Editor’s note: This guest column comes from Peter H. Hanley, the executive director of the American Center for School Choice and a board member of the San Mateo Union High School District outside San Francisco.
When I was first elected to my school board ten years ago and was puzzled about why certain things were the way they were, a veteran board member told me that understanding public education policy is much easier once one realizes the adults within the system, not the kids, are the first priority.
The California legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown reinforced that truth with a stealth law passed late the night of June 30 with no hearings or debate to prohibit school districts from laying off any teachers this year, even if they anticipate reduced funding and a deficit. With nearly 15 percent of all school districts on the California Department of Education’s financial “watch list” as of mid-June, this law also recklessly suspends the legislation requiring county superintendents to certify the current and future financial viability of school districts.
That same day, the state lost $4 billion of revenue when temporary taxes expired. Yet the budget somehow anticipates that $4 billion will magically reappear. If it doesn’t, another $2.5 billion in education funding cuts could automatically kick in around the middle of the school year.
No one questions that teachers are a key to educational success, but they are also around 50 percent of most school districts’ budgets. If you take teachers off the table, your ability and options to manage the organization are significantly reduced.
Unbelievably, the legislature’s and governor’s alternative suggestion is to throw our kids under the bus by cutting the shortest school year in the industrialized world further by seven days. Well over half of the K-12 population qualifies as economically disadvantaged and performs far below other students. Moreover, about 40 percent of all students are below proficient in English and 70 percent are below proficient in high school mathematics. With this situation, incomprehensibly, California public policy now is to preserve, at the cost of children’s educations and the real risk of school district bankruptcies, the jobs of college-educated adults. Continue Reading →