Sad Day for US Education

`SEVERAL of his staff members ... burst into tears." This was the sad scene in a Sacramento courtroom last week as California Superintendent of Education Bill Honig was convicted of violating state conflict-of-interest laws.

Those who know his work as a school reformer know how his staffers felt. The verdict was a blow to education not just in California, but in America. Prior to the charges, Mr. Honig was the likely candidate for secretary of education in the Clinton Cabinet - a vigorous man of breadth and depth capable of making preoccupied Americans realize how essential the growth of the next generation is. His loss on the education scene would be a tragedy.

Honig was convicted when it was found that state money was spent on four staffers who participated in a parent-involvement program overseen by a nonprofit company run by his wife. Honig claims he did nothing wrong and will appeal. The case seems one both of Honig's wrongful carelessness, and of political retribution against him.

Some context: Since 1980, Honig has practically defined school reform. Legions of professors and state legislators tromped to California to study his work. Business support of education in the 1980s was a Honig innovation. California led the nation in increasing teacher status and pay - raising starting salaries from $14,000 to $19,500. Honig's curriculum reform in math, history, and civics was revolutionary, a national model. He wrote books, started grass-roots movements, built coalitions, inspired peop le. He became the most popular politician in California - but earned powerful enemies among fiscal conservatives and religious fundamentalists.

The judge gave strict rules on admissible evidence. Honig's motives, or the financial or educational benefits of the program, weren't discussed. Jurors were instructed that they should convict Honig not just if they found that he did profit, but if they found he could have profited from the arrangement. The prosecutor compared Honig to a bank robber and called him as "obsessed" as Charles Manson. This is shameful. Honig has long proven he understands and cares about something many bureaucrats do not - ki ds. His standing is untouched. We hope it helps him back.

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