I am aghast. Due to an asinine and ill-considered proposition limiting property tax increases, California is having trouble balancing its budget. The Democratic legislature had an elaborate scheme to keep the state running, but Governor Ahnold Schwarzenegger shot it down.
The plan he’s proposed would slash education:
California schools could eliminate a week of instruction and increase class sizes next year under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new plan for solving the state’s budget crisis. … the proposal unveiled Wednesday also would allow districts to eliminate one of two science courses required for high school graduation.
That’s right, the Governator wants to balance the budget by cutting funding for science education! This is insane.
Calitics, who pointed me to this story, explains the big problem with this as well as I could:
In and of themselves these cuts are damaging and reckless. California students need MORE science instruction, not less, if they’re going to be globally competitive. Cutting instruction isn’t going to help students learn more, and will lead to corner-cutting by teachers and administrators alike.
Those damaging cuts become catastrophic, however, in the context of No Child Left Behind. Arnold’s proposals are likely to cause numerous schools to fail to meet federal standards set by the law, especially when subsidies to low-performing schools are cut. Because NCLB mandates the closure of low-performing schools, Arnold’s budget if enacted as-is would virtually ensure the closure of numerous schools in this state.
This cut follows cuts to last year’s budget which forced schools to lay off teachers, and indeed follows a several decades of attacks on California’s public education system. Proposition 13, which fixed property tax rate hikes to below the rate of inflation has starved the state budget as a whole, and centralized school funding through the state. An analysis in 2000 found that:
the passage of Proposition 13… affected school finance reform in ways that could not have been foreseen by reformers and policymakers. By limiting property taxes, Prop. 13 eventually led to per pupil spending reductions. In the face of these reductions, school districts chose to hire fewer teachers, which resulted in a dramatic increase in the pupil-teacher ratio. By the 1980s, the state was allocating revenues more equitably than before, but it did so by “leveling down” high-spending districts rather than by raising low-spending ones. At the same time, student test scores in California began dropping relative to other states.
“Over the last 20 years, California has fundamentally altered the way it finances schools without changing the way it governs them,” said economist [Jon] Sonstelie. “School boards continue to govern districts, but the state controls how funds are allocated. Until policymakers resolve this basic tension, California may have difficulty reversing the current pattern of low spending, large classes, and poor student performance compared to other states.”
The current budget crisis is the fruit of that ill-conceived proposition, and will only continue the destruction of what had been among the nation’s finest public education systems. As a 2004 RAND report notes, “As recently as the 1970s, California’s public schools were reputed to be excellent,” but that “[t]oday, that reputation no longer stands.” RAND, too, points to declining funding following Prop. 13, and illustrates the problem with this graph:
They summarize this result by stating that “California has a relatively high capacity to fund its schools (as measured by per capita personal income) compared with its ‘effort.’ ” The consequences of this underfunding are predictable. California has failed to implement the single simplest reform that could improve educational outcomes: cutting class sizes.
Indeed, while the nation as a whole has steadily cut pupil:teacher ratios, that ratio in California stands basically exactly where it did when Prop. 13 passed. Look at this figure and guess when that was:
When Governor Schwarzenegger proposes boosting class sizes, then, he is proposing to consign California’s students to worse employment prospects. He risks their shot at starting the next great business, of inventing the next great leap forward. He gives other states and other countries a greater chance and growing their economy at California’s expense, which will only deepen the hole his policies, and those of his predecessors, dug for the state.
Cutting funding for science classes in particular is especially egregious. Providing students a solid foundation in sciences is not just critical for their success on tests that govern the future of their schools, that foundation is crucial for their careers in college, and then in the workforce. Top schools won’t take students who have to get remedial science, nor will top employers in biotech or high tech overlook the fact that an applicant has a hole in his or her science education. Given the importance of biotech and high tech to the California economy, this plan amounts to eating our seed corn.
The state needs to balance its budget, and given the fraction of the budget dedicated to education, I don’t doubt that budget cuts will hit education. But Schwarzenegger’s plan doesn’t just force education to pay its fair share in the near term, it hamstrings students and educators for years to come. And that’s simply unacceptable.