Op-Ed in the L.A. Daily News By John Deasy | http://bit.ly/sBNRQf
12/09/2011 - It's not easy to understand the world of public school budgeting in California, but it's quite simple to discern where the responsibility lies for the appalling lack of financial support for schools up and down the state. In a word: Sacramento.
Further evidence was provided recently when the governor's office inexplicably chose not to sign the state's application for Race to the Top funds, which are provided through the U.S. Department of Education. In Round 3 of the program, California schools would have received $49 million (with at least $10 million for the Los Angeles Unified School District) -- enough funds to hire back hundreds of exceptional teachers and help improve our data systems and technology infrastructure.
It's a travesty to leave this much money on the table -- especially in the midst of one of California's worst budget crises in history. What kind of message does this latest setback send to our families?
I have consistently called out the Legislature for its repeated refusal to provide anything above a meager, pathetic level of funding to operate LAUSD. Parents, teachers, administrators and students feel the same way; for years they have visited the offices of local legislators from both major parties, pleading for increased levels of support for schools. The failure of our elected officials to even meet their request half-way has in essence condemned an entire generation of California schoolchildren to a substandard education.
Count me among those who were optimistic that the election of Jerry Brown as governor in 2010 portended at the very least a better reception for our schools in Sacramento, if not significant improvements in funding levels. Brown has always been a friend of public education, as well as a politician with a reputation for achieving results.
One year later, I can see that my optimism is fading. Not only is the Legislature as resistant as ever to doing more for millions of students in this state, but the governor himself is now acting in a manner that appears harmful to the cause.
Signing the Race to the Top application would have cost the state and governor nothing. California's unique application only committed participating districts (of which LAUSD was one) to implement reforms. The state submission specified cooperation with local districts to improve teaching and student outcomes.
At the same time, the application would not have committed the state of California to anything. It was merely a plan to provide a better education for all of our youth, regardless of background and income levels.
In addition, Round 3 of Race to the Top would have simply required eligible states to submit a scaled- back version of their Round 2 proposal. The rules would not have allowed it to be materially different.
Most important, this latest round was not an actual competition; as a Round 2 finalist, California was automatically eligible to receive these funds.
Yet due to the action -- or inaction -- of the governor's office, as well as the state superintendent of instruction and the state board, this is no longer a possibility.
For the governor, this is a seemingly inexplicable position given his stand on local control. He strongly supports the divestiture of responsibility to local authorities for California's vast prison-industrial complex -- yet can't support the local push for education reform, and the local responsibility for these reforms.
In the meantime, those of us who work in public education in California are left to wonder when the madness will end, if ever. It almost seems as if we have created a culture in this state that allows for the continued evisceration of school funding.
What else can we conclude when a state rejects $49 million from Washington, D.C., to help our students learn?
John Deasy is the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Gov. Brown and Superintendent of Public Instruction Torlakson and the State Board of Ed have explained their position, follow the links. Dr. Deasy - committed otherwise - doesn’t choose to accept those explanations. Nobody likes to take “No” for an answer and far be it from me to put words in another's mouth… but maybe the ‘-picable’ he was looking for to describe his reaction to the situation is “despicable”?
He is right – it wouldn’t have cost the state a thing to submit the application – but there is no evidence the U.S. Dept of Ed would’ve accepted the highly unusual CORE proposal (representing a subset of the state in an application that was supposed to represent California in its entirety) even if the governor had signed it. Additionally it would have cost California more than it was worth in actual cost, political capital and sacrificed principle to accept the money – including committing to the value-added program of teacher assessment. Deasy claims the money could’ve been used to “hire back hundreds of exceptional teachers”; who exactly gets to define “exceptional”? Will they use the same whacki-pedia as was used to define “inexplicable”?
He further explains how the money could've been used to “improve our data systems and technology infrastructure” – buzz words for data analysis to facilitate teacher assessment based on standardized test scores. Plus the California Longitudinal Student Data System is infamously mired in bureaucratic and technologic gridlock already – a sinkhole for public funds.
Dr. Deasy sorely misses the $10 million LAUSD would’ve/could've received in this third heat of Race to the Top. Public education needs every cent we can get – but $10 million is .16% (16/100ths of 1%) of LAUSD’s annual $6 billion general fund budget. The money would come with strings attached. And $10 million funds LAUSD for 1/3 of one imaginary day in a hypothetical 180 day school year.