Yippee! Right?

by Jeff Camp | May 15, 2015 | 1 Comment
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California's boom-bust education funding

This week, [in May 2015] Governor Brown announced the “May Revision” of his proposal for the state budget. This is an important milestone in the annual budget process. The ball is now in the legislature’s court: it must pass a balanced budget by June 15. With the stock market booming, big numbers are being thrown around for this budget.

Did education "win"?

The conventional wisdom about this budget is that education, especially K-14, is the big “winner.”

Let’s say it out loud: Yes, this is a good day for education. At last. For now.

When Wall Street booms, Sesame Street cheers.

Education accounts for about half of government spending, which has become very volatile. When Wall Street booms, Sesame Street cheers. But let’s keep things in perspective: California’s tax receipts collapsed seven years ago, and schools have been skimping ever since. This budget, adjusted for inflation, at last restores California’s schools to about the same dollars per student they had to work with in 2007, when it ranked 27th. (And that rank is much worse, if California’s cost of living is taken into account.)

It's true that this budget delivers $3,000 dollars per student more than the budget at the trough of the recession did. But this is like measuring the distance from the bottom of a grave to the top of the pile of dirt that will fill it back in. The proposed budget does not make California’s schools rich, and it does not make education funding secure.

Lasting harm

Seven years of skimping takes a toll. The state and counties have borrowed heavily from the school system, and these tricks need to be unlearned. Schools and districts have been putting things off. Borrowing. Deferring. Letting empty positions linger. Making do with one less person in the office and asking teachers to take on administrative duties. Letting class sizes swell. Schools have cut corners on training, and removed days from the school calendar. Programs for arts, sports, science field trips and counseling have withered in seven years of budget drought. With teaching jobs in short supply for so long, teacher training pipelines have collapsed. It will take time to build a new ones. School staffs haven’t seen a pay increase in a long time, but rents are up, up, up. And as Carol and Mary pointed out in their top ten wish list for education investments, there is much to be done.

Bringing California's funding for K-14 education back to 2007 levels is great, long-awaited news. But we should all be very uneasy. The structure of school funding leaves kids fully exposed to the luck of the market. Unless California's legislature acts, your school's budget be even more vulnerable in the next downturn because of a bad policy known as the "reserve cap," which limits the amount of money that districts can set aside in boom years like this one in order to save for the next bust.

Furthermore, schools don’t operate in a vacuum. Advocates for social services are bitterly disappointed in this budget, which does little to address the living conditions of children on the wrong side of the achievement gap. As events in Ferguson and Baltimore have reminded us, we have a long way to go.

Join the Discussion

  • What is your school district planning to do if it cannot officially build reserves in good times to prepare for the next downturn? An era of creative accounting lies ahead.
  • Is your school hiring? How are you finding good candidates for long-term positions?
  • What social services are still hurting in your community? Do children have access to basic services like dental care?

Questions & Comments

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user avatar
hetds June 13, 2015 at 11:46 am
Class size reduction is a major concern for all of us--right?
Well, then why has no one ever proposed re-designing and overhauling the traditional Kindergarten, Pre-School, Headstart, and Early Headstart Programs in order to actually and significantly reduce the teacher to student ratio?
Even the newly created Transitional Kindergarten Program should also be redesigned since it's a continuation of thrvtraditional one teacher (and sometimes an assistant teaching aide) and the up to 25 students.
How much one-on-one adult to student contact is possible?
What I propose is to introduce in the system the now defunct Parent Education Program Model (aka Mommy and Me), which Governor Brown and our legislature axed statewide in our Adult Schools!
Yes, it was obliterated without any public discussion or media coverage whatsoever. Many Programs for Adult Seniors were also terminated at the same time. Due to pressure from Senior support groups, "miraculously" these programs were refunded.
Seniors vote...the little 2, 3, 4 year-olds do not...nor do many of their adult immigrant caregivers.
Our EMUHSD El Monte-Rosemead Adult School's Parent Education Program began in 1936, during the height of the Great Depression.
It ended here and in all California Adult Schools.
What a totally unwise, unfeeling, ignorant decision!
The Parent Education Program was so unknown, that not a single staffer among the 25 Assembly/Senate staffers that were approached had ever heard of it. All of them confused it with Headstart and Preschool. A total display of ignorance.
Parent Education includes full-time the Early Childhood Instructor (and a trained assistant) and a caring adult for each child, ages 2, 3, and 4.
These adults don't drop the children off and then leave. They bring the child, work with them side-by side for three days per week for three hours per class.
These adults are moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even neighbors.
This program has been especially so successful that there have been long waiting lists to participate.
Compare this adult to student ratio with any other program for little ones during the most critical time in their learning.
Why not rethink Preschool, Headstart, Early Headstart, and Transitional Kindergarten and welcome and include active presence/participation of each child's caring adult?
And not as an occasional volunteer, but as a full-time and active partner/teacher?
And it is very, very affordable.
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