Archive for the ‘California budget crisis’ Category

What Concerns Teachers?

Monday, November 26th, 2012

School Budgets? Charter Schools? Common Core State Standards? Turn Around Schools? Tenure? Accountability? Merit Pay? Graduation Rates? NCLB Testing?

Teachers, have you spent your hours and hours of curriculum preparation contemplating these issues? You’d have to be the appointed representative to your district union or take evening time twice a month to attend school board meetings to know which, if any, of those concerns affect your class day. Otherwise, you teach, using the models your school literacy coach, department chair, or principal discusses at monthly meetings.

Have you even heard how many students are in your school district? For a comparison, 90% of American students attend public school, right now that’s about 50 million students. The other 10% attend parochial and private schools or are homeschooled. Now established in forty states, charter schools account for about 5% of the 50 million public school students. Remember, charter schools are paid for with the state’s public school budget and may also be for-profit, charging a fee to enroll.

So, no time to read the staggering number of education reports available on these subjects? Here is a summary of thought that has appeared on this blog about each of the main concerns found in the education journals and newspaper sections on education.

School budgets: As the controversy over the fiscal cliff/hill/slope drifts on and on, most states foresee loss of federal money before tax changes start in the following year. Even in California which passed a tax increase to finally help balance the state budget, bets can be placed to guess the amount of money sent to school districts.

Turn Around Schools: If you teach at one of the lowest-performing schools in the nation, your school may have benefitted from Race To The Top grants generated by the stimulus funds four years ago. Some improvement in student abilities has been reported at those schools in spite of bitter critiques by education reform experts. Reformers want to make change fast and furious, but avoid the massive problem facing those schools in impoverished neighborhoods. The best turn around schools address as many of the community difficulties as possible while using models that institute curriculum reforms to improve learning.

Charter Schools: Reform advocates promote charter schools as competitive drivers for school change and choice for parents. The best charter schools show success for students by trying out new teaching ideas, longer days and school years, small class sizes, and other approaches to improve learning. Never mind that additional tuition money is asked for to provide the tools for success. Studies show that a well-equipped public school is just as successful.

Accountability: If you must choose, keep an eye on accountability issues. The strongest current concern is evaluation of students, teachers, and schools. Testing, tenure, common core standards, and merit pay have their role in the decisions that will be made over several years before accountability is set in place for public schools. For example, in the latest speeches by and interviews with Arne Duncan, the United States Superintendent of Schools, the present emphasis will be on principal preparation and evaluation.

Remember, accountability affects you, your students, the kind of school where you teach, and the entire school community.

More School Aid

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In education magazines this week could be found articles on the eleven states who have currently applied to the U.S. Department of Education for waivers. California has not applied yet. It may in February but no decision has been made.

In addition to the report offered by the Think Long Committee under the auspices of the Nicolas Berggruen Institute, analyzed in this blog last week, another report titled “A Blueprint for Great Schools” authorized by Mr. Torlakson, the new California Superintendent of Instruction, and funded by various California foundations, has appeared. It came out in August 2011, but a summary seems to be available to teachers only in the November 2011 issue of California Educator magazine. Its purpose is “the development of a new mission and planning framework for the California Department of Education (CDE). [It provides] innovative and strategic advice to ensure that the state provides a world-class education to all students, preparing them to live, work and thrive in a highly connected world.” Sound familiar?

Knowing how the California Department of Education is entwined with the state legislature’s struggle with funds, this blog has been most interested in how all those pages of goals and objectives in any of the reports that have surfaced are going to be paid for.

The report in last week’s post has offered an initiative for funding at the November 2012 election-one of many.  This report offers to

Create a weighted student formula approach to funding, with most K-12 funding streams consolidated into core formula funding, supplemented by a small number of block grants to ensure that students who are at risk or high cost would receive the services they need.

Establish a flexibility/accountability task force to identify strategies and metrics to determine whether districts are using their funds in ways that support successful outcomes for all students.

Seek new revenue sources for schools: At the state level, explore taxes on selected sales and services; at the federal level, initiate efforts to recapture more of the imbalance in funds between California and the federal government.

Seek legislation to allow districts to pass parcel taxes with a 55 percent majority vote.

Right now (December 2011) in the California education world, school districts are deciding how to economize their resources and adjust the school year to allow five more furlough days in order to absorb the deficits that have shown up in the state budget adopted in June 2011. According to Dan Walters, columnist for the Sacramento Bee, the California budget that governs school aid in California is crazy. In June 2011 as part of balancing the state budget, if revenue did not accrue, the legislature agreed that school districts would be responsible for revenue reduction by automatic spending cuts. That’s currently $1.8 (about ¾ of the current $2.5) billion not being generated.

How many years will pass before the goals outlined above actually become law? Let’s hope the taxpayers suddenly find money, one of the many initiatives pass, or the legislature is willing to stand up.  Everyone wrings their hands about schools, but can’t put out the dough.

For report see

Think Long

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Another committee report has hit the newspapers in California. This group, made up of big names in Democratic and Republican politics and business, were charged with developing proposals to overcome the issues in California that have led to nagging dysfunction. Officially known as The Think Long Committee, it was brought together by the Nicolas Berggruen Institute to make “structural and constitutional changes that will break the present gridlock, make government more responsive and efficient while at the same time putting in place the incentives and Institutions vital for California’s long-term future.”

The committee’s main function was to design a “blueprint” for the state budget and taxes. In addition, the group has addressed education, noting the past high quality of education and the loss of funds to sustain the quality.

Anything that will help education in California is welcome. So far the main principle is to raise the funds spent on K-12 and community colleges and more funds for the University of California (UC) and California State Universities (CSU). Also, proposals for teacher and principal evaluation are prominent in the plan. See bullets for meaningful evaluation, non-seniority based lay-offs, earned tenure over 5 years, equitable distribution of teacher talent, and data analysis in the report. The generalizations seem a lot like the proposals put forward by the U.S. Department of Education but also represent thinking by people outside of the education field. How much did the new state superintendent contribute? And, until teachers are included in the deliberations, the proposals will remain generalizations. Neither the superintendent’s name nor the names of any teachers were listed in the report. The president of CTA and the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School district were listed.

Looking again at the design for the California state budget and taxes, it includes best practices, and includes a new tax rate initiative for voters to approve in November 2012. The new tax rate is supposed to generate revenue to support schools. Also, a citizen’s watchdog group, which is supposed to make sure all the recommendations occur, is a proposed initiative for November 2012. Right now, there are organizations, California AAUW for example, examining the Initiative Process itself and recommending changes. So initiatives are currently up in the air.

However, if there are no changes, there will be no benefit for schools. The big obstacle in the room is Proposition 13, of course. Until brave souls are willing to make further revisions to that insidious legislation will money ever appear for schools?

Finally, it is a shame that university and city administrators can’t see the value in letting the Occupiers demonstrate, like UC students did at the UC regents’ meetings on Monday, November 28, 2012. Over time, the majority of those people will be working and paying taxes, so what does it say when the sites they occupy are public property, but the occupiers are treated as criminals? All of the members of the Think Long Committee are well-to-do and hold sway in the state. What will the occupiers think of the committee’s proposals if speech is cut off?

See the editorial “A solid set of reforms” in the San Francisco Chronicle, November 27, 2012. For a look at the detail of the report go to

Buddy, Can You Spare Another Dime?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Each article about prisons brings to mind “at risk” school kids who could benefit from the millions of dollars spent on building and staffing one more prison facility. In 2011 California needs to consolidate programs to address budget problems, but like many states, it has a crazy quilt of laws about prison sentences. When the quarreling stops, state prisoners will be sent to county facilities after the decision to reduce prison populations from the U. S. Supreme Court.

Look back two years.

“California Passes Bill Addressing Prisons,” by Solomon Moore, The New York Times, September 13, 2009, is another in the unending line of commentary on the cost of  felonies and misdemeanors, building another prison, overcrowded prison facilities, and court mandates to reduce prison populations.

Make no mistake.  Major criminals should be incarcerated, though FBI statistics in “Violent crime falls sharply…” by Devlin Barrett, Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, September 15, 2009, show that killings, for example, decreased 3.9% in 2008.  Still, the laws that send men and women to jail for petty theft or small drug sales, as if they had robbed the federal gold depository or had lorded over a multi-state drug cartel, need reform.

Know why?

Students “at risk” need every dime of help they can get.  And they need every adult who can be rehabilitated to support their children.  In California $7000 a year (in 2009 down to $6000) is allocated per student attending public schools.  At the same time, an average of $49,000 per year is spent for each prison inmate (current prison population-167,000).  However, the bill just signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger will release 16,000 inmates without violent records or serious offenses through changes in parole regulations and early-release rules.

Sound better?  Let’s see…

Studies (see post 6/30/09) have shown that for an “at risk” student to succeed, attendance is important, adequate safe facilities are necessary, highly-qualified teachers must be hired, adequate books and other resources are required, assessment and time/money for analysis of student academic needs is mandated, tutoring and before or after school programs should be provided, and parent commitment to encourage the student’s achievement must be supported.  Not counting the funds for a district to oversee each school’s budget in order to get every bit of use from each thin dime.  All that for $7000 a year per child in California (2011 investment).

Now for each person spending the year in prison, food must be provided; health care, a safe facility, rehabilitation services should be allocated; and prison guards and administrators must be paid to run the facility.  All for $49,000 a year per inmate.

Rarely is a word printed about any funded services to guide inmates ready to be released into programs that will help them return to their family responsibilities.  In fact, the local public school is held responsible for guiding parents: providing counseling, direction to family health services, and parent education so they can support their children’s academic success.  Again, unless the school receives a grant or qualifies for Title I monies, all those services are included in the $7000 per child per year (2011).

Rethink priorities.

Along with the entire financial mess that California has brought upon itself, how different groups in this state are supported financially must be carefully reviewed.

In the article “California’s costly budget decisions,” by Larry N. Gerston, San Francisco Chronicle, September 14, 2009, we are reminded that budget-cutting at the expense of students, who with education get jobs and enter professions, leaves them to drop out.  How many will think the only way to get money is to rob, sell drugs, or steal cars, eventually landing in prison at $49,000 a year?  Instead, how about spending “the fraction it might take to keep them in school?”

In addition, wouldn’t it be better to spend money on community colleges, half-way houses, drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities for no other reason than to teach paroled adults the skills to help their children succeed in school.

Sanity must return to California’s finances.  What teacher wants to grovel, asking, buddy, can you spare a dime?

Money Trickles In

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

After rambunctious teacher demonstrations last week from San Diego to Humboldt, California, the news has changed. Not a mere hopeful whisper, the April state tax revenues have actually been tallied in California (and many other states). School districts, at least for the 2011-2012 year, won’t see further slice and slash to their funds.

Teachers have already been notified by union negotiators that announcements will soon be made to withdraw lay-off notifications. The sigh of relief is more like a cumulative whoosh. No one was looking forward to next year and its combination of draconian cuts in services.

A brief update of why: during the first days of the 2007-2008 recession, state budgets were too optimistic about turn around in revenues. That error was soon obvious and so legislative budgets set cautious estimates, too cautious as it turns out. In California, it’s possible that $6.6 billion more revenue will be collected than last year, most of which will go to fulfill the state’s formula for funding schools.

As the demonstrations last week clamored, even while rumors made the rounds, the state still has a large imbalance to the budget. The tax legislation that will sunset this year must be extended to begin to balance the state budget over time.  But the conflict over spending cuts vs. raising revenue remains.

At the state and federal level, for whom and to where money is allocated continues to hurt the actual detailed reforms that numerous public school think tanks wish to implement. It has been a year since Congress began to fiddle with revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), better known since 2002 as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Teachers unions want changes to testing, student achievement benchmarks, and accountability. Most conservatives in Congress want to cut various programs funded by ESEA as a way to reduce the deficit. Others feel the state and local Departments of Education should take all the responsibility for flexible dispersal of funds in a state.

The last possibility affects federal Title I monies for disadvantaged children and Title II funds for English Language Learners. How will compromise be made when the National Education Association (NEA) sees that flexible use for those monies only means disadvantaged and ELL students will be short-changed as states try to balance budgets?

Most education think tanks that want to see reform begin, advocate for fully-funded models. Any kind of evaluation is for teachers, administrators, and school boards, including tenure issues. Plans must be clearly designed to support teachers, administrators, and school board members not meeting standards.

Now, with conflicts in many states between teachers and public employees’ benefits and pensions and state legislatures effort to decrease deficits, it seems improbable to bring reforms into the public schools.

Let’s hope the increase in tax revenue isn’t ephemeral, but the forefront of an improved economy.

(See article about tax revenues in The New York Times, May 18, 2011, “For States, a Glimmer of Hope on Deficits” by Michael Cooper.)