Tag Archives: Jerry Brown

Leg erases Gov’s ed reforms

John Fensterwald co-authored this article.

The Legislature’s budget package is missing many of Gov. Brown’s controversial education initiatives. A joint Senate and Assembly plan outlined yesterday protects transitional kindergarten, the science mandate, and the AVID program, rejects the weighted student funding formula, and offers districts a choice in how they’re paid for state mandates.

“This budget protects and invests in public education this year, and increases Proposition 98 funding by $17 billion over the next four years,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez during a press conference Wednesday morning with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The overall budget plan that lawmakers will vote on this Friday would erase California’s $20 billion structural deficit, balance the budget for each of the next three years, and create a $2 billion reserve by fiscal year 2015-16, according to Pérez and Steinberg.

Spending for K-12 education would be $53.6 billion for the 2012-13 fiscal year. That’s about $1 billion more than the governor had anticipated. Because the budget assumes more revenue for education through the passage of Brown’s tax initiative in November, the state is obligated under Proposition 98 to start paying off the “maintenance factor,” the IOUs given to schools during bad times. But if the tax increase fails, the Legislature and governor are in accord on the need for cuts of $5.5 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges. That would translate to a K-12 cut of $450 per student.

About $2.9 billion of that would come from lowering the Prop 98 guarantee due to a drop in state revenues. The rest would be made up through shifting two expenses into Prop 98 that are currently funded outside the guarantee. Those are repayment of general obligation bonds for school construction and the Early Start early education program. (Go here to read more about that in an earlier TOPed article.)

In addition, the legislative package would include trailer bill language allowing K-12 schools to cut 15 additional days from the next two school years.

Weighty issue

The governor’s biggest loss, for now, is the weighted student funding formula. Lawmakers’ refusal to include it in the budget isn’t an outright rejection of the concept of a simpler, fairer finance system that sends more money to districts with high proportions of English learners and indigent students. And Brown is expected to bring up the issue again this summer. But many lawmakers felt that the governor was jamming them to accept sweeping changes without justifying the basis for his formula, while legislators from suburban districts called for restoring all of the money lost to cuts over the past four years before redistributing new money.

Rick Simpson, the deputy chief of staff for Speaker Pérez, said that lawmakers wanted more assurances that the money under a weighted formula would actually reach targeted students. As part of his reform,  Brown proposed giving districts total flexibility in deciding how the dollars would be spent. “If you’re going to deregulate the entire school finance system,” Simpson said, “and if you’re not going to regulate inputs, you ought to have an accountability system to make sure you get those positive outcomes. We have lots of disparate pieces that we refer to as accountability, but it’s not a system.”

High school science intact

Brown had proposed eliminating the mandate for more than two dozen K-12 programs, including (the most expensive) requiring schools to offer a second year of high school science. Dropping a mandate would mean that districts could continue offering a program by finding money in their existing budgets. Brown also proposed reimbursing districts a flat $28 per student for the remaining mandated programs.

Science teachers and the business community protested that the state shouldn’t retreat from its commitment to science education (see commentary on this page), and the Legislature agreed, keeping it and all of the current mandates intact. However, lawmakers didn’t increase the reimbursement rate either, so districts can expect to continue accumulating a big IOU for meeting the science mandate. The state has also gone to court, arguing that the $250 million cost on the books for offering a second year of science is way too high, based on a false assumption that high schools had to add a period to the day to accommodate it, according to Paul Golaszewski, an analyst with the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Applying for a straight $28 per student would be the easiest, quickest way for districts to be reimbursed for mandated costs. However, the Legislature also would continue to allow districts to submit bills detailing the cost of complying with mandates – and hope that the state accepts the claims.

Starting early

The joint budget proposal allowed the early childhood education community to exhale a bit, by denying a number of significant cuts that the governor was seeking. He wanted to cut the reimbursement to preschool providers by 10 percent, raise the financial eligibility requirement, place a two-year cap on families receiving childcare services while attending a school or a job-training program, and eliminate full-day preschool starting next year.

“The Legislature has really stood up for young children,” said Scott Moore, Senior Policy Advisor at Preschool California. No one got away unscathed, however, and childcare will be taking a $50 million cut and losing 6,000 spaces for children in full-day state preschool, the childcare voucher program, and the infant-toddler child development program.  That’s on top of a billion dollar reduction and 100,000 spaces lost since 2008. Still, said Moore, “it’s significantly less that we were fearing would be cut.”

Adult education’s existential crisis

This is the second of a two-part series on adult education in California.  Click here to read part 1.

Adult education in California is nearly as old as the state itself. Today, the program that has helped millions of people learn English, earn a GED, and receive job training for 156 years is facing extinction. A new report released today by EdSource concludes that these schools, which provide second chances for the state’s most needy adults, “are as much at-risk as many of the people they serve.”

The report, aptly titled At Risk: Adult Schools in California, surveyed the state’s 30 largest school districts and found that 23 had made significant cuts to their adult education programs. In many cases, they lost at least half their funding. One of them, Anaheim Union High School District, shuttered its 73-year-old adult school.

“The important thing to remember is that these adult school programs are serving a population that really falls through the cracks,” said Louis Freedberg, Executive Director of EdSource. “This is a population that needs basic education in basic skills, that needs help with English as a Second Language, and for whom there is really no other place to go to get these basic services.”

Adult ed cuts in 30 largest districts.  (Source:  EdSource)  Click to enlarge.

Adult ed cuts in 30 largest districts. (Source: EdSource) Click to enlarge.

These draconian cuts have taken place in just the past three years. Until 2009, adult education funding was protected as a categorical program, meaning districts could not use the money for any other purpose. But that February, faced with a massive budget shortfall, the Legislature and Gov. Brown removed 39 programs – including adult ed – from this restriction and gave school districts flexibility to use the funds wherever they were most needed.

A survey of several hundred school districts conducted by the adult education program in Montebello Unified School District found that about 40 have closed or are planning to shut their adult education programs, and estimated that, statewide, districts have redirected about 60 percent of the $773 million in adult education funds to the K-12 system. At the same time, enrollment dropped from 1.2 million students to about 700,000.

“We were actually growing before the cuts started,” said Pam Garramone, principal of Sonoma Valley Adult School, which closes at the end of this month. Garramone said there were six adult school agencies in Sonoma County before flex started; now there’s only one, Petaluma, and it doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate the 10,000 people who have been shut out.

Farewell message on Sonoma Valley Adult School site. (click to enlarge).

Farewell message on Sonoma Valley Adult School site. (click to enlarge).

Garramone said her district has always been very supportive of adult education, but was placed in an untenable position. “Our budget situation was just so drastic that every single thing that was on the list to be cut was painful for them, and they’re looking at even more cuts next year, so the decision to finally close adult education they just felt had to be made,” she said. “And I really don’t blame them; I didn’t necessarily agree with it, but I certainly don’t blame them for the decision.”

She blames the Legislature. Adult education should never have been flexed, said Garramone. Even though categorical flex is supposed to end on June 30, 2015, few people expect to see the money again. Indeed, Gov. Brown’s proposal for a weighted student funding formula would make categorical flexibility permanent.

Paul Hay, the superintendent of San Jose’s Metropolitan Education District (MetroED), told EdSource if weighted student funding is approved, “adult education is dead, gone, over, and will never come back in the state.”

MetroED’s enrollment plunged from 10,000 to 2,000 after it closed more than 50 programs, two major campuses, and all its community outreach centers except for a program for disabled adults.

Societal impact

The adult education program in Oakland Unified School District was among the hardest hit without being closed.  It has been cut by more than 90 percent since the start of flex, losing $11 million of a $12 million budget which necessitated shutting two campuses and canceling English as a second language courses as well as its high school credit recovery program.  The GED classes are still thriving, however, and graduated 95 students last year.

“When we were cut our numbers were at the highest they’ve been, this would have been our best year ever,” said Chris Nelson, director of the district’s adult education programs and president of the California Council for Adult Education.  “It’s ironic now that the economy is so bad because it’s during times of high unemployment that people seek education programs.”

Donita McKay standing outside the Oakland adult ed computer literacy RV. (Click to enlarge).

Donita McKay standing outside the Oakland adult ed computer literacy RV. (Click to enlarge).

Donita McKay is studying for her GED and taking a computer literacy course through Oakland’s adult education school.  McKay is 49 years old, a single mom with four children, and a ninth-grade drop out.   She said being back in school has opened her mind and given her a different outlook on life.

“Education is important because when you don’t have it you’re so limited,” said McKay.  “I always tell my children, get your education, because I didn’t really get all mine, so and you see where I’m at.  They hear that from my mouth everyday.”

Sitting at small workstation in an RV retrofitted as mobile computer classroom, McKay said she’s considering becoming a teacher one day, “because I always like to give back and give what I learned, because it reminds me I used to be like that.”

Oakland has all the challenges of any big city.  English is not the first language for about 40 percent of the population and in some neighborhoods the high school dropout rate is a staggering 60 to 70 percent, said Mayor Jean Quan, who spent twelve years on the local school board.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (Click to enlarge).

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (Click to enlarge).

“What I really worry about is California creating a permanent underclass,” said Quan.  “This is one of the ways out; this is one of the second chances that people have, and if people don’t have at least a high school degree it’s very hard to even get a good paying blue-collar job.”

Not dead yet

Gordon Jackson is head of the Adult Education Division of the California Department of Education.  He said the mission of adult education is to advance the “economic, workforce development and societal goals by preparing adult learners for college, career and civic responsibility.”

It’s a critical goal, but one that doesn’t have critical support.  Although adult education programs are run by both K-12 school districts and community colleges, it’s not the core mission of either.  So, it’s taken some time for advocates to organize, but they’ve started considering alternatives on a number of fronts.

Several proposals are being floated said EdSource’s Freedberg.  One idea is to combine resources and establish regional centers.  Another, put forth by the state’s Little Hoover Commission, recommends turning over responsibility for adult education to community college; even thought they

Gordon Jackson, Director of Adult Education Division, CA Dept. of Education. (Source:  CDE).

Gordon Jackson, Director of Adult Education Division, CA Dept. of Education. (Source: CDE).

are facing their own massive budget cuts.  And a third plan, already underway, is to lobby the Legislature to remove adult education from categorical flex and from the governor’s weighted student funding formula.

“There are times when I would like to sit next to somebody at Starbucks and moan and groan and say I cannot believe that there are adults in this world of ours at the legislative level and other places who don’t really understand what it means to demolish an infrastructure, what it means to do this to California’s future,” said Jackson.  “I can bemoan that and have a really intense pity party for a while, until I need to focus on what needs to happen.”

CA millions of degrees short

Business and civic leaders weighed in on the condition of California’s university and college systems with an urgent warning that without a significant increase in graduation rates, the state will lose its prominence as an economic contender.

A new report released Thursday by the California Competes Council found that the state needs 5 ½ million new college degrees and technical certificates by the year 2025. But, without major changes, California will fall 2.3 million short.

(Source:  California Competes and U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey).  Click to enlarge.

(Source: California Competes and U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey). Click to enlarge.

“We need to provide our young people with the tools, not only to live a good life and be good participants in our state, but to also fuel our economic engine,” said Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, chair of the Council, during a conference call with reporters.

The Council’s report, entitled The Road Ahead: Higher education, California’s promise, and our future economy, is the third in a confluence of reports focusing on improving success at the state’s community colleges this year, this time from the perspective of business and civic leaders. In January, the Community College Board of Governors approved a package of 22 recommendations developed after a year of meetings and public hearings by the Student Success Task Force.

A month later, the Little Hoover Commission, the state watchdog agency, released its recommendations for community colleges in Serving Students, Serving California.

All three reports share some ideas. They would give more independence to the Chancellor’s office, provide more support for new students, and call for greater accountability. The Council states up front that it supports the recommendations of the other two groups, but goes on to say that they “do not go far enough in addressing the lack of accountability in the system caused by dysfunctional governance.”

They call their report a blueprint for the governor and State Legislature and lay out steps the state must take “to restore California to national and international prominence as a producer of high-quality college graduates.”

More and better quality degrees

Producing 5.5 million new graduates by 2025 means increasing the number of degrees and certificates by a little over 4 percent a year. The Council says this could be accomplished by better research into the types of jobs and qualifications needed to fill them in different regions of the state. The report notes that “there are increasing numbers of good jobs across a range of industries that demand skills gained in credential programs of less than four years,” and that “the state should identify majors that are a priority.”

Community colleges are a key strategy in meeting the demand. With about 2.6 million students, they are the largest higher education system in the nation, but rank second to last in completion rates, according to the report. That combination makes community colleges the low-hanging fruit, as it were.

“Improving attainment rates for transfer, degrees, and certificates at community colleges could address a third to half of the 2.3 million graduate gap,” write the Council members.

The authors also caution against losing sight of quality. Doing things on the cheap, such as increasing class sizes, could backfire by producing graduates without the analytical and critical thinking skills they’ll need to be successful.

Create a Higher Education Investment Board

Remember CPEC, the California Postsecondary Education Commission? It didn’t work out so well and Gov. Brown disbanded it last year. The Higher Education Investment Board would be CPEC with teeth.

It wouldn’t be a governance body, said Robert Shireman, director of California Competes. Like CPEC, it would collect information and data from campuses about the number of degrees granted from each campus, how much it costs to educate students for different degrees, and what the workforce needs are for different regions of the state, and use that information to advise the governor and Legislature on policy.

Unlike CPEC, the Board would have authority to compel each campus to respond to its requests for data because it would also have control of student financial aid, like Cal Grants.

“Campuses did not have any incentive to respond to requests of CPEC because there weren’t any consequences,” said Shireman. “The scholarship program is a hook into institutions that they need to be responsive.

Streamline governance

“The statewide Board of Governors should amend its regulations to restore clear accountability to local boards of trustees and to the administrators who report to them.” – California Competes.

In a significant shift from the other two reports, the Council proposed reconfiguring the management structure of community colleges to give local Boards of Trustees more power over policy.

Currently, under AB 1725, passed in 1988, local community college districts must ensure that faculty, staff, and students are allowed to participate in governance. Two years later, the Board of Governors went further with regulations that call for “mutual agreement” between the local trustees and faculty senates on issues pertaining to curriculum and academic standards.

The Council, while acknowledging that faculty input is important, said that by giving academic senates equal authority, it’s nearly impossible to reach any agreements.

“We really debated on the governance question and came away with the feeling that the accountability structure of community colleges really needed to be strengthened in order to move forward and address this gap in degrees and certificates,” said California’s former legislative analyst and council member Elizabeth Hill.

As far as the statewide academic senate is concerned, the Council based that recommendation on a blatantly mistaken understanding of the regulation. “My jaw dropped when I read that section of the report,” said Michelle Pilati, president of the statewide Academic Senate and a professor at Rio Hondo College.   “It’s disappointing to see that the authors of the report did not adequately check their facts.” Except for the changes implemented by the Board of Governors in 1990, Pilati said local trustees can opt to reach a mutual agreement with their faculty senates, but are under no obligation to do so.

Members of the student senate took issue with the portrayal of faculty as the obstacle to change and cautioned against using divisive language. “It’s a mischaracterization and in line with all the other demonization of teachers that we’re seeing in K-12,” said Rich Copenhagen, a student senator from the College of Alameda. “Unfortunately I think this report falls into that, and I don’t think that’s a very healthy way of dealing with our problems.”

The Community College Chancellor’s office said it supports any effort to improve completion rates, but was noncommittal on the report’s recommendations and instead directed attention to the Student Success Task Force. Some key proposals from the task force are already making their way through the State Legislature in SB 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012.

Foster youths’ financial climb through college getting even steeper

The last time Lerone Matthis was released from the Division of Juvenile Justice, in April 2008, he feared he had reached bottom.

“I was discouraged by the prospects for a meaningful future,” Matthis recalled.

He didn’t have a place to rest his head, bathe, or change his clothes. He wore the same jeans and a white shirt that was dingy around the neck because it hadn’t been washed for a month. He bought socks from a neighborhood liquor store, relied on relatives and friends for food and shelter, and at times the former foster youth simply went hungry.

However, Matthis had earned a GED in jail. When he got out, he enrolled in City College of San Francisco through an educational support system for the formerly incarcerated. Still, the 29-year-old single father of two young children never believed he would graduate.

Lerone Matthis at his graduation from City College of San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Steve Ngo, City College).

Lerone Matthis at his graduation from City College of San Francisco. (Photo courtesy of Steve Ngo, City College).

“Four years ago, I did not know what it meant to dream, to believe in a future, or to have faith in myself,” Matthis recalled last Saturday, in a commencement speech to hundreds of faculty, administrators, and students at City College, where he graduated with honors.

This fall, Matthis will enter the University of California, Davis, where he plans to major in managerial economics, continue studying for a master’s degree in tax accounting, and eventually become a Certified Public Accountant.

The Richmond resident credits the Guardian Scholars Program for his transformation. The nationally recognized, privately funded program provides college financial assistance and academic guidance to former foster youth at more than 30 campuses across California, including private universities.

Guardian Scholars receive up to $5,000 to pay for costs not covered by financial aid, such as rent, transportation, and childcare. But now Guardian Scholars is finding it difficult to meet the growing needs of former foster youth. Michael McPartlin, coordinator of the Guardians Scholars Program at City College, said he no longer advertises the program because it is filled to capacity. Currently, it serves about 200 of the 900 students who have identified themselves as former foster youth.

Access to higher education, and the employment and economic advantages that go with it, continues to be dismal for former foster care youth. It’s estimated that between 7 and 13 percent of former foster youth enroll in college.

A 2010 report by Casey Family Programs found that only 2 percent of young people from foster care complete their bachelor’s degree, compared to 30 percent of the general population. Common barriers to college include low high school graduation rates, emotional and mental health issues, long-term effects of abuse and neglect, academic learning gaps, and a poor system of transferring school records, according to the Casey Family website. Paying for college is also a major impediment.

In his May budget revise, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to decrease Cal Grant awards in the 2012-13 academic year by $111.5 million, by lowering the amount students can get while attending public colleges. If approved, this would affect about 30,800 students, according to the governor’s website.

In addition, starting next month, changes to the Federal Pell Grant program will limit the number of years students can receive the aid from nine to six years. This fails to consider that former foster youth, as well as other low-income students, often start in remedial math and English courses due to challenges in their K-12 education, and may need three or four semesters to qualify for college-level courses. For these students, it can take more than six years to complete their undergraduate degree.

Sugyn Paynay, a 22-year-old Guardian Scholar who is completing her Associate of Art degree in child development, had to take four remedial English courses before she could enroll in an English course that was transferable to a four-year university. Even with priority registration available to Guardian Scholars, some of the other classes Paynay needed were full when she went to sign up.

The only way she can pay for her education is by taking out student loans, something she says will be difficult since she plans follow a career path where she may not earn enough to pay back large loans.

“It’s okay to get a loan if you’re becoming a nurse. You’ll eventually make a good [amount] of money, but I’m going into teaching,” she said. “Getting a loan will be a real financial burden while I’m in school, as well as in the future.”

In spite of educators’ enthusiasm to improve access to higher education for foster care youth, government agencies are faced with the realities of persistent budget deficits, said Jill Berrick, co-director of the Center for Child and Youth Policy at the University of California Berkeley.

“Until the economy turns around, very few social programs in California are going to be experiencing anything close to full funding,” she said.

On the Saturday of his graduation from City College, a white, red, and blue ribbon with a medal hung around Matthis’ neck. His graduation cap had the year “2012” airbrushed on it. On the back of his black graduation gown were two large pictures of his children with the words that kept him pushing forward when things became challenging: “Congratulations Daddy.”

“My kids love their daddy. But I worried they would never be proud of me,” Matthis said.

Being part of the Guardian Scholars Program, and other support groups on campus, allowed him to face the emotions he felt as a teen. This year, he spoke at a conference in San Diego about mental health problems in black males as part of his efforts to educate others about young men in the foster care system or correctional facilities. As a Guardian Scholar, he says, he learned to raise his own expectations of what he can accomplish.

“Although former foster youth are dealing with significant challenges,” said Matthis, “they can and will succeed if given the right tools or guidance.”

Rosa Ramirez (@rosamramirez) is a Bay Area reporter who has covered health, immigration, Hispanic affairs and food policy. She recently completed a dual master’s program in journalism and Latin American Studies from UC Berkeley. A longer version of this article appeared in The Chronicle of Social Change.

Middle class tuition break at UC, CSU

Four Republican legislators crossed party lines in the Assembly on Wednesday, providing the two-thirds vote needed to approve a bill that would create a middle class scholarship program for the state’s public college and university students.

AB 1501 is part of a two-bill package called the Middle Class Scholarship Act introduced by Assembly speaker John A. Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, that would reduce tuition by two-thirds for students attending the University of California and California State University whose families earn less than $150,000 a year.

In urging a yes vote, Pérez cited the enormous fee hikes at the state’s public colleges and universities, noting that in the past decade tuition has increased by 191 percent at Cal State, by 145 percent at the University of California, and by 300 percent at community colleges. Meanwhile, state support for UC and CSU has dropped by 21 percent and 26 percent respectively since 2005.

10 year history of changes in CSU tuition. (Source: California State University). Click to enlarge.

Ten-year history of changes in CSU tuition. (Source: California State University.) Click to enlarge.

“This means that for thousands of California families, higher education entails increasingly difficult tradeoffs,” said Pérez; tradeoffs that would either compel parents to make huge sacrifices, or force students to take on massive loan debt. “For many Californians those tradeoffs are too great, and they make the reluctant decision to forego a higher education altogether.”

Student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion nationally, more than all U.S. credit card debt. Statewide, according to the California Student Aid Commission, there’s been a double-digit increase every year for the past three years in the number of students who qualify for loans and for the state’s Cal Grant awards.

Under AB 1501, eligible Cal State students would save $4,000 per year, or $16,000 over four years, while UC students would save about $8,200 per year, or nearly $33,000 over a four-year period. Students from families earning between $150,000 and $160,000 a year would be entitled to assistance at a lower level; their scholarships would be reduced by 10 percent for each $1,000 in family income over $150,000. California community colleges would receive $150 million to help students defray the cost of textbooks and offset other educational expenses.

Lack of investment “criminal”

Modesto Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, vice chair of the Higher Education Committee and one of the Republicans who broke ranks and supported the measure, defended her position during the floor debate as a vote for the state’s economic prosperity.

“We have slashed state investment in higher education, and that’s criminal,” Olsen said. “One of the only ways we’re going to grow a strong economy over the long term is by investing in our public universities to make sure that we are graduating educated employees who are prepared to compete in a global workforce.”

She noted that wealthy families can afford to pay tuition, and low-income families have various options for state and federal aid, but middle-income families are being hit hard by escalating tuition and the faltering economy.

But her colleague in the GOP caucus, Assemblymember Tim Donnelly from Twin Peaks, wasn’t moved, except to sarcasm. “I see these programs and they sound so nice – middle class scholarship fund – woo-hoo, hallelujah, Praise the Lord! I love it, sounds wonderful, why don’t we give one to everybody?” he quipped. “Oh yeah, there’s a slight little problem: we don’t have the money.”

Donnelly blamed union wage demands and injudicious spending decisions by UC and CSU for their financial problems, especially giving huge pay raises to new campus presidents while increasing student fees. Then he offered this sage advice: “I remember when I went to school. I went to the University of California at Irvine; I got three jobs to pay my way through. My idea of a middle class scholarship is a job.”

Half a loaf

While there is some disagreement among Republicans on AB 1501, they are united in their opposition to its companion bill, AB 1500. This is the half that pays for the Middle Class Scholarship Act.

Pérez wants to fund it by closing a loophole in the 2009 Corporation Tax Law that gave companies operating in both California and another state the option of computing their taxes using either the Single Sales Factor (SSF), which is based on their California sales, or another formula that gives the companies more flexibility on how much taxes they’ll pay. The policy was adopted in one of those never-well-thought-through budget deals reached in the middle of the night.

Requiring those companies to move to the SSF would increase the state’s general fund by about $1 billion in 2013-14, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. In fact, the LAO recommended that the state take that action two years ago.

Gov. Brown tried to change the law last year, by getting bipartisan support for AB 40X. The bill would have mandated the SSF and returned the revenue to businesses in the form of job credits as an incentive for hiring Californians. Although it passed the Assembly, the bill did not garner any GOP support in the Senate and died.

One of the sponsors of AB 40X was Assembly Republican Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita. He’s also one of the four Republicans who voted yesterday for AB 1501. But in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Smyth said he will not be supporting AB 1500.

“It would be another funding obligation from the state,” said Smyth. “I still think the Single Sales Factor needs to be reexamined, but I do have concerns, because unlike last year, this bill is a tax increase and it creates a new entitlement.”

Kristin Olsen and the other two Republicans who voted for AB 1501 – Katcho Achadjian from San Luis Obispo and Jeff Gorell of Camarillo – have also said they will not support the companion bill, but are willing to work with Speaker Pérez on finding a different funding source, such as savings from the governor’s pension reform proposal.

Assemblymember Olsen said adequate funding for public higher education ought to be a top priority in the general fund if California is committed to maintaining a premier public university system. But she’s not optimistic. “The direction that California is headed today, quite honestly, makes me fearful,” said Olsen, “and makes me question whether I will be able to send my three kids to college.”

CA breaks another bad record

More California school districts than ever before are heading toward insolvency. The State Department of Education’s Second Interim Status Report for 2011-12, released yesterday, named 188 districts with serious financial problems; of those, 12 have negative certifications, meaning they won’t be able to meet payroll and other bills for this academic year.

California schools that may not be able to make ends meet. (source: State Dept. of Education) Click to enlarge

California schools that may not be able to make ends meet. (Source: State Dept. of Education) Click to enlarge.

It’s a steep increase over the first interim report, released last February, which we wrote about here. At that time, there were seven districts on the negative list and 120 in qualified status. With the increases, more than 2.6 million of California’s 6.2 million school children attend schools facing uncertain financial futures.

“This is the kind of record no one wants to set. Across California, parents, teachers, and administrators are increasingly wondering how to keep their schools’ lights on, their bills paid, and their doors open,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a written statement. “The deep cuts this budget crisis has forced — and the uncertainties about what lies ahead — are taking an unprecedented and unacceptable toll on our schools.”

Given the years of budget cuts to education, the new numbers didn’t come as a surprise to school finance officials, said Mike Hulsizer, head of governmental affairs for the Kern County Office of Education. But it will get worse if neither of the school tax initiatives passes next November. “There is no question that this understates the risk that districts are facing,” said Hulsizer, because many of the districts counted on funds from Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase in planning their 2012-13 budgets.

K-12 schools would receive an extra $2.8 billion if the initiative passes, but Brown is proposing cutting K-12 schools about $5 billion – $441 per student – midyear if it fails. Districts weren’t ordered to budget one way or another. Although some county superintendents wanted schools to budget for the worst-case scenario, others told school districts to plan either way, but make sure they have a Plan B in case of a negative vote at the ballot box. “The county’s position is that a district needs to be able to weather the trigger if it does happen,” said Santa Clara County Office of Education Superintendent Chuck Weis.  “If a district is already on the edge, then plan for the worst.”

Joel Montero, CEO of the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), told a state Assembly committee two weeks ago that small and rural districts face the largest impact from another round of midyear cuts. “Small and tiny rural districts don’t really have an economy of scale,” said Montero. They don’t have enough money or students to absorb any additional losses, particularly when those losses come in the form of deferrals, the $9 billion-plus that the state owes to school districts.

Options for school districts that have run out of options. (Source:  Leg. Analyst) Click to enlarge.

Options for school districts that have run out of options. (Source: Leg. Analyst) Click to enlarge.

“So the decision that you have to make as a school district is whether or not you can afford to fund that deferral for the term and if you can’t then it becomes a cut for you in a way,” Montero explained to subcommittee members.

Five of the nine districts that received a negative certification fall into the small and/or rural category.  The tiniest, La Grange Elementary School District in Stanislaus County, will be shutting down at the end of this school year and sending its six students to other districts.

Two of the districts, Vallejo City Unified and South Monterey Joint Union High School, have already been bailed out by the state and are under a state-appointed administrator. Linda Grundhoffer, the Chief Business Official in South Monterey – formerly King City Joint Union High School District – said ever since the district went under state control in 2009 the onslaught of budget cuts “are just making it harder for this district to recover.”  The district is seeking to lower the interest rate on its state loan from 5.44 percent to 1 percent through legislation, but so far Senate bill 1240 and Assembly bill 1858 are on the suspense files in the appropriations committees of their respective houses.

In an unusual twist, this year’s negative list also contains a small but very wealthy district. At a little over $170,000, the median household income in the San Mateo County foothills community of Portola Valley is nearly three times the state average. But the district is now trying to stave off a state takeover after an audit found a shortfall of about $850,000 for this school year plus an additional half-million dollars allegedly misappropriated by the former superintendent, who’s already facing felony charges stemming from his tenure as chief financial officer in the neighboring Woodside Elementary District.

The list of districts on the negative and qualified lists may continue to set somber new records depending on what happens in November.  “Second interim certifications are assuming a better budget environment than realistically may be there after November,” FCMAT’s Montero told TOPed.  “Without that assumption, it is likely the numbers of qualified and negative districts would have been higher.”

Watching California public schools sink — a preventable Titanic

One hundred years ago last month, the cry “women and children first” echoed on the decks of the ill-fated Titanic. A century later, the ship carrying California’s future is listing in the water. However, it seems that today no one is willing to make a sacrifice: It’s every man, woman, and child for himself or herself.

California was once the envy of the country — beautiful beaches, good jobs, a booming economy, and the promise of the best public education system, including top-notch, affordable state colleges and universities. However, the economic seas became rough in 2007 with the impact of the recession. In an effort to keep California afloat, our leaders in Sacramento — unable or unwilling to right the ship by raising revenue — scrambled for items to dump overboard. The value of education plummeted as other budget items were given priority, and education funding became the primary target for cuts, suffering a disproportionate loss of revenue. From 2007-08 to 2010-11, K-12 education funding sustained 54 percent of the loss of revenue, although it represented approximately 40 percent of the General Fund. In contrast, corrections sustained just a 4 percent loss, despite representing approximately 10 percent of the General Fund.

As the recession persists, the captain and crew – Gov. Brown and the legislators – decide what will be loaded into the lifeboats to survive, but there’s little evidence that the children are first. (Lucky for prisoners, federal law makes sure they are at the front of the line.) Instead, lawmakers and the governor are accusing each other of failing to save the children and the integrity of our state’s educational system Gov. Brown has proposed one solution to right the ship, but it requires the children to stay on board until the voters send help by passing his tax initiative. He seems to have overlooked the fact that children may go overboard before help can arrive — their schools must open months before the actual amount of education funding is determined.

The impact of the recession and the sinking of California are wreaking havoc on the schools, as has been documented this month by reports from both the Legislative Analyst’s Office and EdSource. School districts have been left scrambling, throwing items overboard or rearranging deck chairs in a futile attempt to balance their loads. Many districts are forced to borrow funds to keep schools open when the state sends IOUs, adding to their debt burden. Since 2008, more than 40,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, bus drivers, etc. have been lost, with an additional 20,000 teachers plus thousands more school employees currently in peril. While some education bargaining units are negotiating to save themselves and their students, others seem willing to let those in third class (lower seniority) and their schoolchildren sink with the ship to save their own skins.

Our schools need adequate funding to open their doors before the tax initiative-funded lifeboat can arrive. And the truth is that even if it passes, the initiative provides little more than current funding levels. Because of the uncertainty of the initiative’s passage, districts are compelled to budget with worst-case funding scenarios. As California continues to pitch in the seas of the recession, it is truly the children who will suffer the most severe, long-term damage. They’ll suffer larger classes, shorter school years, the loss of “less important” programs such as music and the arts, the disbanding of professional learning collaborations with the shuffling of remaining teachers, and so on, leaving 6.3 million schoolchildren with permanent gaps in their learning.

One hundred years ago, when the Titanic sank, the world was stunned and outraged that so many lives were lost, and new, preventative measures were instituted to save lives. Years later, we are watching another ship, the public school system in California, go under. Where are the safety measures today for the schoolchildren of our state?  California was already 50th in the nation for student-to-teacher ratio in 2008, and that was before education funding suffered $20 billion in losses. How much more water will we allow our schools to take on before we step in to do something? Will we be able to tell the children of California that we did everything to save them, or will we sit by idly, shrug our shoulders, and point our finger at someone else and say that it was his/her fault? Unlike the Titanic, we can stop this disaster. We must call out “children first” to save them and the future of our state.

Tamara Hurley is a California native, a product of the state’s public education system, and a 24-year resident of San Diego. Trained as a scientist, she has spent the past eight years volunteering on behalf of her children’s public schools, from the classroom to PTO and PTA boards as well as on district, community, and school site committees and site governance teams. Tamara is a board member of Educate Our State, a statewide, nonprofit, parent-led, grassroots organization fighting for high-quality public K-12 education in California.

Another strike at Transitional K

Governor Brown isn’t giving up on efforts to curtail Transitional Kindergarten (TK), despite being rebuffed by both the Senate and Assembly subcommittees dealing with education funding. The May Revision budget plan, released Monday, seeks to make TK a voluntary program and use the savings to restore proposed cuts to state-funded preschool.

The State Department of Finance estimates this plan would capture $132.2 million. Of that, however, $40.7 million would go to funding TK in the handful of districts that the department expects will continue or start a program, and to providing districts that lose students by opting out of TK with the mandatory one-time funding for declining enrollment. That leaves a net gain of $91.5 million.

“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Deborah Kong of Preschool California, adding that the Department of Finance savings estimates are “very questionable.” Preschool California posted an interactive map on its website showing that even though about three dozen districts are holding off on implementation of TK for now, more than 200, including Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, have indicated that they’re moving forward.

Still the law

Transitional Kindergarten was established under SB 1381, the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, introduced by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). It raises the minimum age for starting kindergarten by moving up the entry date one month in each of the next three years, so by the 2014-15 school year children will have to be five years old by September 1 to enroll.

The bill also created the TK program for the estimated 125,000 children who turn five during that three-month window between September 2 and December 2, and who will no longer be eligible for kindergarten. Sen. Simitian says the way TK is funded, there’s no cost to the state for the first 13 years because all the children in the new program would have been in traditional kindergarten otherwise.

Minimum age requirements under Kindergarten Readiness Act. (Source:  Preschool California). Click to enlarge.

Minimum age requirements under Kindergarten Readiness Act. (Source: Preschool California) Click to enlarge.

“It’s important for parents and school districts to remember that the Governor’s proposal is just a proposal,” said Sen. Simitian in a written statement yesterday. “Any changes to that law must be approved by the Legislature.”

Lawmakers have already spoken twice on the issue: once when they approved the bill two years ago, and again last month, when the budget subcommittees in both the Senate and Assembly rejected the governor’s proposal in his January budget plan to eliminate TK.

“The governor needs to understand Transitional Kindergarten is here to stay and that we stand firmly behind the Kindergarten Readiness Act,” said Assemblymember Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), chair of the Budget Subcommittee on Education that voted to protect TK.

When he first proposed eliminating TK in his January budget proposal, Gov. Brown argued that, given the budget deficit, this is not the time to create a new program. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office agreed, writing last month in a brief for lawmakers that the plan is “reasonable for budgetary purposes,” and that it “does not make sense to offer [an] additional year of public education to a select group of children at the expense of

Gov. Brown's changes to TK in his May Revision budget.  (Source:  Calif. Dept. of Finance). Click to enlarge.

Gov. Brown's changes to TK in his May Revision budget. (Source: Calif. Dept. of Finance). Click to enlarge.

funding existing K-12 services.”

Since January, however, the governor has changed the language on the trailer bill several times, and the most recent version could open TK to even more children. At the same time he proposed making it a voluntary program for school districts, Gov. Brown proposed that if those districts want to enroll children who will not turn five until sometime during the academic year when they’re admitted, the state will pay average daily attendance (ADA) funding for those students from the first day of school. Sen. Simitian’s office estimates that could potentially add another 250,000 four-year-olds to TK and cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

Preschool vs. Transitional Kindergarten

Back in January, when Gov. Brown first recommended ending TK completely, he was going to use the savings to help pay down the more than $10 billion in school deferrals from the state. The May Revision changes that and instead would redirect the $91.5 million to state-funded, part-day preschool. The January budget called for cutting the preschool reimbursement to providers by 10 percent, raising the financial eligibility requirements, requiring parents to work full-time instead of attending college or a job-training program, and eliminating full-day preschool starting in 2013.

Scott Moore of Preschool California said the idea that such a plan would save money is false for a number of reasons. One is that about half the 125,000 children who miss the cutoff for kindergarten and would go to TK instead are also eligible for state-funded preschool, so the 15,500 spots that would reopen in part-day preschool wouldn’t come close to accommodating the kids who need it. In addition, Moore says there are already more than 80,000 children on the waiting list for state-funded preschool.

“What the administration is trying to do is pit the TK community against the preschool community,” said Moore. “It’s sad that we’ve gotten to a moment where politics has really taken over what is sound policy.”

The political process will be different this time around. Since lawmakers have already rejected the governor’s proposal to eliminate Transitional Kindergarten, for all practical purposes, that recommendation is no longer a part of the 2012-13 budget plan. Restoring it isn’t just a matter of reconsidering that vote; it would require an entirely new proposal to end TK, and a complete turnaround by the same legislative committees that overwhelmingly killed the idea just two months ago.

Your name here

Now that California school buses will be running for at least another year, why not let districts use them to make a little cash on the side – the side of the buses, that is. State Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff has introduced a bill to do just that. SB 1295 would allow school districts to sell advertising space on the outside of school buses and keep the revenues.

“California’s fiscal mismanagement has resulted in budgetary woes for our state’s public education system,” said Senator Huff in a news release. “My legislation provides a new and needed source of funding for our schools at no cost to taxpayers.”

There’s no solid estimate yet of how much money the ads could generate.  Eric Thronson, who prepared the analysis of SB 1295 for the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said one advertising company he checked with charges advertisers anywhere from $40 to more than $200 a month, and the company takes its cut from that.

Colorado was the trendsetter, approving bus ad regulations almost 20 years ago, and districts there have met with mixed success. Colorado Springs, the first district in the country to advertise on the outside of buses, takes in about $40,000 a year, but that’s out of a total budget around $225 million.   Another Colorado district with 103 buses earned only about $3,000 a year and recently made some changes in the hopes of increasing its earnings to $10,000 a year.

The anti-tax group, CalTax, anticipates much higher revenues in California.  In a report released earlier this month, the organization estimates that advertising on the outside of buses could raise $31 million in annual revenue for school districts.

Whether it’s on the high end or low, Sen. Huff cites the recent fiscal status report released by the State Department of Education showing that 127 school districts are in danger of not being able to pay their bills within the next two years as evidence that school districts need more freedom to raise money.  “The senator’s feeling is that any amount of extra revenue is welcome, and it gives school districts freedom to use it how they want,” said Huff’s spokesman William Bird.

School bus as moving moving billboard for schools. (Source:  Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood). Click to enlarge.

School bus as moving moving billboard for schools. (Source: Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood). Click to enlarge.

Rural Southern Humboldt Unified School District is ready to start moving on the ads.  Last week, the school board passed a resolution in support of Huff’s bill and posted a sample letter on its website for parents and other residents to send to their local state senator. Last January, when the mid-year trigger cuts eliminated school bus service, the district sent two busloads of students and parents to Sacramento and successfully lobbied lawmakers to restore the funds.

“It’s an indication of how desperate rural districts are to maintain their transportation,” said school board member Barbara Lindsay.  Humboldt is both tiny and huge. It has 780 students in kindergarten through 12th grade attending seven schools scattered around 773 square miles.  As it is, some children spent two hours each way on the school bus.

“The rural school children are the ones who really need to go to school,” explained Lindsay. “A lot of our kids live so rurally that they really need a place a to go to socialize with kids their age.”

Too little for too much

California is already one of 26 states that expressly permits, or doesn’t disallow, advertising inside school buses.  Districts can also sell space on the exterior of campus buildings, lunch tables, in hallways, and in yearbooks or other school-related publications, said Huff’s spokesman, Bird.

SB 1295 has also been amended since it was first introduced to set some parameters for size and content of the ads.  Districts cannot display ads for the following:

  • Tobacco, alcohol, guns, or anything sexually explicit
  • Discriminatory content or nature
  • Implies an endorsement by the school district
  • Is political in nature or relates to a political activity, campaign or candidate
  • Is false, misleading, deceptive, or promotes an illegal activity or antisocial behavior

Additional rules set restrictions on where the ads can be placed and how big they can be so they don’t block the bus drivers’ line of sight, distract other drivers so much that they don’t see the flashing red lights on the bus, or pose any danger of falling off.  But none of the arguments is swaying critics.

Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood opposes the ads on moral grounds.  “It’s terrible that schools today are struggling financially.  But commercializing children’s education is not the answer,” says the group on its website.  “Advertising on school buses will exploit a captive audience of students, turn schools into endorsers of products that may be harmful to children, and could make the buses less safe.”

So far, however, there is no research to show that buses with ads on them are more likely to be involved in accidents. But given the potential physical danger and manipulative impact on children, they’re simply not worth the income, argues the watchdog group Public Citizen.

“School districts that permit bus advertising generate revenues that are a drop in the bucket when compared to their total budgets,” according to the organization’s report, “School Commercialism:  High Costs, Low Revenues.”

Huff’s bill passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.  A separate bill, AB 1448 , by Assemblymember Warren Furutani would “prohibit the Legislature from reducing funding for home-to-school transportation below the amount established in the Budget Act of 2011.”  That measure cleared the Assembly Education Committee last week with bipartisan support, and now heads to appropriations.

Barbara Lindsay, the school board member in Southern Humboldt Unified School District, is rooting for and working toward getting both bills through.  Lindsay runs her family’s cattle ranch, and doesn’t want to have to leave the area because there’s no money for buses.  “It’s still a really good place to raise kids,” she said, “if you can get them to school.”

Kindergarten for all comes of age

For being so young, kindergarteners have incited more than their share of quarrels in California. State lawmakers and governors argued for a decade about how old kindergarten students should be, before voting in 2010 to raise the age to five. At the same time, they created Transitional Kindergarten (TK) for those who miss the new cutoff. Gov. Brown is currently trying to repeal the TK component.

Then there’s been the ongoing debate among experts over full-day versus part-day kindergarten, and how much play time in either the short or long day ought to be given over to real academics. The 3 R’s are winning.

Now, flying in a bit under the radar are two bills that would make kindergarten attendance mandatory in California. That kindergarten isn’t already required might surprise some people, but only 16 states and Washington, D.C. require kindergarten. Like California, New York is considering a change in its law. What is required in California is that school districts offer kindergarten; it’s up to parents whether to send their children or wait until first grade to start them in school. Not surprisingly, the bills are causing people to take sides in the schoolyard.

Last week, in a party line vote, the Assembly Education Committee approved AB 2203, by Assemblymember V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella), which would lower the age that California kids must start school from 6 to 5. Tomorrow, the same committee is scheduled to vote on AB 1772, introduced by Assemblymember Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo). Her bill has a slightly different take on the idea. Rather than changing the compulsory education age, AB 1772 makes kindergarten a mandatory prerequisite for enrolling in first grade.

“Ultimately, there is overwhelming evidence that indicates the earlier we start to educate our children, they’re going to be better off, they’re going to be more successful,” Assemblymember Pérez told the committee last week.  “The focus of kindergarten, what students are expected to learn, has changed significantly in the last fifteen years.”

Today’s youngest students are learning to read, do simple math and even understand scientific concepts, like knowing that water can change back and forth from a liquid to a solid state.  “In essence, it’s the new first grade,” San Francisco kindergarten teacher Catherine Sullivan testified at last week’s committee hearing.

Although it’s voluntary, kindergarten is very popular in California.  According to the state department of education, nearly 472,000 of eligible children attended public or private kindergarten last year – somewhere between 90 to 95 percent.  But elementary school teachers say those 25,000 to 50,000 children who don’t attend are at a serious disadvantage.

There’s still an emphasis in kindergarten on developing children’s socialization and behavior, and that’s especially important for Pam Makovkin’s students.  She teaches first and second grade special education students at Anderson Elementary in San Jose’s Oak Grove School District.  “These kids need to be taught regular school relationships, social relationships, what the expectations are at school; you have to sit, you have to listen,” said Makovkin.  “If they don’t know that when they get to me they have a really difficult time.”

It’s nearly as difficult for students in regular education classes.  Luke Allen has two to three students a year in his first grade class at Anderson Elementary who didn’t attend kindergarten. They’re still learning the alphabet while the rest of the class is learning to read.  It’s a common topic of discussion among first grade teachers, said Allen.  “Teachers are frustrated by how that leaves the students disadvantaged.”

Organized opponents

The bills seem to have caught some education advocates off guard.  The California School Boards Association just started querying its members last week.  As of yesterday, the California Kindergarten Association hadn’t seen the bills.  And the Association of California School Administrators will be discussing it at next week’s board meeting.

But it’s not an entirely new issue in California.  As far back as 1997, a similar measure failed in the Senate Education Committee.  Another bill never made it out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee in 2008.  In between, former Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a bill and, in his veto message, gave opponents of AB 2203 and AB 1772 some key talking points.

“I believe parents should retain the right to choose an education program for their 5-year old children,” wrote Davis.  Assemblymember Chris Norby (R-Fullerton), a member of the Education Committee, read that sentence aloud at the hearing.  Those are the words of Gray Davis when he vetoed an identical bill, said Norby, “and I think they’re words that we should heed today.”

“Democrats take away parental freedom:  mandatory kindergarten bill passes Democrat-controlled committee in California,” warned a headline in last Friday’s issue of the online publication, All Right Magazine (subtitled all right, all the time).

“Our parental rights and home school freedoms in California are under attack in an unprecedented way this year,” wrote the Home School Legal Defense Association in an E-lert on its website.

Assemblymember Buchanan’s bill attempts to address this concern by requiring kindergarten but leaving it up to parents to decide if they should enroll their child at age five or six.  “This is because there are situations in which a child may benefit by delaying enrollment until the next school year when that child is better prepared (developmentally, socially or in other ways) for Kindergarten,” Buchanan wrote in an email.  “We believe parents, often with input from teachers and other professionals, should have the ability to make that decision.”