Former Democratic California Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin is running for governor, lamenting that the state does not spend enough money on education. Her entry into the 2018 race, unfortunately, came without any report card on how she handled money as state superintendent of public instruction from 1995 to 2003.
Under Eastin, according to one employee, the California Department of Education was a prolific waster of money. More specifically, Eastins CDE gave away more than $20 million in federal funds to an interlocking directorate of community-based organizations, primarily for English-language instruction for immigrant children.
Assistant Superintendent Robert Cervantes, a longtime advocate of English as the key to economic advancement, oversaw the program and found that the CBOs lacked the required nonprofit status and had falsified records. CBO bosses spent much of the money on jewelry, Mercedes-Benz automobiles, houses in Washington, D.C., and political activism. Alarmed at the corruption, Cervantes joined with the departments James Lindberg to blow the whistle on the massive fraud.
Taxpaying parents might have expected Eastin, a self-proclaimed champion of children, to take swift action against the fraudulent groups. But Eastin responded by demoting and reprimanding Lindberg and Cervantes.
Eastin, a liberal Democrat closely aligned with the California Teachers Association, duly kept the money flowing. A state auditors report, however, backed up the whistleblowers, and the CDE repaid the federal government more than $3 million, an acknowledgment that the department had improperly disbursed funds.
After taking legal action, Cervantes received a monetary settlement and got his job back. In 2002, a jury awarded Lindberg $4.5 million and held Eastin personally liable for nearly $1.4 million in noneconomic damages and $150,000 in punitive damages because she had acted with malice toward the whistleblower.
The CDE appealed, but a Sacramento jury boosted Lindbergs award to $7.6 million. Eastin told reporters that Lindberg no more deserved this award than the man in the moon. The courts thought otherwise, and the CDE appealed yet again, spending $1.2 million in legal fees to defend the department and Eastin, who no longer worked there, raiding educational programs to pay the legal bills.
The award was reduced to $4 million, and Eastins punitive damages dropped, but for longtime observers, the damage had been done.
On Eastins watch, Californias education spending rose from about $5,500 per pupil to more than $9,000. Even so, test scores languished at alarmingly low levels and Eastin opposed reforms aimed at raising standards and expanding parental choice.
Taxpayers should not forget that, thanks to Eastins friend, the late millionaire lobbyist John Mockler, K-12 education is the biggest item in the budget. She confirmed that the money is not all for the children. So did her predecessor, state schools superintendent Bill Honig, who was convicted on felony conflict-of-interest charges in 1993.
Parents, students and taxpayers alike might monitor how much Eastins actual record comes into play during the campaign for governor. To paraphrase author Milan Kundera, the triumph of accountability over corruption is the triumph of memory over forgetting.