Considering the state's gloomy fiscal outlook for 2008, it is refreshing to see a glimmer of light emanating from the public school sector, faint though it may be.

In his State of Education speech last week, state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell uttered what is obvious to many who view California public schools as expensive exercises in indoctrination and political correctness that too often put interests of unionized teachers ahead of students. Mr. O'Connell proposed improvements that amazingly won't require billions more in tax dollars.

"Many of the proposals you're going to hear about this morning ... require little or no new funding," he said. "[T]here is much we can accomplish right now."

Indeed, austere times can help refocus on basics. Many public school teachers no doubt will consider 2008 an austere period. State government as a whole faces a $14.5 billion deficit, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes reducing school spending by $4.4 billion.

But austere isn't the word for a system that spends $11,800 per pupil. As a test, we suggest the state send checks for that amount to parents and see what kind of education they can buy in the private market, which is our preference.

More money isn't the solution to what ails public schools. Last year's statewide blue-ribbon study on the state public school system declared it would be fruitless to spend more money before making fundamental reforms. Budgetary woes may force California to do just that.

Mr. O'Connell called for commonsense improvements such as aligning academic standards from kindergarten through college, partnering with businesses to help needy students and putting experienced teachers in the most challenging classrooms. It's a wonder things so obvious still have to be suggested.

But Mr. O'Connell also lapsed into the old fall-back: "If we do not ensure that all of our teachers are professionally supported, well-trained, and yes, well-paid, we will never close the achievement gap."

When state coffers again are flush with taxpayers' cash, we expect Mr. O'Connell and other self-interested public school lobbies will beat the drums as loudly as ever for higher per-student spending, their code for higher teacher salaries.

We do agree, however, with Mr. O'Connell's conclusion: "The time for action is now, we needn't wait for further study or legislation."