Another school year is rolling to an end this week, without, unfortunately, closing the chapter on some fundamental challenges that continue to dog our public schools. While we should not lose track of the inspiring successes at many schools and for many students, the significant problems public education supporters need to tackle must remain in our sights, front and center.
Budgetary woes are perhaps the most well-known and easy to understand. In the midst of a continued recession felt very severely in California, no fairy tale powers will let us spin straw into gold and overcome the many decades of financial drain our schools have experienced. Certainly Governor Brown’s latest budget forecast and proposal offer very little in the way of hope. The California Budget Project recently released a report detailing the decline in state level general purpose funding since the 2007, finding a decrease of $530 per student. According to the latest national comparison, we’re now almost at the bottom of spending, coming in at number 47.
This never-ending budget problem is felt keenly at school sites by students, parents and educators. Class sizes have been increased, pink slips to teachers have been sent out, school site councils are making impossible choices between key positions and resources, and furlough days are still a reality. All of this sets a terrible background for current contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, United Educators of San Francisco. UESF members have authorized a second strike vote and a state appointed mediator will be meeting the district and the union at the end of the month to hopefully move things forward.
Addressing this funding nightmare is no easy matter given California’s broken budget and revenue processes. Lawsuits have been filed against the state for equitable and sufficient funding, but there are a few more things that individuals can do. Making your opinion known to elected officials directly or through organizations like Educate Our State is one important step. Taking a serious look at the tax initiatives on the table is another important one.