Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth. One influencer each week is also invited to write a column that takes a closer look at the issue.
Stay in the know: Sign up for the California Influencers newsletter here.
▪ ▪ ▪
Teachers in the Bay Area’s New Haven Unified School District hit the picket line two weeks ago. Their counterparts in Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento went on strike earlier this year. 2019 is becoming the Year of the Teacher Strike, a phenomenon four decades in the making.
Since the 1970s, California has consistently shortchanged public education and tarnished a school system which was once the state’s crown jewel. Forty years ago, California schools were rated in the top five nationally in per-pupil funding and had the results to match. Today, the state ranks, , , 49th in overall student-staff ratio, and .
So, when teachers in LA and Oakland take to the streets for better wages, smaller class sizes and additional resources, they have ample data to support their position. After all, California boasts the fifth-largest economy in the world yet languishes near the bottom in every national measure of school funding and school staffing.
But the sobering statistics don’t end there., behind less prosperous states such as Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and South Carolina, and almost 20 percent off the national average.
So, when school leaders say there isn’t enough money to meet the teachers’ demands, give all students a high-quality education and keep the district financially solvent, they, too, have plenty of evidence.
It’s almost provocative to offer in these hyper-partisan times, but maybe both sides have a point?
Ultimately, the fight is not between labor and management nor between teachers and administrators, but between those who are committed to public education and a state that refuses to provide students with the resources they need.
The root cause of teacher strikes is found not in Oakland or Los Angeles, but in Sacramento. It’s here, in the state capital, that lawmakers have failed to prioritize funding schools at a level that meets the needs of every student and prepares them for success in college, career and civic life. This lack of will has resulted in school funding that trails the rest of the country.
. For a school of 500 students, that’s an additional $1 million for expanded curriculum in science and the arts, class size reduction, student services, support staff, parent and community engagement, career technical education, textbooks, supplies and extracurricular activities. And that’s just if we boost funding to the national average — returning California to the top 10 in school funding would more than triple those numbers to almost $7,000 per student above today’s funding levels.
California shouldn’t rate at the bottom nationally in any area of significance, let alone education. Substantial research points to a positive relationship between education funding and improved academic outcomes, particularly for economically disadvantaged students. So, it’s no surprise that while California’s school funding has fallen relative to other states, so has its student performance.
In 2017, California’s eighth-graders ranked, , and on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Those results closely track the state’s lowly ranking of 41st in per-pupil funding. Sadly, California gets what it pays for when it comes to public schools, and it’s simply not enough. That’s why we’re to increase per-student funding to the national average by 2020 and to the average of the top 10 states by 2025.
We have a moral, practical and economic imperative to provide all students with a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career and civic life. Nothing less than the future of our children, our communities and our state hangs in the balance.