Saturday, May 10, 2008


by Scott Folsom

The following is the prepared text for my remarks to the Education Issues segment of the LA County Democratic Party Spring Issues Forum - Saturday, May 10, 2006.

Good morning - First off, I'm delighted to be here in Burbank, they normally don't let me practice my parent rant outside LAUSD ...except for appearances in Sacramento, a place similarly removed from reality.

The background info in your agenda says I am a PTA leader; I am not here representing PTA today. That's because PTA is non partisan and the last time I noticed we Democrats are a dangerously partisan bunch.

My T shirt says I support ED in '08, a group that advocates that the level of debate in this year's presidential election on the subject of Education needs to ratchet up exponentially. Ed in '08 is run by the former heads of the DNC and the RNC, they are spending Rockefeller, Gates and Broad grant money, but as long as they're for raising the level of debate and spending billionaire's money where it does no damage I'm for them.

Jess Unruh said "if you can't take their money and then vote against 'em you have no business being in politics". He said it far more colorfully than that, but I am a PTA guy.

IN 1946 CALIFORNIA PUBLIC EDUCATION WAS IN CRISIS. In the preceding six years two million people had moved to the state and another million babies had been born - and the baby boom hadn't even really begun. Unprecedented numbers of teachers were retiring. A ballot measure was put on the ballot to begin to address this: Proposition 3 - promoted by an odd alliance of the America Legion and PTA - endorsed by organized labor and both political parties - Prop. 3 created a constitutional guarantee for a quality free public education in the state, with the state assuring a living wage for teachers and supplementing school funding on a per pupil basis - and establishing local control of education by Independent Boards of Education.

In 1946 Mendez v. Westminster School Board was in court and Earl Warren was Governor; California Schools would be desegregated within a year; the die was cast for Chief Justice Warren and Brown v. Topeka School Board.

California was poised on the brink of educational greatness, our schools were emerging the best in the nation; The GI Bill sent returning servicemen to college (and delayed their reentry into the labor pool); The California Master Plan for Education tying K-12 to the colleges and universities - and guaranteeing access to low cost higher Ed for all deserving students was a decade away, ready for the baby boom. It was the California Education Miracle, the golden age.

Wait! Stop! I was in those schools, and if that was a golden age to get all misty eyed about I must not have been paying attention. And that is what it said on my report cards.

What did happen in the fifties, sixties and seventies is we paid what it cost to educate our children in California. I was just reading the 1946 ballot arguments - "We must invest in our children's future" it says.

And the argument against says we can't afford to - especially in untried programs and reforms. Bureaucrats, the agreement warns, will bureaucratize.

The voters tried it, the investment was made and the gamble paid off - Education in the Golden State set the Gold Standard. K-12, community colleges, state colleges, the University of California. This state invested and the investment paid off big time. And yes, bureaucrats - as they will, bureaucratized.

Pendulums swing as pendulums do, Mendez and Brown were not universally loved, Serrano v. Priest mandated equity; equality is one thing - but equity is equality you have to pay for. We are happy to spend money on our kids for our schools …but those kids in those schools?

The taxes kept growing and Prop 13 hit us Pat Brown progressives like a ton of bricks.

So we rearranged some deckchairs - politicians in Sacramento took over school funding and revenue collection, and Reagan and Jerry and Duke showed us we could think small, tighten the purse strings and live in the moment - as long as infrastructure held out and we didn't invest in the future.

The baby boom was over, we had enough schools. Nobody figured on the continued migration from other states, on the wars and immigration from South and Central America - and Southeast Asia.

· In our shortsightedness we short changed kids.

· We put up temporary portable bungalows on school playgrounds. We went to year round calendars. We increased class size.

· We started to raise tuition at UC, CSU and Community Colleges - we will do it again - next week.

· In times of boom we boomed, in times of bust we were busted; we went from budget cycle to budget cycle in good times, from budget cut to May revise to budget cut to May revise in bad.

· School funding grew to match inflation in good times, and was cut to match the downturn in bad.

· Local School Boards decided where to cut budgets and Sacramento politicians decided where to put it back.

· Prop 98, which guaranteed a floor for education funding was looked at as the ceiling in Sacramento.

· California has two First Priorities enshrined constitutionally, Public safety and Education.

· Everyone consumes Public Safety,

· The primary consumers of public education for the most part can't vote.

· The state builds prisons but only matches local funds when building schools, they say fifty-fifty, but it's closer to forty-sixty.

· Prison Guards make more money than teachers. Incarceration is a growth industry, it faces 4.5% cuts in the current "10% across the board" budget cuts - and gets an added off-budget $7 Billion infusion - $600,000 per prisoner - for prison healthcare.

· K-12 Education faces 10.5 % cuts in the Governors' proposed budget, Higher Ed 9.5%.

· Only Environmental Protection at 11% takes a bigger hit than K-12 Education …if you can hug it, whether a tree or a child, it's cut deepest!

A study that came out yesterday in Maryland tells us that the first indicator of a trip into criminality is poor education - and Maryland spends $2184 or 26% more per student than California - before the cuts the governor has proposed.

In our downfall from first to worst we currently rank between 29th and 48th in state spending per student, depending on whether and how one adjusts for cost of living - again: before this round of cuts.

You don't need me to spout the statistics, You just need to be able to read the paper and possess the basic ability to make a critical decision to realize that it costs a whole lot more to incarcerate someone than it does to educate them properly in the first place.

Repeating myself for emphasis, and maybe you need to repeat after me: You just need to be able to read the paper and possess the basic ability to make a critical decision.

So we have a governor who was a not very good actor playing the part of a populist, a populist who sends his kids to very expensive private schools. We've been there and done that before. This is his self declared Year of Education. He brought his own panel of experts together and they suggested a ten billion dollar infusion of money into public education - but the economy is in freefall and the state budget is in a tailspin, so he proposes to cut education funding $4.8 billion - and that's based on rosy numbers that will be revised downward next week. I've got to say that if that's how we observe the Year of Education I hope I never get my own year!

We need to recognize that the economy is in the dumps and the budget situation is bleak. We also need to realize that the Vehicle License Fee - the car tax - that the governor eliminated brought in over $6 billion dollars a year to the state treasury, the VLF wasn't as subject to the ups and downs of the economy as are sales, business and property taxes - and was deductible on our federal income tax. It was a federal subsidy to California.

Here's my math question, most of us went to public school, not all of us in the golden age, so I'll keep it basic: The VLF brought in over $6 Billion a year. How long has he been governor? The budget is roughly $20 billion out of whack. Do the math!

I have been up in Sacramento having the dialog, advocating for PTA's position that there must be No Cuts to Education and No Cuts to Children's Programs like healthcare, social services and foster care. I'm a parent, my organization is mostly parents, we call our Campaign Flunk the Budget, Not our Children and we look the politicos in the eye and say "No Cuts" - and when they quibble about Categoricals we say "What part of NO is it you don't understand?"

"How do you propose to do this?" they ask, and I can say I'm a citizen and you are the policy maker enjoying my full faith and support - do the job you were elected to do. The Chief Legislative Analyst Office has a proposal that will see the state through this crisis without suspending Prop 98 and with the only Ed cuts to COLA's. Start there.

We are starting to hear talk about revenue enhancements and that's a beginning. I was writing one of my rants about this the other day and I misspelled "enhancements" and my spell checker suggested "Enchantments" - and that's exactly what we're asking for: "Revenue Enchantments."

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to raise taxes. We start at the VLF and we need to look at splitting the rolls on Prop 13. Business and industry are getting a free ride when oil refineries haven't had their property reappraised since 1978. Or chain retail stores. Kroger Companies - which used to be Ralphs' - is paying the same property tax on its stores as when they were Market Baskets and Alpha Betas!

That's the quick fix. Really we need to completely redesign California School Finance from the ground up, eliminate the boom and bust budgeting and allow for some long term planning - like we did in 1946. What I'm talking about is real constitutional reform, with no supermajority in the legislature required to pass a budget - because what we have now is a not-so- superminority controlling the budget.

And, if were going to do constitutional reform, maybe we need to take a look at the Ed Code too.

This year nothing is happening in Sacramento except the budget, there will be no earthshaking/time's are a' changing legislation because there is no money and no consensus. It is even worse in Washington DC.

The Good News and the Bad News is that No Child Left Behind will not be reauthorized this term.

NCLB with its high stakes test and data-driven, all-stick-and-no-carrot, and certainly underfunded mandates will fade into memory, for the most part unlamented. There are lessons to be learned from NCLB; we cannot and must not return to my favorite turn of phrase from Bush and Company: "the soft bigotry of low expectations" (who knew there are poets among them?) we must set high expectations for all of our children, all of our teachers and administrators, all of our schools and every one of ourselves.

When it is reauthorized next term and the next administration it will probably go back to being the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- hopefully with some real expectations, true two-way accountability and real and realizable benchmarks and goals …difficult, rigorous but achievable.

Last week President Bush was bemoaning the sorry state of education and how federal, state and local government - as well as the private sector - has a role to play. Unfortunately he was talking about parochial and faith based education. He was talking about vouchers. George Bush is a walking-talking ad for private education; apparently he was left behind in his civics class at Phillips Andover Academy when they were discussing the First Amendment.

There are other issues of course in Education, I hail from LAUSD as does my colleague Joel Jordan, but this is Burbank and let's not go there! Let me just say that Los Angeles is a huge urban school district with all the problems one could imagine, 900 schools, 700,000 kids, poverty, overcrowding, newly arrived immigrants, non English speakers; a district - like the California Educational model - designed in the 1950's and '60 that did an extraordinary job of meeting the needs of the Los Angeles of that time - an L.A. and a California we no longer live in.

The problems of LA are not unlike the challenges of any other school district, they are just more so. LA is a macrocosm of public education. For the most part, despite what you hear, LA is doing a pretty good job - just like your school district. Most kids graduate, but not enough. Most kids are safe at school and going to and from school, but we as parents have zero tolerance for any lack of safety. Kids at schools in LAUSD are safer than they are anywhere else in their lives — just as they are at your schools. But we do have problems — and our problems are not unique to Los Angeles and LAUSD.

Those of you who are parents you will be shocked to hear this, but we have kids who misbehave. As adults you will be shocked to hear that we have adults who misbehave too. When adults misbehave intolerably we cannot tolerate it - and we cannot tolerate those who would tolerate it.

This is the Education part of this critical issues discussion. I'm not the first to say this - people I disagree with on a lot of things - we are democrats and we disagree joyfully and passionately - have said that Public Education is the Civil Rights Issue of Today. We all need to agree with that passionately and joyfully.

Thank you.

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