I slightly edited the verbatim recording to correct grammar occasionally and to aid in overall readability while maintaining the interviewee’s voice as well as the substantive content of the interview.
Video Clip: Excerpted from EdSource Pioneer Video, October 2017
Mike Kirst: I was traveling around the states advising them: school finance reform in Florida in 1972–1974 and then school finance reform work in Oregon.
We got really close just before Proposition 13. We passed a bill called the Assembly Bill 8, which was an equalization bill using property taxes, where we equalize the property taxes. And then Proposition 13 just blew that up.
You can’t divorce anything I’ve done from my relationship with Governor Brown. So he will be governor for 16 years. I was his education advisor on school financing issues in 1974. I think we would have done a lot in his first two terms, but once 13 threw the bombshell in the room, then we couldn’t deal with it.
So all of these concepts have been around for years. It was just translating them into the California context. So there hasn’t been a whole lot of new input ideas since the ’70s. It was just getting it done politically.
I have a position, formally with the state board, informally with the governor and other organizations, including foundations—where I can put it all together from all those years and apply it. So I’m finally at the ability to translate policy and talk into action.
There’s not many people who can say the best years of a long career are between ages 71 and 79, but those will have been my best. [chuckling] My best was…when I’m quite elderly.
Audio Clips 1–3 from This Week in California Education, Episode 89, January 12, 2019
Louis Freedberg, EdSource Executive Director: We talked with a bunch of education leaders around the state to ask them about what they saw as Jerry Brown’s greatest contribution to California education, and almost unanimously they said the Local Control Funding Formula. And that really was Mike’s kind of idea. I mean, it was based on the weighted student formula that it was actually tied to Title 1. He co-authored this paper with Alan Bersin and Goodwin Liu.* So they also get some credit for this. Mike won’t really take credit for it because the governor then had to run with this and actually get it through the legislature, which was a hugely difficult task. But in terms of Mike’s legacy, that has to be, I would say, at the top of the list.
Louis Freedberg: He [Mike] has an intuitive sense—just seems to be part of his DNA—and an intuitive sense not only of the research around education but also the practical applications of that research. And California really has been the beneficiary of that on the state board, a pretty remarkable tenure that he’s had there. And, of course, his relationship with the governor [Brown] made his input so much more impactful.
John Fensterwald, EdSource, Editor-At-Large: Yea. That was an important duo for sure….
John Fensterwald, EdSource, Editor-At-Large: What impressed me about Mike was not only his ability to conceptualize sorts of systemic changes but also to recognize—because he’s a good listener—that all that will depend on what happens in the classroom and what happens in districts.
And so when he’s talking about the needs he’s most concerned about—the training for teachers…what happens at the classroom level—will determine whether or not all these changes succeed. You have to appreciate his understanding of that.
And when he talks about patience and persistence, it’s just not as a principal of action; it reflects his own approach.
He’s a very patient man. I’ve watched him at many school board meetings, and you have to be patient to listen to hours of testimony. But I think he was actually listening to all the people who had come up from throughout the state—from L.A. and San Diego. And I think it really helped the board and him listening to that in making decisions and changing midcourse.
Clip 4: From Distinguished Public Service Award (2017) Lecture, April 16, 2018
From AERA Presentation: (watch here)
Mike Kirst: These are the sort of themes that I have learned in state policy over these years:
- Patience: It takes a really long time. I spend a lot of time verbally saying to legislators and the public, “This is a 10-year process to even get to somewhere that we’re beginning to show that we need it; you need to have patience. And I think all of our policymakers have bought into that and stayed with it.
- Persistence: You need to just stay with your lines of policy; you can’t zig-zag all over the place. And you need to persist in making it holistic, integrated, and aligned.
- Humility: You know you can’t do that much from the center. It’s too complex; it’s too large; you can’t be too prescriptive. In many ways, you do things [are going. For example] this Local Control Accountability Plan, we didn’t know how it would work or whether it would work. So you proceed with humility.