Archive for January, 2012

Look Ahead

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

The education world is looking for fiscal help. If you listened to the State of the Union speech last night, Tuesday, January 24, 2012, you have heard that the way to make your state strong is to invest in education. You even saw some people who actually have done better by going back to school to improve vocational and academic skills. A 2010 report titled College Bound: Strategies for Access and Success for Low-Income Students published by the University of Southern California is the latest to cross this blog’s desk. Everyone is thinking.

high school in the Los Angeles area

high school in the Los Angeles area

Not only is California at the cliff’s edge, all states are looking into the abyss. Few states are not “at risk” and even those lucky states must address reinvestment in young and old adults. Find ways to stick it out in school or renew skills.

This blog has talked about dropping out and graduation from high school, another issue of the day for all states. In California, the main issue revolves around the money available to the state government. Tax initiatives are being put forward for the November 2012 ballot.

Do any of the following bring to mind the fiscal issue in your state? It is said that California leads the nation in legislation that takes effect.

A worry, according to Rachel Norton of the San Francisco School Board, California “voters’ clear desire for a solution” will dissolve when asked to choose among the many initiatives gaining prominence.

As has been noted in this blog, California’s Governor Jerry Brown has gained enough signatures for his initiative to be on the ballot. As is being fought in the federal government, it will increase temporarily taxes for the wealthy by 2%, increase temporarily sales tax by ½ cent, and guarantee that $7 billion is spent on education. Today, January 25, 2012, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has noted in its latest poll taken in January 2012 that 68% of likely voters of all stripes will vote “yes” to the governor’s proposal.

Another tax initiative by the Think Long Committee, detailed in this blog as the Think Long Blueprint, is set to improve the state’s finances, not just the schools. Read the details of the committee on the internet.

Another event associated with Next California and California Forward under James Fishkin from Stanford University has shown the lack of knowledge in California. After a turn in Torrance, California, the nearly 500 participants came to the following conclusions which leads this blog to the following questions. How can voters defeat tax proposals in one poll and 68% approve in another? How can outrage with the initiative process be turned around and accepted as is in a poll? How can participants still think that a good part of government is wasteful when schools, which all voters love, are about to lose $4.8 billion if the favored tax bill doesn’t pass?

Another proposition not explained on this blog has not yet been approved. It is the state Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the civil rights group called The Advancement Project initiative “Our children, Our Future” that asks for $10 billion in new revenue, all of which is for Pre-K to 12. Remember Prop 98? Similar. What is included to make this tax more viable is the phrase for re-approval after twelve years.

Other initiatives not yet approved call for a tax on oil and gas extraction and a “split roll” tax. A split roll affects Prop 13 and makes corporations pay a different property tax rate than home properties.

Will you read your ballot pamphlet? Will you use your money on schools (public, private, charter) or will you turn away?

Equal Funds

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was still an influence, the schools in California were analyzed for equalization of funding. That is to say, how can students in large public school districts in impoverished areas compete with a small district in a rich community where the property taxes benefitted wholesome, wealthy public schools?

The answer by the mid 1970’s was to equalize the funds that a school district gets. At that time, the state was not only thinking of poor black students like on the east coast, but of the rising demographic of poor Hispanic students and a multitude of other children who spoke many languages, but not standard American California English.

Sounds good but led to Proposition 13 which, in this blogger’s opinion, has done no good for schools even thirty-five years later. Much to the regular guy’s surprise, the state took over the schools. There had been plenty of warnings: while property taxes were a problem, only 35 years later are the actual details of the proposition being looked at and the rules coming to light.

Now in spite of the proposition’s faults, which will take forever to be ironed out in our legislature, the governor must, to balance the budget, either have the great state of California raise taxes or defund the schools next year (2012-2013) by 6 percent. And school districts, much less the regular guy, won’t know until votes are counted in November 2012.

Two adjustments are certain.

First, if the tax initiatives don’t pass-and there are several-and if 6 percent of funds must be cut, that will mean teachers will be gone. In anticipation, pink slips galore will appear March 15, 2012. It’s anyone’s guess if one of the many tax measures passes in November 2012, but school districts will have to rehire teachers and reallocate students to classrooms three months after the new school year has begun.

Second, transitional kindergarten, a program for all the children who are not five years old by September 1, 2012, will not begin. This model has been organized for three years to start this year after the legislature changed the school age law.

These two education changes, which do not lead to any happy outcome, are the tip of the school district’s  iceberg. Let’s hope the state Department of Education can do its part to urge the legislature to balance the state budget without failing students.

Cutting budgets

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

School districts in Colorado are again cutting budgets.  Jefferson County Schools, the largest district, will cut somewhere between $35 million this new part of the school year and $15 million for 2012-13.  The District has already cut about $70 million over the previous two years.  The operating budget that ran at $650 million in 2008-2009 is now down to about $580 million and dropping.

The District has engaged in a proactive process in its budget work.  The County Financial Officer (CFO) consistently uses conservative numbers to calculate budgetary possibilities.  That tack helped the District build a large surplus in the mid 2000’s that has buffered some cuts.  Even so, the drop in tax dollars has been relentless, and reserves are tapped.

The District developed a “Budget Academy,” a six week program that covered all aspects of its budget.  Over 100 people participated, patiently listening to reports from district personnel on facilities, transportation, athletics, instruction, technology, compensation, health benefits, and pensions.

These people then became involved in Budget Work Groups that focused on sections of the budget, scouring departments and school budgets for any excess flesh.  District personnel took the first whacks, reviewed the whacks with citizens, and tried to mitigate cuts for classrooms.

Citizens and employees completed an online survey asking where cuts should occur.  The cry went out, “Get rid of administrators.”  One person suggested getting rid of buildings as well, saying a tent, children, teacher, and blackboard are enough.  Suggestions included expanding transportation walking distances another half mile (up hill both ways), increasing fees for athletics and other after school activities, trimming librarians and school counselors, and getting rid of music and arts in elementary school.  Long ago the district eliminated after school athletics for middle school.

What the District hasn’t done yet is decide where it needs to hold the line.  It hasn’t made triage decisions.  So, if the District decides it must get all third graders reading at grade level, how can it fund that decision?  Or if the district needs to put money into middle school to keep those kids on track, how can it fund that need?

The District hasn’t explored whether it’s possible to reduce costs and increase teacher income by asking some teachers to take on more students, pay for the extra work, but save money by reducing the staffing.

The harsh recession continues to take its toll.  We may not know the full impact for 12 years when today’s kindergartners are seniors.  If drop out levels are high in 2024, and lots of graduates need remediation in college, we can look back to their early years and know that the recession of 2008-2012 wreaked havoc on our ability to deliver the excellence kids deserve no matter what year they’re born.

Happy 2012

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

Who would guess that the first New Year education article “New Questions about Trips Sponsored by a Scholastic Publisher” by Michael Winerip in the New York Times, Monday, January 2, 2012, shoots down the foundation sustained by one of the big education corporations?

Let’s see of what Pearson-Always Learning consists. Associated in the United States with Scott Foresman for the grade school crowd and Prentice Hall for the secondary and higher education folks, it is a big publisher. Along with Macmillan-Harcourt, McGraw Hill, Addison-Wesley, Longman, and Allyn and Bacon, it has stakes in every field of education it can tackle. The latest: it is geared up for digital education and testing services. In addition, Pearson-Always Learning owns Penguin Group, with its trade book imprints, and the newspaper the Financial Times.

Let’s hear about its pal, the Pearson Foundation. The website looks great and under About Us suggests all the right educational words and tools. It is a 501c3 non-profit organization that promotes literacy, learning, and great teaching. Why does the New York Times have questions?

It turns out from the article that the foundation offers trips around the world (London, China, Finland, Singapore, Rio de Janeiro) to see education programs that work, paying for the air fare and accommodations for members of the Council of Chief State School Officers. As one might realize, the Foundation is choosing Chief State School Officers where Pearson-Always Learning is selling.

Other posts have commended the Council of Chief State School Officers for support of Common Core Standards. Education blogs all over the United States have commented about good schools and how they find success. But, remember that a teacher is being criticized every day by the same education experts that are selling the state testing services or digital analysis materials.

Be knowledgeable what your district chooses.