifying teachers the following options:

A)  Send $250 of the money you earn to the State Treasury, where 40 cents on the dollar will be allocated for K-14 public education, and roughly 60 percent of those dollars (or, about 24 cents for every dollar sent to the Treasury) will find their way to public school classrooms; or,

B)  Keep up to $250 dollars on condition that 100 cents-on-the-dollar must be used to purchase supplies and materials that you get to choose and use in your classroom.

Even though the bill was opposed by the California Teachers Association, its author believed it possessed the necessary votes to win passage out of the Assembly Committee on Revenue and Taxation. And pass it did, but not before a deal was struck to remove private school teachers.

Then something unusual happened.  Having been passed by the Revenue and Taxation Committee, the bill headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where it was promptly left to rot.  What is odd about the bill’s demise is that limiting its benefits to public school teachers did nothing to advance the bill’s prospects for passage.  Writing private school teachers out of the measure appears to have been gratuitous.

Yesterday, SB 277 – the so-called “Vaccination Bill” – which has proven to be the single most contentious piece of legislation introduced during the current session, was passed out of the State Assembly’s Health Committee.  Through its proposed elimination of the “personal beliefs exemption” the measure hopes to achieve “herd immunity,” or local and state-wide immunity levels that are sufficiently high (i.e. in the 90-95 percent range) to protect those who cannot receive vaccinations owing to medical considerations.

When it comes to securing public health, legislators have no difficulty acknowledging the role played by private schools in promoting the desired outcome.  If only all lawmakers could see fit to view private schools’ contributions to the economic, civic, social and cultural health of the state in much the same manner!  It’s one thing to be valued for being part of a remedy to an outbreak of measles, and quite another to be appreciated for educating 8 percent of the state’s children while saving the state at least $5 billion in the process.  As was pointed out when AB 337 was heard by the Revenue and Taxation Committee, one medium size private school saves the state more money than the sum of all tax credits that would have been available to private school teachers had the original version of AB 337 become law.

Here’s to a healthy summer for all of our readers, and a healthy future for our state!


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