Sunday, November 20, 2011

PAYING FOR “FREE” PUBLIC EDUCATION: Charging the students + Charging the property owners

Two weeks of Themes in the news from UCLA Idea

CSU Raises Tuition: Pay Now and Pay Later

Themes in the News for the week of Nov. 14-18, 2011 by UCLA IDEA |

11-17-2011 | On Wednesday, the California State University trustees voted 9-6 to raise tuition by another $500, bringing the yearly total with fees for an undergraduate to $7,000.  The increase will have both immediate and long-term effects.

Hundreds of students protested at the trustees meeting in Long Beach. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a trustee who voted against the measure, said the hike was tantamount to a “tax on the middle class and a tax on our future.” Also opposing the tuition increase, Trustee Jillian Ruddell said, “we need to send the message that students are a priority and education is essential to the success of California” (San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times ).

The increase in tuition comes on the heels of news from the Legislative Analyst’s Office that California is $3.7 billion short of revenue expectations. That shortfall likely will trigger midyear budget cuts, including another $100 million from the CSU system (Business Week).

Cal State Long Beach senior James Suazo said CSU trustees should have advocated on their behalf in Sacramento before choosing to increase tuition for the second time this year. “They need to close the corporate loopholes created by Prop 13. They need to advocate on behalf of students that we can’t afford these.” (KPCC ).

Referred to as the “People’s University,” the state colleges have 23 campuses across the state that enroll a large portion of first-generation students, minority students and working-class students. According to “Squeezed from All Sides,” a recent report from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, 86% of CSU students say that it is increasingly difficult for them to make ends meet. More than three quarters reported that fee increases are the cause of their financial challenges. Students are paying more in tuition and taking on jobs or more hours to afford school; meanwhile, they are seeing the conditions on their campuses getting worse—courses cut, larger lectures, longer years to receive a degree.

“I’ve been here a number of years and it’s been an increase every year,” said Kristina Lee, a senior at San Francisco State. “We understand the need for revenue for the university, of course, but these universities were created to be a great leveler” (San Francisco Examiner).

Tuition hikes are an immediate concern regarding access to higher education for current students and graduating seniors. But the effects can trickle down to our k-12 classrooms.

The Cal State system prepares more teachers and more teachers of color than any other institution in the state. Higher costs at the university could translate into a less diverse teaching force in K-12 schools.

A recent study from the Center for American Progress  found that many states have a great need for more diversity among teachers.  While all states report a smaller proportion of teachers of color than students of color, California has a larger gap than any other state. Research studies have found that a diverse teaching staff is associated with increased student attendance, fewer discipline issues and higher test scores (Washington Post, Huffington Post).

A diversified pool of teachers has the cultural understandings and language capacities to form deep connections to communities. From that pool would come much-needed role models for the next generation’s middle class, including talented and passionate teachers. 


Parceling out Opportunities

Themes in the News for the week of Monday, Nov. 7-14, 2011 by UCLA IDEA |

11-14-2011 - In the run-up to last Tuesday’s election, school board President Cindy McCauley in Marin County’s Tamalpais Union High School District acknowledged that “times are tough right now for individual property owners,” but argued that local citizens should generate additional revenues through a parcel tax because “we need it” (Patch, Patch). McCauley is right on both counts. Tamalpais’ 8 percent unemployment is four times what it was in 2007. And, its public schools would have faced growing class sizes had the community not come up with more funds to fill the budget gap created by state cuts. But, the challenges facing Tamalpais, where median family income is over $130,000, pale in comparison with other California communities. If Tamalpais needs it, doesn’t the rest of the state need it more?

Tamalpais was one of seven California districts that held parcel tax votes in response to dwindling state funds. These districts would have used the money to address basic needs:  Maintaining class sizes, counseling, arts, and technology. Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified board President Dora De La Rosa said, "We really don't have much of a choice--because without extension of a parcel tax, we're facing devastating cuts" (Daily Breeze). The tax passed in five of the districts.

The seven small- and medium-sized, upper-middle class or affluent communities that put parcel taxes on the ballot look different from the rest of California. Taken as a group, only 8 percent of students enrolled in these districts come from low-income families, compared to 56 percent across the state. Their average median income is $114,387, or 68 percent higher than the state figure of $68,909.

Affluent communities are best positioned to hold and pass parcel taxes, which levy a flat tax on each parcel of land in the district. It costs a lot of money for a campaign that can win a supermajority of votes. Successful campaigns often are led by paid consultants and require substantial volunteer time. To accomplish this, a community needs to have cash on hand and a reservoir of organizational capacity. As officials at Burlingame Elementary School District in San Mateo County recently noted, taxes are often pitched to the community as a way to promote the brand of high-quality public schools in order to maintain local property values (San Francisco Examiner).

After the election, the five successful districts celebrated the tremendous support of their communities. Those that did not, like Las Virgenes Unified, bemoaned the "huge loss for our kids and our community," and worry about increasing class size, cutting arts, and shortening school year (Ventura County Star, Los Angeles Times).

Left out of the parcel tax election story is that 6 million California students never had a chance because their districts did not place a parcel on the ballot. They, too, suffer a “huge loss.” Nearly all of these students attend schools with larger class sizes and less access to counselors and librarians than anywhere else in the nation. Conditions in their schools have deteriorated substantially with three years of budget cuts, and more reductions likely in January.  And public education is even more consequential in these communities for determining a young person’s life chances.

Also not mentioned in the reporting is that most of the affluent communities that put forward parcel taxes still lag behind the rest of the nation in the investment and quality of educational opportunities provided students. All but two of the districts spent less than the national average. All have larger class sizes than the rest of the nation.

Kevin Gordon, a paid consultant working on the Palos Verdes parcel tax said that in the face of state budget cuts, “we've got to take matters into our own hands" (Daily Breeze). On the one hand, parcel taxes speak to a deep public commitment to fight for public education. But on the other, these measures have focused attention on protecting the educational opportunities of immediate neighbors, while doing nothing for the rest of the state.

It is time to expand the “we” that Gordon speaks of. We Californians must take matters into our collective hands and fight for quality public education for the entire state. Last week, California’s PTA called for a ballot measure for November 2012 to address “chronic underfunding of our public schools” (Educated Guess). We need it.

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