Deficits Highlight Education Woes

California education cuts may be less severe then originally thought. But overall, schools still need help.
by | May 25, 2011

California schools might not be getting left behind after all – but that doesn’t mean they’re coming out ahead.

After months of widespread dread about the impact of deep cuts from the budget deficit, the doomsday scenarios may have been bogus, the San Jose Mercury News reports. After issuing thousands of preliminary layoff notices and drafting emaciated budgets, schools actually may have the same amount of money this year, which means they will be able to bring back teaching, classified and administrative positions, according to Ron Bennett, chief executive officer of the Sacramento-based School Services of California.

How is this possible given Legislature’s current stalemate? It’s a simple numbers game. If the Legislature approves the tax extensions, school budgets won’t be cut. If tax extensions fail, schools will only be cut by $1.6 billion. In the third scenario, to close the budget gap by cutting education by more than $1.6 billion, the Legislature would have to suspend Proposition 98 (the voter-passed school funding floor), which nobody wants to do.

This is welcome news. With most districts already in the red, the extra dollars would mostly bring the program back to where it was. But something is better than nothing.

Across the country, schools have been in the crosshairs of economic insecurity, adding fuel to the fiery debates on charter schools and the bleak forecast of Baby Boomers leaving the classrooms. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett believes the school system -- by focusing on the teacher, parent and child in that order -- is backwards. 

In a speech to the American Federation for Children May 9, Corbett talked about the power of choice in a system that fails students:

We have, for generations now, been funding institutions instead of people. The bricks and mortar, salaries and hardware are all covered by our education budgets. Still, children show up at some of our schools with empty stomachs. They walk through bad neighborhoods to a school that is its own dysfunctional neighborhood. For years we talked about failing schools. Now we find ourselves talking about dangerous schools.

How on Earth is a child whose own parents see no other kind of school than a failing one supposed to learn basic mathematics, reading, literature?

How are they expected to aspire to something better when they are hungry and fearful inside their classrooms?

We have done this for several generations and it is the very definition of insanity — doing the same, wrong-headed thing over and over again expecting a different result.

He cites a 2010 study mandated by Congress, which examined the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Due to high demand, lotteries determine scholarships for charter and private schools. The graduation rate for these students was 82 percent. The graduation rate for those who stayed in public school was 70 percent.

The charter school debate has been going on for years. Supporters claim that they spur education reform and opponents say they destabilize traditional schools. At this moment, a New Jersey Assembly committee is considering a package of charter school bills. In Oregon, lawmakers have proposed more than 40 bills over the past few years and passed only five laws. Three of them have had little impact on how schools operate, The Oregonian reported.

The needs of the education system, however, are way bigger than charter schools. Education culture in general needs an overhaul. "How do we keep kids in school and have them ready for the work force we so desperately need?” Oregon state Rep. Betty Komp, a  Democrat and co-chairwoman of the Joint Ways and Means education subcommittee told the Associated Press. “That's the question we need to be asking."