Educators across the state applauded Jerry Brown election night. So did I, standing near the downtown Oakland theater stage when he told the crowd, “Every single public school in California…we want to make sure they have what they need to create greatness. Every kid has so much potential and we have to make sure society keeps that at the forefront of whatever we do.” The night was filled with optimism about how Brown would unite Californians and make our public schools and colleges a priority again when he takes the governor’s office in January.
A month later, we still hold that optimism, while recognizing the challenges ahead. The Legislative Analyst’s Office says California is facing an estimated $25 billion budget deficit over the next 20 months. And the Band-Aid budgeting of the past few years has only made matters worse for our schools and colleges.
As Gov.-elect Brown gets ready to take office, there are certainly several education issues facing the new administration:
School Funding: Our students, public schools and colleges clearly need new revenues to survive and to have what they need to create greatness. Our schools and colleges have lost about $21 billion in funding over the past three years, the largest cuts since the Great Depression. For months, the damage has hit local schools, causing cuts to key academic programs, music, art, vocational education, along with furlough days and even shorter school years. A statewide moratorium has been placed on buying new textbooks. School libraries have been closed. And student fees to our universities have increased more than 200 percent in the last eight years.
State education funding has sunk to 2004 levels, and California ranks at the bottom nationally in education funding, along with having the fewest school librarians, nurses and counselors serving our 6.2 million students.
In the past two state budgets, K-12 schools and community colleges have absorbed more than 50 percent of the state budget cuts even though they are only 40 percent of the general fund. Lawmakers even suspended the state’s minimum school funding guarantee as part of the last budget package. It is that whacky sense of priorities that drives teachers and parents crazy. The only real fix for this statewide crisis is a state budget approach that includes new revenues – not smoke-and-mirrors’ solutions like those we have seen the past few years, allowing lawmakers to push painful decisions into our darkening fiscal future.
Stop the Blame Game and Focus on Proven Education Reforms: The election of a new governor gives all of us the opportunity to engage in real conversations about how to improve student learning. It’s time for the political blame games, finger-pointing and top-down mandates to end. Scapegoating hard-working teachers is no way to improve public schools. Educators and parents want to be included and must be part of these conversations. We all want the best for our students. This means making sure all children have access to great teachers in quality neighborhood schools. Collaboration should be driving all of our education conversations at the local, state and national levels.
We should build upon education reforms that are already making a difference for lower-performing schools and at-risk students. Programs like the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), which was sponsored by CTA and provides $3 billion to 500 struggling schools over eight years. The program focuses on proven reforms like smaller class sizes to give kids individual attention, more counselors and relevant professional development training for teachers and principals, collaboration time for teachers and more parental involvement. But most importantly, the program lets local schools – teachers, principals and parents – decide how to meet the needs of their students.
Early results show QEIA is working and schools in the program are making strong academic gains. For the 2009-10 school year alone, QEIA schools, on average, experienced nearly 50 percent higher growth on the California Academic Performance Index (API) than similar, non-QEIA schools. A new report shows QEIA is helping to close student achievement gaps as QEIA schools are making greater API gains with African American and Hispanic students, as well as English Learners. You can read more about QEIA results at www.CTA.org.
Common Core State Standards: The next administration will have to deal immediately with the implementation of the newly adopted Common Core State Standards. The new standards will drive classroom learning for years to come. They mean that California must realign its entire curriculum, textbooks, testing and assessments systems and professional development programs to the new standards. Teachers are ready to help in this vital process, but much work must be done. So far, there is no state implementation plan or implementation funding. It took the state 10 years and billions of dollars to align our current content standards with state tests and instructional materials.
State Board of Education Appointments: Gov.-elect Brown has the opportunity to appoint seven members to the State Board of Education that truly represent our schools. The State Board, along with the new superintendent of Public Instruction, will oversee implementing all of the state’s education programs. The State Board should reflect the makeup and diversity of our public schools. Right now, nearly every appointee is tied to charter schools or the charter school industry, which is not a true reflection of California’s education system. Let’s return some classroom educators to the State Board.
As educators, we’re committed to being part of these conversations. It’s time for California to make public education a priority again. We owe it to our students, communities, and our common hope for a better future.