Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Themes in the News for the week of June 14-18: CALIFORNIA’S BUDGET IS GETTING REDDER


California schools’ ability to educate and support students becomes further compromised with each passing week.  The Wall Street Journal’s map (below)shows that while many states’ budgets are getting more in the red, none is redder than California, which is is cutting core instructional programs and services (Wall Street Journal).

Redder States

   According to a survey released this week by the California Department of Education, 58% of districts have cut funds for instructional materials and 40% of districts have reduced their teaching force (New America Media, California Department of Education).   48% of districts reported they have cut nurses, counselors, and psychologists.  14% of respondents say their schools will cut food and nutrition services (California Department of Education) .  These are services students desperately need, especially those without health care (New America Media, CDE).     

Over the past many years, the state’s lawmakers have consistently failed to pass the budget in time for the state’s June 15th constitutional deadline.  These late budgets cause confusion, uncertainty, and waste for educators and community mentors at the local level who cannot make well-advised program and staffing decisions if they don’t know how much money they will have.  One result, even in years that include modest budget increases, is that students can be in school for weeks or months into the fall, while schools are still scrambling to make last-minute hires of teachers.

One weak ray of hope, however, is attached to the current budget delay:  state legislators still have the opportunity to address educational shortfalls.

Legislation in Congress that would help out schools is also under consideration, but there, too, the prospects look grim.  One bill would prevent schools from losing thousands of teachers. The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson (Washington Post)   describes Senator Harkin’s jobs bill as hanging “somewhere between limbo and death.” After passing in the House in December, the Harkin bill has languished in the Senate.  What began as a $23 billion bill may be reduced to $10 billion- if it passes (Education Week).

This erosion of the bill is a small victory for the bill’s critics who claim it did not force states to choose more “effective” over more experienced teachers.  Although it is not clear that current measures of effective teaching are reliable and the best way to build a highly skilled teacher workforce, it is certain that there will be many fewer teachers if states cannot afford to pay their salaries.

Meyerson notes that the layoffs will force schools to shrink programs as you cannot “hold summer school without teachers” (Washington Post).   As Students across California leave their schools early due to shortened school years many will also be denied the chance to go to summer school.  According to USDA spokeswoman Jean Daniel, "federal studies show that 'food insecurity' for children peaks during summer" (AOL News).   Without summer school, many children who depend on school nutrition programs will go hungry until “school rolls around again in the fall [when] they will be less healthy and less ready to learn than their peers” (AOL News).

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