Source: CALmatters
Oct. 1, 2017

The more important data point is that with essentially no gains in 2017, fewer than half of California’s children are meeting English standards and fewer than 38 percent in math.

That should be seen as a major crisis, but when one looks at the numbers for black and Latino kids, and those classified as poor or “English learners,” they even more shameful.

While three-quarters of Asian students and two-thirds of whites hit the competency mark in English, fewer than a third of black students and just over a third of Latinos did. For poor kids, it was 35.5 percent and for English learners, a minuscule 12.1 percent.

The scores on mathematics were even worse, just 37.6 percent overall, 19 percent for blacks and 25.2 percent for Latinos. The best spin state schools Supt. Tom Torlakson could muster was

The best spin state schools Supt. Tom Torlakson could muster was a weak “I’m pleased we retained our gains,” followed by a rationalization that “these tests are far more rigorous and realistic than the previous paper and pencil tests.”

The low achievement of disadvantaged children is obviously important for their individual futures, but what makes it critical to the state as a whole is that they are about 60 percent of the state’s K-12 students.

Aug. 31, 2017

The 5-2 decision, upholding an appellate court ruling, was that the taxing constraints on local governments in the state constitution don’t apply to voter-generated ballot measures that raise taxes.

It was immediately interpreted by anti-tax and pro-tax forces as allowing initiatives for “special taxes” – those for specific purposes – to be approved by voters via simple majorities, rather than the two-thirds margins required for special taxes proposed by governments themselves.

Aug. 2, 2017

California’s politicians and civic leaders have portrayed Tesla as the crown jewel of the state’s efforts to build a new economy for the 21st century while dramatically reducing carbon emissions. Gov. Jerry Brown has set a goal of having 1.5 million battery- or hydrogen-powered “zero emission vehicles” or ZEVs on California roads by 2025, roughly five times their current numbers, with ZEVs being 15 percent of all new car sales by then. Toward that end, the state has been an indirect investor in Tesla through corporate tax breaks and direct subsidies to purchasers of its cars. Tesla has also benefited handsomely by selling credits to other automakers in lieu of their meeting state quotas for making and selling ZEVs. If Tesla doesn’t deliver on its ambitious production and sales goals for Model 3 and finally become profitable, it will not only be a huge setback for Musk and other stockholders, but for the politicians who are also betting on its success.

July 26, 2017

Slowly – but surely – we are learning that the near-catastrophic failure of Oroville Dam’s main spillway wasn’t truly caused by weather, even though the state claims that in seeking federal aid for repairs. Rather, it resulted from poor engineering and construction when the nation’s highest dam was rising more than a half-century ago as the centerpiece of the State Water Project, and poor maintenance since its completion. The latest evidence is a huge report by a team of engineering experts, headed by Robert Bea and Tony Johnson of the University of California’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management. It concluded that the dam’s fundamental flaws were compounded by decades of neglect by the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD). . . .But there’s an even more pertinent question raised by the Bea-Johnson study – whether the state is even capable of competently building and maintaining huge public works projects. One recalls the more recent example of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, one third of which was replaced after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake revealed the section’s flaws. It not only took a quarter-century to design and build the futuristic replacement, but costs wound up four times their original estimate and after it was completed, it was revealed that there were major construction flaws that the Department of Transportation didn’t disclose but investigative journalism by The Sacramento Bee exposed. When asked about it, Brown infamously replied, “Shit happens.”

July 24, 2017

Simple arithmetic reveals why permit streamlining is critical. The state says we need 180,000 new units of housing a year, but we’re building only 100,000 now. Closing that 80,000-unit gap would require more than $26 billion a year in additional investment at the average cost of $332,000 per unit for lower-end housing cited in Brown’s budget. Under even the best circumstances, therefore, the state could provide only a tiny fraction of the needed money, so making it easier for private and non-profit money to flow into actual construction is the most vital element of any package. The major pitfall is that faced with the difficult politics, Brown and legislators will settle for a token response – throwing a few billion dollars at the problem that won’t make even a small dent and failing to enact the regulatory reforms. That not only would ignore the most vital issue, but would allow politicians to claim a face-saving, undeserved victory, much as they did for a roadway improvement package that covers only a fraction of the unmet need.

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