It’s time to stand up for public education
August 4, 2010
In May of this year, the Board of Trustees of San Luis Coast Unified School District, the largest district in San Luis Obispo County, voted unanimously to inform the California School Boards Association that no local legislator was worthy of the annual distinction of “Legislator of the Year.”
The trustees passed a resolution stating that “our local legislators have failed the children of the state of California,” and that “no local legislator has adequately represented the interests of public education.”
As state legislators missed the budget deadline at the end of June, it got worse: Six San Luis Obispo County school districts let state education officials know they may not be able to meet their future financial obligations due to California’s budget crisis.
Days later, the North Monterey County School District adopted a budget that is 20 percent below what’s called for in the state’s funding formula. “It’s very frustrating that the state government doesn’t have the wisdom to invest in the future of our state,” district board President Gary De Amaral said after his board’s budget vote.
In Santa Cruz County, Scotts Valley Unified School district has seen a $2.6 million drop in funding since 2007, while in Pajaro Valley Unified School District, spending has been cut a net of 13 percent in the last three years, amounting to about $827 per student.
Right now there is legislative gridlock in Sacramento. No budget again. They are more a month late, with no end in sight. And yet there is not a public discussion on the Central Coast of what’s at stake. Californians are rightfully angry at the annual circus in Sacramento.
According to the non-partisan national publication Education Week, California passed a new milestone this past year – dropping from 46th to 47th among the states in per-pupil spending, earning California an “F” from Education Week.
At the heart of this year’s Sacramento deadlock is Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut $250 more per pupil from state support for K-12 education, a reduction of 11 percent for local schools over the past three years.Republicans in the state legislature support the governor’s proposal. I don’t.
Alternative legislative ideas propose more K-12 education support. Teacher layoffs, higher class sizes – and the basic ability to educate our children for the challenges of the changing job market – all hang in the balance. I support this proposal.
The winner of the Aug. 17 special election for the 15th District Senate seat may cast the deciding vote in this choice over the future of California’s schools.
Rather than flooding the airwaves with false and misleading negative ads that don’t address California’s education crisis, education is what candidates should be talking about. Voters have a right to know each candidate’s plans for turning around California’s school system.
As we begin to come out of the Great Recession, one thing is clear: We will create jobs only to the extent we have a work force coming out of the public school system prepared to take the complex jobs that are the basis of the information technology world. We must also have career tech programs for students who choose hands-on vocational jobs as their alternative. Both of these directions are threatened by the governor’s budget proposal.
As has been pointed out by author Thomas Friedman in his work on future economic trends, our ability to compete with the economies of other nations depends on our ability to turn out students proficient in math and science. We are falling behind.
That is why I supported initiatives by the University of California to mentor high school students on math and science. That initiative, and others like it, is at risk in the current state budget. We can’t lose sight of the state’s long-term economic competitiveness. We must do more to compete in the world economy – not less.
This is my challenge to all the candidates in the 15th Senate District race: What are your specific plans for public education? If you don’t like my position to add money in this year’s budget and stop the cuts of the last three years, what is your specific proposal?
Platitudes don’t educate today’s students. Our kids’ futures – and that of California – are at stake in this budget and this election. Let’s start talking about that.
In the Aug. 17 Special Election, I ask for your vote. Together we can – we must – change public education in California.
John Laird is a former state Assemblyman and Democratic candidate for state senator in the District 15 special election on Aug. 17.