Posts Tagged ‘spending cuts’

What’s the harm!?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Incredible! Members of Congress can’t be persuaded of the harm caused by shortchanging school age children and young adults? Who wants children to live hardscrabble days in the richest country on Earth?

high school outside of Death Valley, CA

high school outside of Death Valley, CA

Even middle-class and upper middle-class kids in suburban public or private schools are affected by the despair in the education world. But the harm is most worrisome for the 13% of the impoverished American families (according to 2010 Census Bureau figures) made up of parents under 30 with children.

Why have some members of Congress continually voted to let high rollers add to their billions while students go to schools with missing ceiling tiles and antique air venting systems? Saying the federal government should not be the funding source for state and local needs is simply not looking at reality. The states must cut their spending to maintain balanced budgets in spite of the evidence that shows revenue will only rise when jobs are available. If not the federal government, where is money to repair schools (and provide jobs) going to be found?

Why must parents count pennies to purchase food at home at the same time funds are being subtracted from school district food programs? It was a joke when that smiling, but hard-hearted president wanted to count ketchup as a vegetable, but not any longer when the only decent breakfast and lunch are provided at schools. The story about a school district food manager finding sources for low-fat, interesting meals for kids is worth following, but one success must be replicated country-wide to provide healthy change.

In a rich nation, healthcare for families should not be only affordable for the well-to-do who have jobs. Right now there are 46.2 million poor Americans: children, teen agers, working age adults, veterans, and the elderly. In Texas alone it has been advertised in the news that 14 million don’t have health benefits. But that isn’t the only state with the problem. At the same time, the cost of health care keeps rising. Fighting about the individual right to choose to pay for health benefits is not the priority. Generating jobs and setting up insurance exchanges is the need.

Pretending that the main problem for the U. S. is the debt and that austerity measures like spending cuts are the way to buy the country out of recession is fuzzy math. The resources needed to close the achievement gap for low-performing students mean revenues must be generated. The news this weekend about the billions that can be produced by revising tax rates on the extraordinarily wealthy is staggering. Fiscal priorities aimed at students who don’t drop out, and who graduate from high school and college on time, are far more likely to promote and create new jobs.

Children do well in school when they’re healthy, vaccinated, and fed. They do better when the school buildings are safe. They do better when enough teachers and staff are on the payroll. Students achieve when their parents have good jobs and time to pay attention to their children.

The Season of Pink Slips and School Budgets

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Spring approaches. Here in California, the cherry trees in the valley of orchards have already blossomed and died back, ready to set the fruit. My fourth grade class is moving onto the Spring curricular areas: rocks and minerals, local California Indian tribes, and study of the personal narrative composition.

The personal narrative, memoir of a specific event, is enjoyed by most of my students, as much as the difficult task of composing can be. Why not? Even at nine years old, they have plenty of memories of ‘the first time’, a fearful moment, and happy events. During the daily ‘teacher reads a good book out loud after lunch’, I’m reading passages from Fireflies, a great book to introduce the style of a good narrative.

As for me, my latest personal narrative doesn’t yet have an ending. On Monday we had a Cupertino Education Association union meeting. Of course, we wore red to stand by fellow union members in the infamous Wisconsin. Members signed up for a night of phone banking to get local voters to pass the extension of the local expiring parcel tax. It is one of the few ways to keep the schools from falling victim to the state’s school budget cutbacks necessary to balance the state budget.

Remember passage of parcel taxes still depends on 2/3 of the voters saying yes, and I shouldn’t say the district won’t fall victim even if the parcel tax extension passes. One hundred seventeen (117) district staff and teachers have received March 15 letters, notifying them that they are on the list of layoffs at the end of the school year.

The CEA lawyer has said to be sure to request a hearing about your position on the list, i.e., seniority. Some personnel are set aside on a separate layoff list, e.g., speech therapists and those with a single subject math credential. Layoffs depend on the service category each teacher belongs to. There may be an error.

All decisions depend on the passage of a state budget. The legislature still has not agreed on spending cuts, much less a special election in June to extend several taxes before they sunset.  Unlike some other states, notably Wisconsin, it is agreed by all that both spending cuts and tax extensions are in the mix.  How much is debated daily.

In Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2011, the battle seems to focus on the five GOP state senators who have sat in on the governor’s ongoing talks to forge a budget deal. The five senators are pushing for spending cuts– regulation reforms, a cap on state spending, and changes to public employee pensions. They can’t get past blaming public employee unions for all problems, and that means me.

So, you see, my personal narrative about ‘times of anxiety’ has repeated every year for the past four years. I listen to arguments on the car radio that are far away from helping me help students learn; spend time on the phone urging for parcel taxes to save the district’s budget because the state’s legislators can’t resolve a budget deal; and at the same time keep on track in the classroom, making sure the curriculum is covered and standards are met. I received a pink slip.

Prognosis: California Will Wrangle

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Happy New Year!  Take Care Productions wishes it would be, but it won’t happen until the state has exhausted itself fighting over ‘spending cuts’ and ‘increasing revenue’.

Writers in the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times have scratched their heads over low-performing schools that are not improving test scores.  Whether it shows up in an effort to call out poor teachers by using the “value-added” formula or in the bleak results when analyzing low rates of student proficiency, no one is happy.

The California Teachers Association  strong-armed California’s passage of the Quality Education Invest Act (QEIA) which uses the Academic Performance Index (California’s API) as the indicator of scholastic improvement.  In six years (2004 – 2010) the 500 QEIA schools reached an average of 21.2% proficient students.  That’s good enough?  It means 68.8% still weren’t on track.

Why?  Is it the ‘test’ or is it teacher evaluation? The media has written article after article. Universities have spewed forth document after document to talk about low-performing schools and poor quality tests or low-performing schools and poor  teacher evaluation.

On the other hand, Mary M. Kennedy of Michigan State has reminded everyone of the attribution error, ignoring the working conditions of the teacher, preparation time, materials, work assignments, untreated student characteristics.  As if no matter the conditions, a good teacher can make the difference.  Maybe, but it takes time.  And the “value-added” attribute doesn’t make the grade when school boards as well as unions insist on old evaluation tools.

In British Columbia, Michael Shumatcher hits the button when he reminds the country of the demographic issue, urban or rural, and struggling populations who could use spending to promote the neededlearning tools instead of useless evaluation tools.

Or read Thomas Stephens, professor emeritus at the College of Education and Human Ecology, Ohio State University, who says one can find many good evaluation tools.  His hit is that the multi-billion dollar test industry won’t be pleased.

Let’s move on to California’s Sue Miller from Santa Monica who is representing the teachers who do all the work and need praise, not vitriol.

Which brings us to the wrangling likely in California which is deeply in debt from state to local entities.  Although many groups have been studying the problem, it comes down to cuts and taxes.

There will be no change in the tax plan to 1978’s Proposition 13 which started California down a long, dark road.  With effort, there may be a revision to the system of taxation generated by the proposition.  If you have read the article in SF Chronicle‘s January 2 edition “Prop 13 in urgent need of retrofit” by Michael Gervais and Dontae Rayford, defunding special districts and creating regional property tax boards are the options suggested.  Neither change addresses the money that corporations don’t pay in taxes.

Governor Brown has been sworn in this week for a third term and one can figure that the dysfunctional sections of the California State Department of Education will get cuts, along with all state entities.  Let’s see if the temporary taxes made to balance previous budgets will be maintained.

The National Education Association in the January/February 2011 NEA today issue includes “The Long and Winding Road” by Mary Ellen Flannery and Kevin Hart. The writers covered the entire country and found priority schools that teachers have had some say in transforming.

However, the deficit is so large in California that it is hard to see how the state test (CST) and the evaluation system are going to be top priorities.  It is possible like Mary M. Kennedy has said that turning around low-performing schools should be the top priority.

Will that transformation ever happen?