A groundbreaking education bill may hold the key to a brighter future for millions of kids in California.
On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a new law that changes the way the state funds K-12 schools. His hope is that the law will help disadvantaged students achieve academic excellence. That’s because the new formula will give $2.1 billion more to school districts with high numbers of students from lower-income families who have limited English proficiency or are foster children.
“Today, I’m signing a bill that is truly revolutionary,” Brown said at the signing. “We are bringing government closer to the people, to the classroom where real decisions are made, and directing the money where the need and the challenge is greatest. This is a good day for California, it’s a good day for school kids, and it’s a good day for our future.”
State legislatures and governors have been debating about school funding all year. As budgets tighten and sequestration cuts continue, legislators and school districts are left trying to find ways to ensure all students get a solid education. This has not been easy and the problems are ballooning.
Brown may have his critics regarding the new funding model in California, but it’s mild compared to the situation in Pennsylvania. There, Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, is under fire. Critics say his budget does little to help the state’s educational system, especially the Philadelphia school district, which education advocates describe as a state of crisis.
The School Reform Commission voted to close 23 schools and displace nearly 14,000 students in March. In June, the district terminated 3,783 employees and passed a “doomsday budget” that eliminates most extracurricular programs, arts educators, guidance counselors, assistant principals, and school librarians.
We are witnessing the complete evisceration of public education in Philadelphia. Our schools are being starved to the point that they can no longer function.
“Students from organizations like the Philadelphia Student Union are questioning whether the schools that will remain open in the fall can even be considered ‘school,’ Jerusha O. Conner, an education professor at Villanova University, and an expert on the Philadelphia school district, told TakePart.
“Although Governor Corbett has proposed a budget that includes additional money for Philadelphia schools, parts of which were passed last night by the House, most consider these funds and the concessions they entail to be ‘woefully inadequate.’ ”
This crisis has brought together education advocates such as Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and prominent educational historian Diane Ravitch to demand that Education Secretary Arne Duncan get involved.
“We are witnessing the complete evisceration of public education in Philadelphia,” Weingarten told TakePart. “Our schools are being starved to the point that they can no longer function. How can we say that our children deserve a quality education while at the same time gutting art, music, libraries, physical education, and after school programs and eliminating social workers, school nurses, teachers and other critical school staff?”
Weingarten protested in Philadelphia earlier this year and was arrested for her activism. On Monday she and Ravitch sent a letter to Duncan demanding he get involved. They outlined the horror stories happening in the Philadelphia schools including:
The Andrew Jackson School, a vibrant neighborhood public school, is losing school aides, its counselor, its secretary, its security monitor, several teachers and even its music teacher, who worked tirelessly to find resources and seek donations for the school’s celebrated rock band. And they won’t have money for books, paper or even the school nurse.
They have called on the newly organized 20,000-plus Badass Teachers Association to make calls and send emails to Duncan and ask him to get involved.
“Badass Teachers Association, along with PFT members, PCAPS, and students and parents from across the city, can help keep the focus on the impact these cuts will have on kids,” Weingarten said. We can continue to mobilize to hold Governor Corbett, the School Reform Commission, and others accountable in the creation of the public schools our children deserve.
Brown’s California school funding plan isn’t a magical cure in a state that has been under financial distress for years. Nor does it immediately restore what has been lost in schools during the tough recession years—librarians, counselors, music and arts programs. But it’s a start and perhaps could serve as a model for Pennsylvania.