As his long and innovative record of public service shows, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is a strong supporter of public schools, colleges, students and educators. In Sacramento and as mayor of San Francisco, he has always championed students and educators, which is why CTA recommends him for the next governor of California.
His parents divorced when Newsom was 2, and he and his sister were mostly raised by his mother, who worked three jobs and waitressed at night to make ends meet. “My mom taught me everything I know about grit, hard work and determination,” he says. His father, a judge, was well-known and socially and politically connected in the Bay Area.
Newsom struggled in school with a learning disability, but graduated from Santa Clara University. After a brief stint in real estate, he went into business with family friends Gordon Getty and his son Billy, starting their PlumpJack wine shop in San Francisco and other business ventures.
At 34 he was the youngest mayor in San Francisco history, and became internationally famous for allowing gay marriages to be performed at City Hall. Just a few years later, in a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
California’s primary election is on June 5. If pollsters are correct, Newsom will likely face a runoff with another Democrat, Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles. The two front-runners — mayors of the state’s most prominent cities at the same time — couldn’t be more different in their outlook on improving public education.
Newsom recently sat down for an interview to discuss his vision for supporting and improving public schools if elected governor.
What are your three top priorities for improving public education?
No. 1 is addressing the growing demoralization of teachers. Seventy-five percent of school districts report difficulties when it comes to retaining and recruiting teachers, particularly in special education and STEM classes. One quarter to one-third of all new teachers quit within five years. Instead of sparring and scapegoating, it’s time to elevate, celebrate and embrace the teaching profession.
No. 2 is providing more funding for public education. California is in the bottom 10 states in per-pupil investment — we’ve got to get to the top 10. We are not going to permanently enjoy surpluses and market growth, so how can we prepare for a major recession? We must look for new revenue sources. In addition to the Proposition 13 debate on split roll (increasing property taxes on businesses), which I support, it’s time to look at a service tax that excludes education and health care. Eighty-five percent of our economy is not taxed. This is the next conversation.
No. 3 is that we must push back against President Trump and Betsy DeVos, who seek to privatize our public education system. Vouchers and for-profit charter schools have no place in this state. We have charter management organizations that are not subject to the same transparency and accountability of other public dollars, and that needs to change. California needs to lead the battle against Trump and DeVos and be a champion for our educators and students. I’m up for that.
What about higher education?
The state needs to significantly increase its investment in that conveyor belt of talent at our UCs, CSUs and community colleges. We need to keep tuition costs down and also recognize that the full cost of college attendance is arguably the bigger issue than tuition — the cost of transportation, housing, books and overall cost of attendance.
Along with access to higher education, we need to look at completion, so students get their degrees. We must focus on getting students from diverse communities through the system and supporting them. One way to do this is to ensure students get credit for remedial classes so they don’t give up. These issues have especially impacted African American and Latino students.
How can we improve school safety?
Arming teachers is ludicrous and beyond absurd. Instead, we’ve got to maintain our vigilance and lead by example to do everything in our power to address this crisis. No state is doing better than California.
We have passed some of the most comprehensive gun safety measures in America. In 2016 we took on the NRA and passed Prop. 63. We are about to become the first state to require background checks not just for guns but all ammunition purchases. The law, which takes effect next January, bans large-capacity magazine clips — the same kind used in Florida.
Sadly, we did not have to ask if it was a boy who committed the atrocity in Florida, because everyone knew it was a boy. This begs the question: What is going on with boys and how are we raising them? If you look at the rate of dropouts, suicides, binge drinking,opioid overdosing, domestic violence, sexual assault and mass shootings, the numbers are disproportionately male. I think this is our opportunity to look not only at gun safety, but take a cultural moment to consider how we are failing boys. We are not raising them to be empathetic men that do not resort to the violence and aggression we are seeing in our society.
Why should California — and schools — be a sanctuary for immigrants?
I support SB 54, which makes California a sanctuary state. The idea that sanctuary policy is a shield for criminal activity is false. Sanctuary counties,
The Newsom Files
- Served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors 1997-2004. Advocated for quality public education. His Care Not Cash program for the homeless moved thousands into permanent housing.
- San Francisco mayor 2004-11. Passed a parcel tax to increase salaries for educators in San Francisco Unified School District, and to improve students’ learning conditions. Partnered with United Educators of San Francisco on education issues. During the recession, balanced budgets without laying off a single teacher, police officer or firefighter. Launched a Rainy Day Fund to protect SFUSD staff from layoffs. Brought the nation’s first universal health care plan to San Francisco’s uninsured residents, resulting in more than 80 percent of the previously uninsured getting coverage
- Lieutenant governor since 2011. Priorities include creating more access to preschool and community schools. Introduced California College Promise, a program to increase access, funding and regional partnerships with California’s public schools, community colleges and four-year universities. Serves as a regent of the UC system and a trustee of the CSU system, working to keep tuition fees down, solve the student debt crisis, and improve academic success rates.
- He and his wife, actress/filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, have four children. Two are in preschool and two attend public school.
See Gavin Newsom speak to CTA State Council at the April 2018 meeting.