New Administration in California Promises a Renewed Focus on Education

Consistent with his campaign to improve access to education from early childhood through college and beyond, newly-elected California Governor Gavin Newsom delivered an inaugural speech Monday with a stage prop he likely wasn’t expecting.

Just as he was outlining his commitment to make California a place for everyone, Newsom’s two-year-old son broke lose from his seat in the audience and ran onto the stage to greet his father. Without missing a beat, Newsom leaned over and scooped Dutch into his arms, as he noted that “every child should be loved, fed, and safe.”

The former California lieutenant governor and San Francisco mayor has vowed to provide larger investments in early childhood education and two years of tuition-free community college. He’s also promised to increase funding for the university system in order to avoid tuition hikes. Newsom’s first proposed budget includes a record $80.7 billion in spending for public school K-12 education.

The event was followed by the swearing-in of Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, the former US Ambassador to Hungary under President Obama. This marks the first time a woman has ever held that position in California, noted U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who attended the inaugurations.

Pelosi referenced the American Dream and the immigrant experience by reminding the audience that Kounalakis’s own father had come to California from Greece, starting out in the Central Valley as a farmworker. He went on to become a prominent real estate developer.

“And that is what our work is to do—to strengthen middle class growth to make sure everyone has the opportunity participate in that growth, remembering again that the middle class is the backbone of our democracy,” Pelosi told the audience.

Like Newsom, Kounalakis ran for office on the platform of affordable college. Her duties will now include serving on the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees.


Kounalakis said that there was no issue more important to her than education, sharing the story of how her own grandmother never learned to read and write. “The path to wisdom is through education. This is very personal to me,” she said.

That concept was furthered by newly-elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who has pledged to close the achievement gap, break the school-to-prison pipeline, and address the state’s teacher shortage. “The most important public program that I had available to me was an education. That changed the narrative of my life. It allowed me to overcome poverty. It allowed me to change the course of my life,” he said.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, California State Senator Connie Leyva California, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, California State Senator Evan Low, and long-time civil rights activist Dolores Huerta were some of the speakers.

“As a native Californian, I’m proud of the diversity reflected in the state’s newly-elected leaders and their vision for equity and inclusion. We at UnidosUS look forward to working with Governor Newsom, Lt. Governor Kounalakis, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Thurmond to advance public policies that support the success of Latino students to ensure California’s bright future,” said Amalia Chamorro, Associate Director for the Education Policy Project at UnidosUS.

As UnidosUS’s new California Strategist for the Office of Policy and Advocacy, I was excited to see that across these important statewide offices is a shared vision for California. One that embraces diversity, promotes equity, and is fully accessible for all Californians.

Having leaders that recognize how their roles intersect gives us the opportunity to move forward bold ideas that can have a sweeping impact on the over three million Latino students in our classrooms. At UnidosUS we will continue to work with policymakers, our Affiliates and partners to make sure these campaign promises are fulfilled for the benefit of all Californians.

And while we can’t promise a constant parade of adorable toddlers, we will continue to track the stories about the progress of these new policies along with human interest stories of the Latinx students they impact.

By Alicia Lewis, UnidosUS California Strategist

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