Thursday, August 25, 2011


Emily Richmond/The Educated Reporter|

A Close Encounter with Cutbacks in California

Tuesday, August 23, 2011A -  few days ago, my sister shared the back-to-school shopping list my 7-year-old niece’s public elementary school provided –and it’s staggering.

They live in a bucolic Northern California community of master-planned neighborhoods, replete with biking trails, an extensive network of parks and public libraries. Despite such evidence of a relatively solvent and engaged community, the local schools are struggling. California’s budget crisis has had a brutal impact on education funding at all levels.

Last year, my niece’s elementary school held a fundraiser where parents could pre-order the full list of school supplies–including binders, markers and hand sanitizer--for the bargain price of $57. This year's fundraising committee is asking for $125.

Additionally, a second committee asks parents for a one-time donation by the first day of school of $365, “just a dollar per day!” Those dollars will be used to pay for a variety of programs and services, including front office support, classroom aides, enrichment programs, extended library hours and teacher stipends.

In Nevada, where I spent nine years, schools are prohibited from fundraising for direct instruction. That always made a degree of sense to me: Who wants the wealthiest school in town to hire a pricey football coach? The prohibition encourages a degree of supposed equity in access to classroom teachers and programs.

In my sister’s case, she wouldn’t have less of an issue with the extra dollars if it meant keeping class sizes down. Instead, my younger niece will share her second-grade teacher with 25 other students.

“Considering how high our taxes are, it’s unnerving,” my sister said. “The state of California isn’t giving our kids what they need. Teachers are stressed out–you can see it on their faces. Adding six kids to the room is overwhelming.”

When my older niece was in the second grade just five years ago (oh, those pre-recession halcyon days!), California’s class size limits were still in force. There were just 20 students per teacher in grades 1-3. The smaller class size made a difference in my older niece’s academic growth, particularly when it came to reading. “The teacher had more time to spend with her,” my sister said. “You just can’t expect a teacher to give the same amount of individual attention to 26 kids that she gave to 20.”

Even though I know my sister and her husband are fully participating in their daughters’ learning, I still worry about my nieces. I actually worry even more about the students who don’t have similarly equipped advocates in their own homes.

This is going to be a challenging year for educators like my niece’s second-grade teacher, who will need significant support if their students are going to have the best chance at successful learning. And that’s going to take more than a case of copier paper and a jumbo bottle of Purell.

posted by Emily Richmond at 8:34 AM

Blogger smf said...

Thank you Emily.

I'm sure California is not unique - nor is your sister's bucolic community. How do the inner city parents in less-than-bucolic other parts of California - or the nation - answer that call for just a dollar a day' when they struggle to make ends meet with two or three or more minimum wage jobs?...if they even have jobs.

The Federal School Meals Program sometimes offers the only two meals a day kids get. I am reminded of the child at Gratts Elementary School in LAUSD (not an apocryphal child, but a real and very frightened little girl) who - when caught pocketing excess food - broke down in tears because her younger siblings at home were hungry.

When we count apocalyptic horsemen we need to add ignorance and poverty. And this includes our middle class ignorance and our poverty of ideas.

August 25, 2011 5:40 PM

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