Smart Schools Plan: Rebuilding California’s Failing Education System

I have two young children in a public Spanish immersion school. I uniquely understand the challenges our schools face.

My plan, “Smart Schools,” focuses on maximizing academic, social, and mental progress for students across our state in 2021 and for decades to come.

Smart Schools Step 1: Keep Schools Open

My first priority is to ensure all kids in California can go to school in person during the 2021-2022 school year if they and their parents would like them to. 

Newsom closed the doors of public schools while sending his kids to private school for in-person instruction. In contrast, I invited our school’s teachers to come to our farm to create instructional videos to help them adapt to virtual teaching.

Newsom promised to open schools by April 1, 2021 – many schools remained closed for the full year. California had the fewest schools open of any state in the country last year, and the academic and public health consequences were severe. 175,000 children left our public schools last year – many of them English language learners. 

Mental health-related emergency room cases increased 24% for 5- to 11-year-olds and 31% for 12- to 17-year-olds from March-December 2020.

I will not shut our schools for in-person learning. Instead, I’ll require:

  1. An in-person learning option 5 days/week for all students who would prefer in-person learning.
  2. Provide a virtual learning option for all students who would prefer to learn from home.
  3. Maximize in-person attendance by adopting voluntary masking. Learn more about my plan to ensure kids are back in schools this year with the option to choose whether or not to wear masks.

I will work with the Legislature to pass liability limits for schools so that insurance firms will adopt COVID coverage for schools. If the Legislature fails to pass liability protections as it did in 2020, I will implement them through executive order.

Smart Schools Step 2: Make Up for Last Year’s Learning Loss

My next priority is to help students catch up on the learning loss they experienced since schools closed in March 2020. 

The data is saddening. Math test scores decreased by as much as 10 percent year-over-year. The number of kindergarteners at high risk of not learning to read increased by 68%. The number of first-graders at the same risk increased by 65%.

The key to helping children catch up is to make up for lost time with additional hours of instruction and development. We need to expand enrollment in evidence-based expanded learning opportunities (e.g., afterschool programs) – currently, under 8% of our students take advantage of these programs. I would provide funding for these services and help school districts find sufficient instructors through partnerships with community-based organizations.

I would also allow school-by-school changes to the school day and year calendar for the 2021-2022 school year. Successful charter networks have long demonstrated that extended days help disadvantaged students succeed.

Smart Schools Step 3: Prepare Kids for 21st Century Jobs

Once the learning loss crisis of the past 16 months is reversed, my top education priority is to prepare our children for the workforce of tomorrow. 

California is ranked #40 in the nation in K-12 education by the US News & World Report, even though education is the most expensive line item in our budget. Over the last 10+ years, student performance has declined while spending per student has increased by more than $5,000. More money alone isn’t the answer to the problem.

Technology skills represent two of the top 10 skills for the jobs of 2025 – and yet California’s education system performs its worst on math, ranking 44th in 4th-grade math and 39th in 8th-grade math. My top priority will be to implement engineering, coding, and vocational classes into our public schools, giving students the opportunity to prepare for the jobs of the 21st century.

Smart Schools Step 4: Remove & Replace Critical Race Theory

While prioritizing vocational-focused courses, I will deprioritize courses that teach young children one-sided ideologies. Specifically, I will veto the bill requiring an ethnic studies course based on Critical Race Theory for high school graduation (AB-2016), should it make its way to the Governor’s desk. Children can of course have conversations about race and other unique social attributes, but CRT is divisive and unproven to have any positive effect on student outcomes. 

To develop appropriate curriculum, I would increase parental input in the curriculum development process. I would also work to reverse the decision made several years ago that allows schools to inform parents of curricula once at the beginning of the year rather than directly before they present a certain curriculum to the kids. It should be easy for parents to opt their children out of curricula they find inappropriate.

Critical Race Theory should have no place in our schools, but conversations about race are healthy:

Smart Schools Step 5: Increase School Choice

In addition, I would endorse the ballot initiative proposed for 2022 to expand school choice opportunities for all children. The initiative would result in the state depositing funds annually into education savings accounts for every student. Parents and their kids could take the funds to the school of their choice, pay for home school programs connected to a certified school, or save the money for post-secondary education.