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.