Governor-elect Jerry Brown has a better understanding than most politicians of education issues, as we discovered last year when he sent some cogent advice to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. However, he can’t seem to find a way to conjure $25 (or perhaps now $28) billion out of thin air, and is warning educators that the schools will suffer a twenty to twenty-five percent cut in funding next year.
California already is in 49th place in the nation in terms of student/teacher ratio, and is dead last in the ratio of students to school librarians. These cuts are likely to move us below Puerto Rico and Guam.
Los Angeles Unified, which already has a $142 million deficit THIS year, will lose another $200 million. State treasurer Bill Lockyer said, “Those who wanted less government, you’re going to get your wish. In other communities that are willing to put something on the ballot to make up that difference, they’re going to have a higher service level.” This will mean that wealthy communities are likely to scramble to come up with emergency funding to avoid the worst impacts, while impoverished communities will find their overburdened schools utterly destitute.
One creative proposal has come from Dr. Stephen Krashen, who offers this advice:
California can save a lot of money by eliminating programs that aren't doing any good. A good place to start is the High School Exit Exam. Analyst Jo Ann Behm has estimated that the combined state and local costs of California's high school exit exam exceed $500 million per year.
The most recent review of research on exit exams, done by researchers at the University of Texas, concluded that high school exit exams do not lead to more college attendance, increased student learning or higher employment. In fact, researchers have yet to discover any benefits of having a High School Exit Exam.
Unfortunately, although this is a huge expenditure, it is dwarfed by the size of the deficit.
How did we get here? The sources of tax revenues in California have been greatly limited by Proposition 13, which put severe limits on increases in property taxes, and the collapse of the real estate bubble, which evaporated billions from the economy. Many politicians are now insisting that government live within its means, while refusing to legislate any additional revenue sources. The result is dwindling revenues -- even as the recession places additional burdens on our social services.
This is going to be a very intense spring.
Last Spring it was students who took the lead in organizing a response to budget cuts that were already coming down. Thousands marched in the streets last March 4. This year we are going to see the growth of that movement.
Some of us have begun organizing for a national conference and march in Washington, DC, July 28 to 31. We have launched a new Facebook cause, Save Our Schools: March and National Call to Action, bringing together the efforts of many different groups that have agreed to collaborate on one major mobilization.
Teachers, students and family members are going to need to come together in very large numbers to reverse this trend. We cannot hold together as a society if we do not nurture our young, and we cannot do this if we kill funding for basic education at this level. Cuts of this magnitude are absolutely unprecedented in our lifetimes. This will mean wholesale layoffs, classrooms overflowing, and slashed teacher pay and benefits. For this to occur at the same time our billionaires are blocking even a two percent increase in taxation, and bankers are enjoying record bonuses, is immoral and cannot be tolerated.
This brings to mind a quote I shared recently from 19th Century abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
I believe we are reaching those limits, and it is time for us to start resisting.
What do you think? How will the coming budget cuts affect your school? Have you reached your limit yet?
The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.