No More Education Cuts

I ended last week’s column with this wish, “vote yes on increasing funding for the children in 2011.”  For me the yearning is as serious as life and death. How we treat our children will be correlated with the quality of our lives in the future. And for me the future is now.

Several bloggers disagreed and asserted that education in California still needs to be cut more. One blogger, Ina, requested information from me that if we increase funding where would the cuts be made to offset the funding increase. She asked me to be specific. Well…

The facts speak volumes. Kindergarten through college (K-16) makes up two of the top three budget categories in California. These two categories together make up nearly 55 percent of the state budget.

K-12 education has taken a bigger percentage “hit” than any other budget category in the last few years. We are allowing our elected state officials to withdraw vital sources of funding to a very ill patient. With these enormous budget cuts to K-12 we have seen districts increase class size, reduce the school year, land ay off counselors, librarians, nurses, teachers, and administrators. California has been near last in 50 states in all these aforementioned areas for far too many years. Therefore, my conclusion is we cannot cut K-12 education any more than we have already. No cuts. No cuts. No cuts.

As for other categories of the state budget I am not sure. Reduction in employee salaries or pensions is a partial answer, but can pan out to be shortsighted over time. As we cut salaries or other non-essential state positions we increase the unemployment rate and lower tax revenue to the state. In LAST Sunday’s New York Times editorial, headlined “The Looming Crisis in the States,” the author opines that “whatever there was to cut, states have slashed it, often at ruinous costs to the most vulnerable: the poor, the sick and disabled, students, tens of thousands of laid-off workers.”

For me our children deserve a better plan. If we cannot agree to come up with a funding plan that paves the way for a second to none educational system then we will never increase the high school graduation rate, significantly reduce the achievement gap and build a brighter future for our children and grandchildren. 

The Times editorial said “ultimately, states are going to have to acknowledge that more effective, targeted tax increases are inevitable, and can be achieved if they are structure properly…States should not shy away from asking for more help from those most able to pay…experienced economists say it is better to raise taxes on the rich than to lay off workers and cut spending.”

I have always favored “sin” taxes as one source of revenue. Cigarettes should be $10 a pack, there should be a surcharge on every alcohol drink served in restaurants or sold in stores, perhaps 25 cents per drink and $1 per bottle of wine, six pack of beer, or bottle of spirits. Through these targeted taxes we can raise billions in additional revenue for children’s schools.  A win-win I think.

In 1916 the richest 1 percent of Americans held 50 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today the richest 1 percent hold 35 percent of the nation’s wealth, while 80 percent of Americans hold 16 percent of it. Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few or we can have a democracy, but we can’t have both.”

The best way for us to build a vibrant and healthy democracy is through quality public education. Are we a generation bold and courageous enough to take on the challenge or will we continue to kick the can down the road as we continue to devolve as state and nation?

I will be traveling next week so I will not be posting. I wish all SJI readers and bloggers a very healthy, peaceful, and warm new year. Thank you for reading and responding. My hope is in this new year we will not attack one another, but to use this vehicle as a means to generate solutions to public education’s vexing problems for our discourse.

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.

14 Comments

  1. Once again, Mr. DiSalvo proclaims the need for more money for The Chillldrennn (TM) as a solution for what ails the education system.

    What he either does not, or will not, understand is that there are private institutions, such as the parochial system, which are able to produce a far better educational product for far less money.  These types of institutions do not find it necessary to have on staff useless staff members such as counselors, assistant principals, or extra administrators.

    He complains about the fact that California is lacking in administrators, in nurses, in counselors, and in teachers, even though he does not admit that each and every one of those positions occupies at or near the highest starting salaries for those positions in all 50 states, and that the average increases in salaries year-over-year for those positions is greater than in any of California’s peer states.

    Simply put, California is getting very little bang for its administrative buck.

    So what’s the solution?

    1. Cut. 
    2. Then, cut some more.
    3. And finally, when you are done with #1 and #2, redouble the cutting.

    Cut starting salaries for administrators.  Cut year-over-year guaranteed raises.  Cut administration bloat.  Consolidate one- and two-school urban districts.  Merge administrative duties from the district level to the county level.  Eliminate public teacher unions.  Make sure that the highest-paid individuals on any public school campus are the teachers that produce the best results from their students.

    And then, when all this is complete, allow a free and fair competition between public and private schools through the unfettered use of vouchers.  Make all public schools compete for the scarce resources of public education dollars, and you will very quickly see all the dead wood cleared out.

    Or, we could follow the DiSalvo plan, and just tax the bejeezus out of everyone and everything, thereby continuing down the same path of failure.

  2. Sizeable tax increases are a long shot in today’s California political climate.  It is a little unnerving to read the lead educator in our County put his head into the sand and write wistful articles about a financial situation that isn’t likely to exist.

    How about something a little more meaty:  what a cut of $5 or $10 billion on the state level looks like in Santa Clara County.  Maybe if local voters saw the looming state deficit translated into real numbers in their local public school and school district office you might get somewhere.

  3. California is both short tax revenues and heavily taxed while giving 55% to schools so why would anyone give any more money to local, state government or school districts we do not trust when we see

    – many but not all government employees ( 75-90% pensions are example ) putting themselves first over school children, taxpayers and public services

    – legislature with lowest approval rating and year after wastes taxes on non essential government spending and no payback tax subsidies waste

    – government employee unions ( to include CTA ) elected legislature controlled majority who created budget problems and troubled schools

    Your suggestions on selective sin taxes shows how badly how out of touch you are with practical solutions and need for effective school reforms to live within taxes given schools –

    – if schools or government want more revenue then increase business and jobs to generate new revenues
    – consolidate school districts and admin overhead so more money goes into classrooms
    – cut tax rates to encourage new business and retain jobs and businesses
    – no new taxes – PERIOD
    – more government employees layoffs so employees = available revenues, reduce prison populations, cut services and eliminate all but essential government programs to pay for billions in pensions, legislature spending and budget mistakes

    Any other California approach is foolish and risks many more jobs, businesses and people moving out of California increasing local and state government budget problems and delaying real solutions

  4. Sadly, more money will do little to improve the education of our children. Parents’ lack of concern for educating their children will continue to cause poorly educated people to populate California. Behind almost every successful child in the educational system are parent(s) who are engaged. No parents, no success.
    RGR

  5. To qualify for a discussion with Mr. DiSalvo one must subscribe to the theory that public education needs more money. If you’re not a believer, he has nothing to say to you. He automatically excludes a huge percentage of his readership, then seems perplexed when he’s met with “negativity”.

    DiSalvo’s a big proponent of encouraging students to think creatively and question assumptions in the classroom, but in the real world he expects us to believe it’s true because he’s the teacher and he says it’s true.

  6. Let’s see…voters passed Prop 98, guaranteeing schools a fixed portion of state spending. Tax receipts rise, school spending rises. All is right with the world. Tax receipts fall, school spending falls. What a disaster!

    How can anybody be surprised by this?

  7. Joe

    Taxpayers and voters want more for their school taxes not more excuses., more taxes wasted and poor quality school performance

    No more school taxes and , and live within current school budgets by:  Cutting admin, assistant principals, non classroom staff; Consolidate school districts; Consolidate school libraries with public libraries; and Fire poor performing teachers

  8. The State spends between 30 to 60 billion on k-12 . If look at the state GDP nearly half the state budget goes to k-12 funding together with other hidden money that local school districts hide .
    Yes CA education has seen almost 17 billion in reductions , but what get’s reduced? Non instructional staff ( Janitors, Gardeners , and RSP & EL TUTORS) while there are no cuts in administration , matter a fact school superintendents salaries rose in California between 2003 to 2010 .
    How can we not wish for any more cuts ? I wish for a spending freeze on education .

  9. It appears once again Mr. DiSalvo has made a well written post, and the SJI loony tune crowd is out in force.  Perhaps it is time to put this web-site to sleep, since all it appears to attract are the lunatic fringe of the Bay area.

  10. > Perhaps it is time to put this web-site to sleep, since all it appears to attract are the lunatic fringe of the Bay area.

    I agree!

    If everyone doesn’t agree with me, no one should be allowed to say anything.

    We need to protect the children.

  11. It is time to change the California education delivery system. there are two massive entities fighting each other – the state education system/code and the teacher unions. their battlefield is the classroom.

    Pick a school district and look at the amount of $ it recieves. deetermine a $ number per classroom.  We are paying for $10 hat for a $2 dollar head – and it doesn’t fit!!

    Work must begin to demolish the entire system. Goodbye administrators, counselors, teachers.

    let small neighborhood groups form there own schools on existing public school sites. they will hire the teacher who will order supplies/books.  there will be facilitators to provide backup support to the teachers and earn less than teachers. 

    One central office per county will process the bookeeping and payroll for all these organically developed alternative schools.  progress and testing can be done online for public evaluation and modification as needed.

  12. @Happy New Year.

    I resent being considered part of “the lunatic fringe of the Bay area [sic].”

    I am a taxpayer who at heavy cost to my family finances are putting my children through private (parochial in our case) school due to the mediocre performance of local public schools.  I have voted for parcel taxes for education in the past and am willing to do so again in the future, but the perception that these funds go into a never-reformed system prevents me from voting for these measures in the present.  I am willing to vote for higher taxes for fine-performing schools.  I am not willing to vote higher taxes for mediocre schools that still spend significantly more per student than better-performing private schools without any examination as to why.

    This is considered “fringe” thinking?  To my mind it represents the legitimate point of view of an involved (and concerned) citizen.

  13. Joe,

    RE:  “Several bloggers disagreed and asserted that education in California still needs to be cut more. One blogger, Ina, requested information from me that if we increase funding where would the cuts be made to offset the funding increase.”

    As I understand it, you had bemoaned the lack of attention devoted to your blog by fellow elected local public officials.  You had asked us to give your blog the attention you felt it merited, by contributing our views.  So I did.

    In so doing, I never expressed support for making cuts in education.  I never expressed disagreement with your view that California education needs more funding.  I merely asserted the truism that, given the state of the State’s economy, the likelihood of significantly increased funding any time soon is about the same as the likelihood that, if you clap your hands three times, Tinkerbell will appear in full splendor.

    It was in THAT context—the context of California’s economic reality—that I asked you what programs you would cut to fund the cost-inefficient (and, I might add, questionably effective) changes you wanted to see in how we assess students. 

    Joe, is being quoted out of context, in a way that misrepresents an opinion one expressed, the price one pays for contributing to your column under one’s real name?

    Finally, I am still waiting for your answer to my questions about your aversion to multiple choice tests.  Do you disagree with my stance that thet are the most cost-efficient means of objectively assessing mastery of subject matter?  If so, then why, and what kinds of assessment tools do you see as more cost-effective, by which I mean “at least as effective in assessing subject mastery and not any more costly.”  Do you disagree with my assertion (and if so, on what factual basis) that, due to their great cost-effectiveness and their objectivity, multiple-choice tests are universally accepted as useful in a wide variety of contexts, including admission to just about every kind of professional school and licensure for just about every profession?

    Joe, I look forward to 2011 as a year of respectful discourse on this blog, with the goal of providing the highest quality education possible in our community, within whatever budget Sacramento imposes on us.

    Ina

  14. Sorry Joe,
    People don’t agree with you. There is a way , I agree with your ‘sin taxes’ .
    A while back voters chose tobacco money lets get that money to go towards education with a higher percentage – second lets revisit the lottery , raise the cost of a lottery ticket from 1 dollar to 2 dollars , and maker sure that existing funds do go toward education.