The Newtown, CT, mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School was unprecedented and devastating. Gun enthusiasts in Congress, the NRA, and liberal gun-control advocates like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg condemned the violence and offered a plethora of solutions. Never letting a crisis go to waste, South Bay state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) has reintroduced legislation which he had sponsored in 2011 with state Senate President Darrell Steinberg. Their bill would require schools to have a comprehensive emergency response plan, specifically in response to an armed intruder. Schools which fail to comply would lose state finances.
Before commenting on the competence or wisdom of this legislation, one should recognize the welcome rarity that one of Lieu’s bills did not clutter the governor’s desk for his signature. However, unlike his other bilious boutique bills, Lieu's “emergency plan” legislation possesses some merit. Still, to impose a financial penalty on schools overburdened with pension obligations, dwindling revenues, and expanding curricular expectations seems out of place at this time.
Justifying the "emergency plan" proposal, Senate President Darrell Steinberg commented:
"The legislature has a responsibility to do what it can to ensure basic safety requirements are enforced in our schools.The safety of our children demands 100 percent compliance."
Our legislature wants to improve public education, yet voters should remain incredulous, since Sacramento politicians have been holding school funding hostage for years, with the latest “hold-up” forcing passage of Prop 30. Our schools still face growing pressures to boost test scores, protect our children, and furnish funds for the growing number of retiring employees, retirees whom school districts cannot replace either for lack of funds or flexibility from teachers unions.
Now Lieu wants to fine schools that do not have a comprehensive emergency plan in case of disasters, earthquakes, or shooters on campus. Certainly, every school needs to have proper procedures for protecting children during natural disasters and earthquakes. As for preparing against armed intruders, Lieu and his colleagues should rescind the “gun free zone” legislation, which turns schools like Sandy Hook Elementary into “safety free zones.” Prohibiting trained personnel from bringing a firearm onto the campus lets a "bad guy with a gun" do his worst. One armed campus employee could neutralized a deranged attacker and discourage future attacks.
Aside from the physical, natural, or homicidal dangers to our schools, when will Sen. Lieu deal with the more latent yet still more dangerous problems afflicting California public education?
Even though the state legislature boasts of a mere “one billion dollar deficit” for this year, the revenue shortfalls are cascading all over and crippling our schools. Qualified educators are still looking for work, while school districts remain top-heavy with administrators, deputy superintendents, and assorted consultants. Manhattan Beach Unified has hired former superintendents as ad hoc consultants to do the jobs which district administration were hired to do in the first place. Every South Bay district has three assistant superintendents. Los Angeles Unified School District assigns math and reading coaches to supervise teachers, when most of the time they micromanage the creativity and authority of the teacher while receiving bloated salaries. How many more bureaucrats does a school district have to hire before they concede: “We have met the enemy, and he is us?”
Still, Lieu favors more state intervention to solve everything. This track record of “more government” has given California one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country, along with a terrible business climate. Levying a fine on our schools for falling behind on emergency plan compliance would add to their fiscal emergencies. Besides, if any group of people should be fined for "non-compliance", it should be our state politicians, who raise taxes, increase regulations, yet refuse to cut spending with comprehensive budget and pensions reforms. They should also be held accountable for sitting by and doing nothing while another “armed assailant”, the public sector union lobby, continues to influence our legislators and frustrate meaningful, cost-cutting reforms in our schools.
Instead of more legislation, one simple solution would improve school safety, provide proper disbursement of school funding, and enable much-needed pension reform: public school choice with a voucher. Instead of punishing schools for not providing emergency plans, Sen. Lieu should press for school choice for all Californians and force schools to compete for students. Competition will lead to school compliance better than government fiat. If Sen. Lieu cares so much about the children, he should sponsor legislation which will let parents choose where they enroll their children. Let people choose where they go, and schools will be forced to spend wisely, protect their students, and improve overall.