With the fifth largest economy in the world, there is no reason why California should be making drastic cuts to education – especially when COVID-19 is forcing schools to rethink how students are taught, according to educators at a virtual forum Wed., June 10, focusing on the state budget crisis.
Hosted by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, K-12 expert panelists from both the state and local levels shed light on what Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget would mean for students, families and educators. Faced with a projected $54.3 billion deficit, the budget plan would strip school spending to its legal minimum, a reduction of $15 billion from current levels. The plan was rejected by State Senate Democrats, and the State Assembly is currently trying to come up with an agreement before the fiscal year ends on June 30.
During the forum, education representatives voiced their concerns, saying it will be very difficult to reopen schools with COVID-19 protections if school funding is cut.
Forum moderator Lisa Andrew, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, told forum attendees that there needs to be an honest conversation about school funding.
“The bottom line is school districts in California have not been appropriately funded for a very long time, if ever,” says Andrew. “California ranked 25th (in education funding) prior to the 2008 economic downturn and 41st pre-COVID. This is not something COVID-19 is causing.”
Wesley Smith, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, says the governor and lawmakers need to make education a priority.
“We’re in the fifth largest economy in the world, so it is not a resource gap that we are facing in California, it’s a priority gap,” Smith says. “We weren’t elected to allocate resources. That’s the governor, that’s the legislators, that’s the department of finance. But for what it is worth, closing tax loopholes, doing away with pet projects like highspeed rail and putting those resources in education is a heck of a start.”
He stressed cuts should not be made to the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) because that is the base for education funding.
A key problem is that education is not a priority for the country, says Toby Boyd, president of the California Teachers Association.
“We spend more time detaining and imprisoning folks than educating our youth,” Boyd says.
With COVID-19, now is the time to make education funding a priority, says Dennis Meyers, assistant executive director of the California School Boards Association. Schools are going to need more money to make sure students are safe.
“How do you reopen safely when you’re not getting $400 to $500 more per student,” Meyers asks.
If these budget reductions happen, schools will be forced to do only distance learning in the fall because they won’t have the money to make schools safe, Smith says. But distance learning is not inexpensive, he added.
“We have to invest in devices and professional development for teachers to provide high quality education, and that comes at a cost,” he says. Teachers will also have to work more hours with distance learning and that has to be negotiated with the teachers’ unions, Smith says.
On top of additional costs to deal with COVID-19, Smith says there needs to be a focus on teaching kids about racial injustice, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the ensuing protests nationwide.
“We need to invest in helping students unlearn what they’ve learned about race,” Smith says.
The budget cuts could severely impact special needs students and students who are falling behind, Boyd says. With distance education, teachers are having to depend on families to help these students.
“It has to include the whole family. We have to let our parents know, especially with this shelter-in-place,” he says. “Professional development is important, but so is educating our parents.”
The panelists talked a lot about the inequities in the education funding model.
Andrew pointed out that districts in wealthier communities receive more education revenue through higher property taxes and private foundations.
Many of the panelists agreed all students should be fully funded and not just those in wealthier communities.
“Education should be the priority to our state,” Boyd says. “If we educate our people, they will become better people and help fight these inequities.”
Teresa Mills-Faraudo is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.