by Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh
As an English Learning student when I was young, and a former teacher to English Learning students I have been an eyewitness to California’s public education system in a way that few others have. I know firsthand how important a quality education is in overcoming economic and social barriers and ensuring the future success of our children.
There is no better investment our state government can make than in the education of our children. It is imperative that we provide quality education to our children. It is the most powerful tool in opening doors and creating new opportunities for students of all ages. As a former educator and current school board member, the academic success of California students is my passion.
California’s public education system was once the envy of the nation and the world. As Sacramento and Washington have taken over decisions that once were the purview of local communities, our students began to suffer. More control needs to be put back in the hands of our school districts, school boards, and teachers. Adequate funding from the state is essential to districts ability to provide quality education to students, but rigid funding schemes that call for cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solutions do not work for the vastly differing circumstances faced by district across the state.
California has seen record tax revenue in recent years and has increased education spending by an astonishing $35 billion since 2014. Despite this, educational success among our student continues to rate near the bottom of the country when compared with other states. How can this be happening?
California does not have an education budget problem; we have an education spending problem. The total amount budgeted toward public education should be adequate to provide a top-quality education to each California student. Decades of irresponsible policy decisions by lawmakers in Sacramento have led to education dollars being siphoned away from the classroom or have dictated rigid funding schemes causing inefficient and ineffective spending by districts.
Decades of inept budgeting by state lawmakers created massive shortfalls in the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. This eventually required a 2014 bailout from local school districts, doubling their minimum contribution to the system since 2014. This redirects a significant amount of the increased education spending by the state away from classrooms, preventing it from ever helping a single student.
In addition, district have seen significant cost increases recently from rapid growth in special education expenses. Due to special education funding being left out of the 2013 Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) reforms it continues to be directed by antiquated “categorical” grants. This has made it necessary for local districts to pick up most of the increased costs of serving special education students with little to no extra help from the state.
Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) passed in 2013 while far from perfect took a step in the right direction. The legislation increase autonomy of local school districts over spending by removing highly restrictive “categorical” funds, used by Sacramento to dictate how education dollars were spent by districts. For the first time in more that four decades local communities would have a significant influence over deciding the best ways to educate their children.
Six years later districts are starting to see positive results from programs specifically designed to address their student’s unique needs. It didn’t take long after seeing the success districts were beginning to see as a result of their increased autonomy for Sacramento legislators to recognize the threat this presents to their control over local districts, and take action to repeal it.
On the very first day the legislature reconvened legislators filled a package of bills aimed at placing conditions on state education funding and creating new reporting requirements on districts in hopes of exerting influencing over their spending decisions. These actions are such a step backward toward the ineffective pre-LCFF system that even former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and the State Department of Finance opposed them when legislators pushed them in 2017.
Instead of attempting to return to the system that failed California for decades and reverse the benefits seen from increased local control of education spending legislators should be working to address the areas that have failed to see improvements since the LCFF reforms. Special education funding was the largest “categorical” grant maintained after LCFF. This prevented local districts from exercising similar autonomy over special education spending as they were granted over other spending as part of the LCFF reforms. And in the six years since, improvements in special education across California have lagged behind those seen in other education areas.
If we hope for California’s education system to once again be the envy of the world we will have to hold legislators accountable for the irresponsible policies that have brought us to where we are today. We cannot continue to allow state budgeting that has directed education dollars away from the classroom, outdated and rigid funding schemes that inadequately fund special education, and attempts to take education decision making away from local district reversing positive gains finally made recently.
We need to send representatives to Sacramento that will finally provide adequate special education funding to provide support to our students that need it the most. Representatives that will get Sacramento out of local districts way and allow them to develop and fund the programs that most benefit their student. Representatives that know firsthand how important education is to a child’s ability to overcome any obstacle they face.