An Essential Resource

Lithium and crude oil are essential resources to bolster our global economy. Some even speculate we are in two wars because of their importance to our nation. Whatever the truth is about Afghanistan with its lithium deposits and Iraq with its oil reserves we cannot lose focus on the undeclared war of educating all children adequately. A quality education for all children must be a guaranteed fundamental right of all governments, but particularly for the wealthiest nation on the planet.

No matter how you cut it the future lies in how we treat the children as are our most precious resource. In California we can no longer afford to cut the lifeline for a child’s success in life by the cuts we make in funding public education. Incidentally, Education Week lists California as 46th out of 50 states in per pupil spending, when figures are adjusted for regional differences in the cost of living.

Since 2007-08 school funding in California has dropped over $1,000 per pupil. That is equal to a reduction of $30,000 per classroom, $1,000,000 for a school of 1,000 students, and $34,000,000 for a district the size of San Jose Unified.

Local districts have been tremendously successful this election year in trying desperately to fund their budgets adequately through parcel tax and bond referenda. The constitutional barrier placed by Proposition 13 for a parcel tax must be approved by a supermajority of two-thirds of the electorate. There appears to be a strong appetite by the voters in Santa Clara County to fund schools to a higher level than the inadequate funding model from Sacramento.

Three seminal events have led us to the troubled place we find ourselves today:

• The 1971 Serrano V. Priest constitutional challenge to California’s school finance system. The tax-based school finance system was ruled unconstitutional under the equal protection clause.

• Voter passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 that amended the state’s constitution.

• The passage of the 1988 Proposition 98’s minimum K-12 funding guarantee.

Together all three seismic events led to a gigantic sucking sound of money flowing toward control in Sacramento over local jurisdictional control. When state coffers are rich with revenue schools make out well and when the treasury is weak in revenues schools and their students take a low body blow. This year the blow has hit hard below the belt.

That is why the state is facing a new legal challenge to the broken system of school funding and equity. Here in Santa Clara County there is a chasm of funding equity when wealthy districts and poorer districts are compared. The difference between wealthy and poorer districts can run as high as $5,000 per pupil.

On May 20, 2010, a coalition of advocates, including the California School Boards Association, filed a complaint against the governor and the state in the Superior Court of Alameda County. The complaint, Robles-Wong et al. v. State of California claims that the State is in violation of its constitution for depriving students of their fundamental right to education and equal protection. It also chastises the State for not meeting its obligation to “provide a system of common schools”.

Yes, there is some waste we can eliminate from public schools. Last week at the Santa Clara County Office of Education Board of Trustee meeting I brought up the subject of consolidation of some of our 32 school districts. I do think we can save millions of dollars locally by district consolidation and have a more effective structure to enhance teaching and learning. But the savings would be minimal compared to the adequate funding model we need for California’s children.

The school finance system is broken and the students are suffering. When we all stand up and place children at the top of the pyramid we all will win. The experts tell us it is 4 times more cost effective to place our public tax dollars in education, prenatal through university, than in prisons, unemployment, welfare, homelessness, police protection, teenage pregnancy, and juvenile incarceration.

I find it peculiar we have not heard more about Robles-Wong et al. v. State of California. It is akin to being able to predict earthquakes. If it wins in the State Supreme Court it will be tantamount to a 8.0 Richter Scale quake for California , the new Governor, and the legislature.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. Soooo, we taxpayers should just take it on faith that the education establishment will cut all sorts of obvious waste, but only after we throw yet more tax dollars their way. I don’t think so… cut the fat now and then we’ll think about higher funding. 

    Oh, BTW, it’s been more than 30 years now and you’re still beating a dead horse – Prop 13, overall, has been a blessing to California taxpayers.

  2. Why did it take a budget crisis before anyone tries to fix California education system?

    The blame goes to those responsible: Democratic legislature, School Districts and teachers who for years refused to face up to their responsibilities
    and not wait for budget crisis to be calling for more taxes in state with highest taxes and unemployment in country

    Robles-Wong et al. v. State of California for California schools is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, since it will take taxes from wealthy school districts and give to poor mismanaged under performing troubled school districts

    Wealthy school districts will pass more parcel taxes to get around Proposition 13 to make up for loss of taxes to poor district who will continue to be mismanaged under performing troubled school districts but now with more taxes to waste

    Time for California to:

    1. revoke all county ( Santa Clara County ) multiple school district exceptions to state law and require all counties to only have 1 school district, 
    2. massive elimination of school district boards and duplicated high paid administrators and support staff
    3. year round school for industrial and service economy not agricultural so student do not go lose reading and other skills in summer
    4. reduce ratio of administrators to teachers and computerize admin, support and classrooms
    5 reduce waste of taxpayers funds that do not go directly into classrooms to education children for future life and job market
    6. eliminate many worthless courses that do not help students in future but school and universities require to justify teacher jobs and increasing costs but little or no benefit to students and they become uninterested in school

    • I agree with the idea of consolidating school districts and some administrative services and won’t comment on the ridiculous #6.  But every time I hear people say that schools waste money on non-classroom spending, I defy anyone to provide examples.  Meg Whitman has spouted the absolutely unsubstantiated statistic of 40% of California education funding going to overhead, but that is based on the idea that schools can function with teachers and nobody else.  In fact, that “overhead” money is going for front office secretaries, librarians, counselors, health clerks, lunch room staff, custodians, and maintenance people.  While that isn’t directly in the classroom, it is clear that all those positions are needed for the success of students in our schools.

      As for administration, California has the lowest ratio in the nation of administrators to students.  The education community has done a great job of streamlining administration and operating efficiently in the face of funding limitations.

      • “The education community has done a great job of streamlining administration and operating efficiently in the face of funding limitations.”

        How about the education community’s job of removing and replacing under-performing teachers?  How’s that been going? 

        Why should we spend more money on a system that refuses to hold itself accountable?

        • That’s a different issue and one that needs addressing.  We need to find a way to use performance standards to reward and promote teachers.  There are state laws that dictate what districts can do in this regard.  From a dollars standpoint, it’s a wash because there are a fixed number of teachers required to teach a certain number of children.

        • “We need to find a way to use performance standards to reward and promote teachers.  There are state laws that dictate what districts can do in this regard.”

          False.  There are contracts the teachers union has “negotiated” that dictate what districts can do about teacher pay.

          “From a dollars standpoint, it’s a wash because there are a fixed number of teachers required to teach a certain number of children.”

          Also false.  The tenure system ensures that during a budget crisis the most expensive teachers, regardless of their performance, keep their jobs while newer teachers are laid off.

    • I am from Southern California and in my elementary school district board members are paid about $200.00 a month.  I do not believe that sum of money is considered high paid. I too am in favor of combining local small districts.  You cannot duplicate an administrator in a classroom visit.  You need to let the administrator visit the classrooms and keep them out of paperwork and behind the desk or meetings.

  3. > A quality education for all children must be a guaranteed fundamental right of all governments, but particularly for the wealthiest nation on the planet.

    And what nation is the “wealthiest nation on the planet”?

    Brunei?  Saudi Arabia? The virtual nation of George Soros?

    It sure as hell isn’t the U.S.

    We have a trillion dollar deficit, a ten trillion dollar national debt, and 80 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

    We are the greatest pauper nation in the history of the world.  We are poorer than Bangladesh.  It’s just that the Bangladeshis haven’t written as many checks on their overdrawn bank accounts as the U.S. has.

    So your brilliant, life-long professional educator smart idea is to have Brunei fund the the worthless, ineffective U.S. education prevention system?

    Why would Brunei be so stupid?

  4. > But every time I hear people say that schools waste money on non-classroom spending, I defy anyone to provide examples.

    How many pages are in the state education code?

    3000? 4000? 5000? more?

    Somewhere in Sacremento there are bureaucrats who wrote each of the pages.

    Every bureaucrat has a supervisor who approved the pages that the bureaucrats wrote.

    Every school district has bureaucrats who are paid to read the 5000 pages of the state education code and tell the bureaucrats of the local school districts what they are supposed to do.

    Every page of the education code is a ticket to hire dozens of bureacrats.

    Every politician who passes a law to add to the state education code is just adding to the education bureaucracy.

    Thats where the wasteful, non-classroom education spending goes.

  5. Any decent person would want California to provide a quality education for its K-12 students.  Sadly, however, barring some sort of literal revolution, or a massive change of electoral heart which results in a totally different sort of person being elected to public offices in the future, I don’t see how that’s an attainable goal.  Our per pupil expenditures are enormous, but the money doesn’t do any good.  They get much better results in Western Europe with lower per pupil expenditures.

    Educating kids ain’t rocket science.  Any competent society can do it, and do it without enormous per pupil expenditures.  This society, however, can not do it at all.  For any amount of money.  I realize that most people aren’t yet ready to accept that reality, because it feels too much like giving up, but I suspect many of you at least fear I may not be wrong.  Once we accept that our government can no longer meet our needs, what then?  That’s the sixty-four dollar question that none of us want to face, but face it we eventually all must.

  6. DiSalvo is right on in his prediction that Robles-Wong v. California could lead to a long-needed remedy for California’s unsound, unstable and insufficient school finance system. But first things first, the system must be declared unconstitutional. The historic lawsuit does not ask the court to dismantle laws or restructure the State’s educational program. In fact, California already has a good program in place, which clearly states what teachers are expected to teach and what students are expected to learn. Unfortunately, there is no correlation between the educational standards set by the State and the financing provided in order to reach those standards.

    Robles-Wong v. California seeks to fix California’s broken school finance system by declaring it unconstitutional and requiring State lawmakers to design and implement a system that provides all students equal access to the required educational program. Every student is affected by California’s broken school finance system. California ranks last in the nation in student to teacher ratio and nearly last in per-pupil funding. Numerous studies, including the Stanford study “Getting Down to Facts,” clearly state that California’s schools are chronically underfunded. Education officials have tried to work with the governor and legislature to remedy this broken system, but schools continue to face drastic cuts. This lawsuit is an opportunity to fix the broken system and provide students equal access to the required educational program set by the State.

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