Is State Democratic Party Chair Candidate Eastin a “Champion for Education”?

After a failed bid for governor in 2018, Delaine Eastin is running for chair of the California Democratic Party. Eastin’s campaign website bills her as a “Champion for Education,” but state Democrats, millennials in particular, may be unaware of Eastin’s record in that field. 

“Delaine is the former State Superintendent for Public Instruction,” the website explains. On Eastin’s watch, from 1995 to 2003, the California Department of Education gave more than $20 million in federal funds to a consortium of community-based organizations (CBOs), primarily for English-language instruction for immigrant children. 

Assistant Superintendent Robert Cervantes, a longtime advocate of English as the key to economic advancement, who oversaw the program, found that the CBOs lacked the required nonprofit status and had falsified records. CBO bosses spent much of the money on jewelry, luxury automobiles, houses in Washington, D.C., and political activism.

Superintendent Eastin responded by demoting and reprimanding Cervantes and fellow whistleblower James Lindberg. Both took legal action and received cash settlements. Lindberg’s was reduced but the damage had been done. Yet the CBO scandal does not appear on Eastin’s web page about her time as superintendent. 

It was hardly her only lapse. On Eastin’s watch, California’s 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.

In the Assembly Eastin sought to make charter schools indistinguishable from regular government schools. As a candidate for governor Eastin advocated a moratorium on new charter schools, a meaningful reform currently under fire, as Thomas Sowell notes in Charter Schools and Their Enemies

Eastin claims that our educational system “was designed in a way meant to uphold white supremacy and to protect the privileges of wealthy elites.” Democrats, she adds, “must commit to eliminating the structures that perpetuate racism in our society.” Yet she does not identify the structures that perpetuate racism or explain how they are to be eliminated. She opposed Proposition 209, which banned racial and ethnic discrimination in state education, employment, and contracting. Eastin does not perceive the voter-approved measure as a way to end anti-black racism. 

Naturally, she’s a staunch supporter of the California Teachers Association and laments declining union membership, but she does not tackle the state’s high taxes or the onerous regulatory regime. She also wants college to be “tuition free again” and she calls for “single payer” health care for all.

All told, Eastin’s campaign differs little if at all from those of progressive Democrats nationwide. For California Democrats, however, one item deserves close attention. 

Eastin says she will have “zero tolerance for sexual harassment” and will uphold “accountability as it relates to sexual harassment by anyone.” This may be a reference to former state party chair Eric Bauman, who resigned in 2018, facing allegations that he “sexually harassed and assaulted” staffers at party events and touched both male and female staffers “in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.” 

Bauman gave way to union activist Rusty Hicks, who recently has become controversial in a different way. Hicks calls the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom a “coup” led by “right-wing conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, anti-vaxxers and groups who encourage violence on our democratic institutions.” 

Eastin wants Hicks’ job, but where she stands on the recall is not clear from her campaign website. Democrats will decide whether the self-proclaimed “Champion for Education” is the right call for state party chair. 

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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