Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The State of Education In California

WARNING: Non musical assessment ahead. If you want my pithy takes on pop music tune in later this week.

I just got back from a lobbying trip to Sacramento (the state capitol for those outside the US), where I sat with various assemblymen and senators trying to convince them that cutting 60% of the state's commitment to education is a preposterous and potentially catostrophic decision. There is no doubt that California has gotten it's fair share of the pain from the Bush Depression (my own label, but darn catchy if I do say so myself), but when it was time to tighten the collective belt, education got hit the hardest. Even though Public Ed. is 40% of the budget, it took 60% of the hit. No ill will toward police, fire or mental health but expecting to get ourselves of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930's by not educating the next generation of leaders is the equivalent of sending my three year old into the ring with Mike Tyson after he has had a bit too much to drink. But hey, we are bright, well educated men and women (wonder where we got all the smarts from?) we will figure something out. That was the overriding message that came from Congress. Come up with a plan and get back to us.

First off, I actually had a senior state senator suggest that the recent deluge of pink slips were a political ploy put forth to make it seem worse than it was. Seriously, because messing with people's lives by potentially dooming them to unemployment is something I enjoy doing. Every teacher that loses a job means larger class sizes, less time to spend per student and less manpower to deal with the needs of students before and after school. Additionally, cuts to secondary counseling staffs mean fewer people to get students into college and through high school. Imagine where you would be if your counselor didn't pick the right classes or get you a sholarship packet or a college application in time? That is the prospectus for our current students. But hey, layoffs are just a political ploy after all, right?

So off we went to meet with others. One said we as educators should have seen this coming and had a plan to deal with the massive cuts. Isn't that the job of the leaders of the state? One suggested we should become more efficient at what we do. A fellow administrator shot back, "I already empty my own trash as well as run the Human Resouces department, what else can I do to be more efficient in your mind?"

Here in a nutshell is the problem. The Congress is so entrenched that each side can take a radical stance like "no tax increases" or "no more cuts" with little or no fallout. So nothing gets done. The two sides just stare at each other as student's lives fall apart (not overly dramatic if you have ever spent 5 minutes in a CA public school). Those that do cross party lines for idealogical reasons, like Anthony Adams, get instant recall notices and become a pariah to their own party (too bad because he's a really nice guy). Congress can't even agree on how to get relief money to those that need it. Education is promised a large chunk of the Obama Stimulus package. This money can be used to fill in some of the cuts and maybe even save some jobs. But will we get it in time? No one knows when it's coming or how it will be dispersed. Here's a novel thought, have the guy who used to be THE TERMINATOR to ask the guy in THE WHITE HOUSE when he can expect a check...

So what can you do? If you live in California you can start by voting on MAY 19TH for Props 1A-1E. These props will allow the government to take revenues and send them to education so that instead of 14 billion in cuts over the next 1 1/2 years it will only be 8 billion. That's a lot of jobs people!! Second, send an e-mail to your local congressman urging them to pass the stimulus package through to schools immediately. Holding the money doesn't help those it was intended to help. If the schools don't get the money by May 1 those pink slips become permanent. If you live in anotehr state or country, stay there. The beuacratic system is probably better and the schools aren't in danger of being bankrupt in the next 18 months. Other than that, a prayer for those of us with California education ties would be nice.

Fighting till the bitter end...


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jon, not only for your hard work, but for letting us know what we as parents and teachers (past and present) are up against. I appreciate knowing what I can do to help, because so far, yelling at the radio isn't helping.

Unknown said...

Man, sounds as bad as it is here in AZ. Why does public education have to be hit the hardest? It makes no sense! Everyone constantly complains about how education in the US is not as good as it should be and what do we do? Go and cut hundreds of teachers' jobs? Makes no sense to me.... At all.