Saturday, April 10, 2010



04-09-2010  -- Few people would deny that California’s schools are in very serious financial trouble, and this week brought more bad news for education funding. Tuesday’s state Assembly subcommittee hearing on the impact of education budget cuts led the way. Over the last two years, the state has slashed $17 billion from K-14 funding, and Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed reducing Proposition 98 funding for the 2010-11 school year by $1.5 billion.

The news also reveals how different Californians make sense of the crisis and how they act—or don’t act—in order to make a meaningful difference. Three approaches that show up this week include 1) wait out the crisis until the economy improves because macro-economic trends determine whether relief is possible; 2) as school conditions worsen, work to do the least damage to one’s own children and local schools; and 3) try and generate a positive shift in the public’s will to fund schools adequately.

As some students, teachers and parents organize and protest program cuts, layoffs, crowded classrooms and more (Orange County Register, Alameda Times Star, Huffington Post), they keep school conditions in the public eye. They also counter a lack of urgency among certain opinion and political leaders who may believe that nothing much can be done for schools until the economy improves and increased revenues arrive from new sources or higher taxes. The state budget is a “zero-sum game, and the sum has been shrinking as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression hammers the state,” said Dan Walters, a Sacramento Bee columnist (Sacramento Bee).

Working within the limitations of damaging economic trends, some parents and school officials focus on helping their own children and local students make it through their formative years with as little disruption as possible. Theirs is not a struggle for systemic change as much as an attempt to minimize negative impacts while respecting parents and student—and to keep their schools afloat. For example, thousands of parents statewide are trying to get permits (or keep existing permits) for their children to attend higher-performing schools in surrounding districts. Yet, more districts are reigning in these interdistrict permits in order to keep state funds they lose when students leave for other districts (Contra Costa Times). Los Angeles Unified School District had decided to withhold the majority of its 12,000 permits, but has now momentarily, backed off, largely due to the pleas from parents and students. “I’m not knowingly going to harm the education of boys and girls and young people or distress the adults in their lives,” said Superintendent Ramon Cortines at a school board meeting Tuesday when he announced that most students could remain at their current schools at least through next year, while LAUSD officials continue to study the policy and address the reasons families leave (Los Angeles Times).

Finally, some parents, schools, and communities attempt to generate public will for better schools, statewide. Parents at Wonderland Avenue Elementary in the Hollywood Hills pooled their resources and, with a little star power, created a satirical video depicting the effects of the state’s budget cuts on children (Los Angeles Times, SayNotoCuts). The video, starring actors Megan Fox and Wonderland parent Brian Austin Green, premiered Wednesday morning. “Our hope was not to make a video that would fix everything, but to make a video that could help start a movement,” Green said (Los Angeles Daily News).

“We may have more entertainment-savvy parents with some reach, but cuts are cuts and we just have to make sure all kids’ futures are protected,” said John Koch, Wonderland parent who produced video (Los Angeles Daily News).

Many of Wonderland’s parents have the means to send their children to private schools, but they decide to remain at Wonderland and fight for better resources locally, and now, across the state. In fact, there may be more of a “movement” statewide than the Wonderland parents realize. By adding their unique resources and access to like-minded and diverse groups already at work, they could make a powerful movement-building contribution.

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