I commend the recent series in The Tribune on the fiscal crisis facing our local public schools. The reporting was thoughtful and wellbalanced .
The series outlined the decrease of more than $50 million in the general operating funds for school districts in San Luis Obispo County over the past five years. This decrease is the result of continual underfunding from the state in reaction to our state’s budget deficit. The only option left for school district governing boards is to reduce expenses. The series clearly charted the impact that this reduced funding is having on students. Some schools are forced to reduce the school year when we should be increasing the number of school days. Our state now ranks near the bottom (46 of 50) in financial support for public schools.
If we just supported our schools at the national average (not even at the level of the top 10 states), we would have $90,000 more per classroom each year!
Cuesta College has seen significant cutbacks, resulting in fewer classes and denial of access to more than 3,000 students. Cal Poly has seen a decrease in state support and increases in student fees. Student and family debt is increasing dramatically just to access what once was our proud pathway to success for California students and our state.
We can all do better!
Schools and colleges can do better. We should constantly examine expenditures to ensure that money is spent wisely and only on our highest priorities. We can focus our efforts primarily on providing a quality teaching staff for all students and continually support our teachers with training that is relevant to what works with students. We can incorporate the possibilities of exploding technology to improve student learning and mastery of skills for the future . We can advocate for authentic student assessments of the skills needed to succeed in the global economy rather than “fill in the bubble” tests.
The business community can do better. Our businesses should become strong and vocal advocates for investing in our schools and colleges as the surest way of providing innovation and a skilled workforce for the future. Our greatest resource is our people. Business leaders know that advancement does not just happen; it takes thoughtful investment of financial capital and the development of human capital. We in schools and colleges ask you to join us in this effort.
Legislators can do better. Our elected representatives need to be more vocal in the priority given to our public schools. We look to you to be our champion and advocate, not to echo partisan rhetoric. We need you to find ways to reverse the underfunding and not be satisfied with the state of our current educational investment. Our students are the victims of our timidity.
Our parents and nonparents can do better. Actually, you can do something different. You can just not take it anymore! You have done so much already to try to fill the funding gap, but it is just too big for a bake sale. Funding for education is a political decision and you can make your voice heard with our state and national representatives.
Finally, we all will have a chance to do better. In November, we can stop the bleeding and the slide to mediocrity. The state budget just adopted is based on the assumption that the Governor’s Initiative for a temporary tax increase will pass. The initiative will not provide more money, but at least hold schools harmless from more cuts this year. Then we can start to rebuild.
If the tax increase does not pass, our local schools will lose another $15 million. I am asking all of us, our businesses, our legislators and our parents, to support the Governor’s Initiative and show our children that we all really can do much better.
Julian Crocker is the San Luis Obispo County superintendent of schools.