Soapbox

Viewpoints: California is failing its schoolchildren

Students during a class at Benson Hill Elementary in Renton, Wash.
Students during a class at Benson Hill Elementary in Renton, Wash. The New York Times

This election season, let’s look at the real problem. For more than 35 years, investing in our children has not been a priority of our governors, our Legislature, our school boards, teachers unions or taxpayers. All bear responsibility for the failure of our school system, and all must agree to put their self-interest aside for the betterment of our children.

Education of our children is the greatest investment we can make. Education is where the foundation is built to keep our society competitive, to create jobs, to reduce reliance on government assistance, to reduce the burden on our judicial system and to lower our prison population.

Here are some of the facts that need to be addressed:

▪ California has consistently had among the lowest per student spending. Even with the 2014-15 budget increases, the state remains almost $3,000 below the national average.

▪ Despite that underfunding, the $68,500 average teacher salary in California ranked fifth highest in 2011-12. Teachers may not be overpaid, but are the teachers unions really fighting for our children?

▪ California schools have the fewest number of adults in contact with children. This includes not only teachers, but administrators, librarians and counselors, according to the National Education Association.

▪ There are 58 counties in California, each with its own office of education. There are 977 separate school districts, each with its own administration, governing board, budget and policies.

▪ California’s national standing in academic performance on math and English tests among fourth and eighth-graders ranges from 46th to 49th, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Here are some more facts:

▪ About 10 percent of children will be victims of sexual misconduct by a member of their school’s staff sometime during their K-12 years. In California, that equates to 620,000 public school students.

▪ Statistics show that each sexually abused child will need to tell nine different adults before the story might even be heard. Individuals who have been sexually abused as children are more likely to be in abusive situations later in life.

▪ School bullying and sexual harassment often go hand-in-hand and pose a very real threat for children, especially those in middle school and high school. When bullying is directed toward the developmentally disabled, it is even more damaging. It is estimated that approximately 85 percent of children with special needs are bullied.

There are a lot of problems facing our schools, funding not being the least. Ask yourself why Sacramento County needs, in addition to the county Office of Education, 13 separate school districts with their own administrators, support staff and school boards? Ask yourself why we are not ashamed that our schools rank so low on academic performance. Ask yourself why our teachers are so highly paid, but our students don’t have enough counselors, nurses, librarians or custodians.

We have eliminated music, art and shop programs and reduced physical education requirements. Learning a foreign language is reserved for high school. Ask yourself how many children will be sexually abused by school staff. Ask yourself how many children will be bullied at school – because of their sexual orientation, color of their skin, special needs or size.

Finally, is there a reason – perhaps our poor K-12 system – why the California State University and University of California systems are accepting fewer and fewer in-state applicants and our community colleges are impacted?

The greatest investment a society can make is investing in our future, our children, and their education. We are failing.

Robert M. Wilson, a Sacramento attorney with Kimball and Wilson LLP, is former executive director of Sacramento Child Advocates.

  Comments