Our Wonderful, Horrible Schools   1 comment

It all happened before we moved into California, so I can’t take credit, and I’m not to blame.  Proposition 13 is the subject, of course.  What did it do?  Turn California politics upside down.  Destroyed the status quo.  And now, almost 35 years later, we’re still dealing with the aftermath.  California’s budgeting process is broken.

Proposition 13 is so important in California … it has its own website 34 years after it passed. And a gun-for-hire “we hate all taxes” team that owns the site.

Public Schools, K-12

Prop 13 basically destroyed the funding previous paradigm for California public schools.  Perhaps it’s just as well:  there was a California Supreme Court case that found that prior funding mechanism unfairly gave more funds to cities with high property tax collections, and less funds to cities with lower collections.  The problem:  depressed neighborhoods were forced to charge higher tax rates but still had lower collections.  Combine that inequity found by the courts with a series of scandals in several county’s assessor offices, and there was a total mess.

In spite of that, California’s schools were viewed as some of the best in the country.  But then the funding fell apart.  Today, in measure after measure, California has fallen behind.  Here are a few:

  • In the ’70s, California averaged more funding per student than the rest of the country.  Today, we’re ranked 48th.
  • In 1975, California only spent 35% of the budget on education.  Today, it’s 55% of the budget … and we’re STILL behind the rest of the country per pupil!
  • In 1970, the US averaged 20 students per teacher while California averaged 26.  Today, the US averages about 14 and California averages 21.

Rand Corporation had this observation:

Since the 1970s, California schools have been buffeted by legal, political, and financial turbulence, along with rapid demographic change. Home to major shifts in educational policy in the last few decades and to 13 percent of the nation’s students, California has become an immense laboratory for nearly everything that can go right or wrong with education in America.

Where is California in the ranking of advancement towards the goal of the No Child Left Behind act?  46th of 50 states.

I think it’s pretty clear that California is failing our public school children.  Tragic.  The educational establishment continues to resist change.  The teacher’s union continues to resist any kind of performance-based evaluation of its members.

And our children suffer.

Public Universities

However, California’s Universities are fabulous.  The US News rankings just came out, and 5 of the top 10 public universities are part of the University of California system:

  • 1. UC Berkley
  • 2. UCLA
  • 8. UC Davis
  • 9. UC San Diego
  • 10. UC Santa Barbara

The University of California has 9 undergraduate campuses; 8 of them are ranked in the Top 50.

The California State Universities fare just as well in the regional university rankings.  Seven of the Top 10 western universities are from California:

  • 1. California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo
  • 3. California State University – Chico
  • 5. California State University – Long Beach (tie)
  • 5. California State University – Fullerton (tie)
  • 8. California Polytechnic State University – Pomona
  • 9. California State University – Fresno (tie)
  • 9. San Jose State University (tie)

This success apparently has come at a high price:  California State University fees have gone through the roof — literally.  The 1979 fee was only $144 for a full time student, and the 2010 fee was $4,335.  That means they have increased 30x fold over thirty years.  And, for the record, my family was paying those fees in the ’90s, in the ’00s, and stopped paying them in  2011.  Thank goodness.

In comparison, the University of California fees are a bargain, they’ve only increased 10x over 30 years, from $720 in 1978 to $8,020 in 2008.

So, we’ve got great universities, even though we’ve had dramatic tuition increases.  But how do we fix the public schools?

Public School vs Charter Schools

Charter schools are being opened at a record rate; over 484,000 students are now served by the 1,065 charter schools that have sprung up in California (the leading state for new charter schools!).  These schools are generally fiercely opposed by established public schools — and especially by the extremely influential teacher’s union.  The charters, you see, siphon resources from the public schools.  Parents seek out the charter schools for their more innovative, results-focused approach.  And when a charter school attracts more students, it gets the tax dollars allocated for the education of those students.  Seems fair, right?

The charters are also helping to train their own teachers; they’re not relying on the education establishment to provide them with trained professionals.  Good thing:  the number of certified teachers is now dropping year-to-year.

The Money

California Gov. Jerry Brown during a rally on Monday in support of Proposition 30. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

California voters passed a tax increase this week, Proposition 30, after voters had been cajoled, threatened, and, uh, persuaded by Governor Brown.  He worked with the Democratic state legislature to craft a budget that if this proposition didn’t pass, then $4 billion in education spending would have to be cut this year.  This game would be budget brinkmanship, the advanced edition.

Thankfully, the proposition did pass, so this year’s budgets will not have to be cut midyear.  Students will not lose a week or more of classes, and Cal State tuitions will not have to go up again (well, only sometimes) and classes will not have to be cut.

Is that money going to be enough to fix the schools?  Of course not.

But I hope it’s a start.

I wish we could take the people that run our wonderful universities and get them to solve the problems with our public schools.  They’re already state employees!  Wouldn’t that make sense?

One response to “Our Wonderful, Horrible Schools

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  1. Pingback: The Death Of The NCAA: Paying Athletes | MowryJournal.com

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