California schools in crisis, Unions lead the fight back

Duane Campbell

by Duane Campbell

The financial crisis is hitting most of the nation’s public schools including those in most states- particularly California, Texas, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida,  and others.   In California as of 2011, 30,000 teaches have already been laid  off as federal stimulus money runs out, and another 15,000 face possible lay offs depending upon what happens in the state budget conflict. More than 4.1 Billion $ has been cut from California school budgets in the last three years as a consequence of the national economic crisis and there will be at least a  $2.1B additional cut under the best case scenario.

State revenues for schools are in crisis around the nation.  School spending is expected to  bottom out  over the next two years as  states and districts run out of $100 billion in federal stimulus aid for education passed when Democrats controlled the Congress. The stimulus money saved about 368,000 school-related jobs during the 2009-2010 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Most school funding comes from the state and local levels.   Only about 11 % come from federal funds

At both the k-12 and the university level, California education is in a financial crisis.  On April 13, the California Faculty Association and student groups held concurrent  demonstrations on all of the 23 campuses of the California State University campuses where university fees have increased by over 250% since 2002.   Students organized by Students for Quality Education held sit ins and occupied university offices in Sacrament, Fullerton  and on other campuses.

The Democratic majority in the California legislature tried to limit additional cuts  to K-12 education by passing an extension of current temporary tax increases- but the Republican minority in the legislature blocks the attempt to put such an extension on the ballot for Californians to vote on.

At least half of California’s schools are in a mess: California’s students rank 48th out of the states in 4th grade reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 47th in math, and 43rd in science. California ranks 48th in 8th grade reading on the NAEP, 45th in math, and 42nd in science.  California now ranks 43rd. in per pupil funding, almost $2,400 per student below the national average.

Over half of the  schools in the state  are in crisis, particularly the  schools serving Black, Latino and economically disadvantaged students. After 20 years of politician driven  “school reform,” and ten years of No Child Left Behind, there has been little significant  progress toward improving student achievement nor reducing drop out rates.

Corporate and foundation funded campaigns  such as the film, Waiting for Superman, advance  the idea that the problem is incompetent teachers and teacher unions that protect bad teaching. Advocates of this view, such as Michelle Rhee, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the hedge fund managers in the misnamed Democrats for Education Reform, and others argue that the problem is seniority rules that require that last hired teachers (newer teachers) be the first laid off.  These groups , and their notably successful media outreach efforts, do not argue that the economic crisis should be resolved, that the rich should pay their fair share of taxes  and the schools adequately funded so that we do not need to lay off teachers.

The Current situation:

The UCLA Accord Center  in a report titled, Free Fall: Educational Opportunities in 2011, summarizes  the results of their surveys  on conditions in California schools as follows:

• California high schools are providing less time and attention and fewer quality programs.  As a consequence, student

engagement, achievement, and progress to graduation and college are falling.

• School reform has all but sputtered to a halt due to staff cutbacks and the elimination of time for professional development;

• Even as high schools across the state are impacted by declining budgets, inequality is growing across and within schools;

• California’s high schools face growing demands from families experiencing economic crisis; these demands point to the interrelationship between poverty and schooling.

Rogers, J., Bertrand, M., Freelon, R., Fanelli, S. (2011). Free Fall: Educational Opportunities in 2011.

Los Angeles: UCLA IDEA, UC /ACCORD.  To access this report online, please visit http://www.edopp.org

 

Unions lead the fight back.

In response to the deepening crisis, and taking inspiration from the organizing of unions and allies in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan,  the California Teachers Association declared a State of Emergency for the  California schools in May.  www.castateofemergency.com

CTA, one of the largest unions in the state,  began with well coordinated press releases,  media buys and hard hitting ads on both paid media and social media sights.  Teachers and school activists held  variety of creative and effective demonstrations at district offices of legislators-particularly targeting the no new taxes Republicans.  Teachers set up tables in malls and in front of public events where they read students’ papers, graded papers, and answered the public’s questions.

Almost 800 teachers and their supporters organized by CTA  rallied in Sacramento on May 9  and marched to the state capitol to demand that the legislature pass a budget that adequately funds the schools.   There were  protests, rallies, teacher sit-ins and grade-ins, and town halls in cities around the state  are part of a statewide “State of Emergency” campaign week of actions  launched  by the CTA, the California PTA  and a coalition of all of organized labor and parent supporters.

“We are living in a state of emergency,” said David A. Sanchez, president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association prior to his arrest.  “Educators, parents and community leaders are fighting back against state budget cuts that are decimating our schools, public safety and health care services. To protect essential public services, the Legislature must finish the job of resolving the state budget crisis by extending current tax rates legislatively. Time is running out for our students and our communities.”

Demonstrations at the capitol and state wide continued for over a week.  By Thursday, some 26 union members, including the state president of CTA were arrested for  placing themselves outside of Republican legislators offices and refusing to leave the building while demanding that the Republicans vote for a budget that reduces cuts to public schools.  The week of emergency actions culminated in rallies by thousands of teachers and their supporters  at 5 locations around the state, including the capitol on Friday.

What was the result?

The Republican minority won the California budget battle.

California is a Democratic controlled state; in the Senate there are 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans, in the Assembly there are 52 Democrats and 28 Republicans, the Governor and most state offices are Democrats.

In spite of these majorities, the Republicans won the budget battle of 2011.  They got a cut in the sales tax by 1 %, and a cut in the vehicle license fee.  The result will be further cuts in the Univ. of California, further cuts in the California State University system, and further cuts ( called deferrals) in the K-12 schools.

California is presently 47th. out of the 50 states in per pupil expenditures, we are among the very poor in funding our schools.  In prior years, as described by the California Budget project, “Lawmakers cut the overall annual funding level for K-12 public schools by $6.3 billion, from $50.3 billion in 2007-08 to $44.1 billion in 2009-10.3 Lawmakers cut schools’ general purpose dollars as well as funds earmarked for specific school programs, often referred to as categoricals.”

By imposing this mostly cuts budgets, the economic crisis flows down to produce cuts in police, fire protection and local budgets.

The Democratic leadership will not admit the truth.  They lost.  Jerry Brown claimed he could negotiate with reasonable Republicans.  He failed. The school budget crisis was not caused by the Democrats.

The Republican budget plan is to cut taxes and thus force cuts in schools, police, fire, and public safety.  They have won.

The Spring 2011  cut funds for students, for the disabled, for the ill, the unemployed- all to protect the rich.  There are funds for the budget, but the rich and the powerful do not pay their taxes.

The budget as passed particularly cut higher education.

Lilian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association described the budget decision this way.

The California State Legislature approved a state budget that contained at least $150 million in funding cuts to the California State University. The budget also allowed for additional triggered cuts if revenue to the state falls below projections. These budget reductions come on top of $500 million in cuts enacted in March.

“The devastating cuts contained in this budget are a direct result of the unwillingness of legislative Republicans to allow the people of California to vote on tax extensions. While these Republicans proudly proclaim that they held the line on taxes, they also opened the door for a middle class tax increase that targets working families throughout the state in the form of higher student fees for the CSU.

“As we have seen year after year, it’s the students and the working families – in Republican and Democratic districts alike – who will pay the price for these cuts. According to CSU officials, this fall students could be paying fees that are 23% higher than they were this year; an additional 12% increase means that student fees will have increased 283% since 2002.

“Legislative Republicans must realize that their obstructionist behavior undermines California’s long-term ability to weather this economic crisis and restore our state to prosperity.

“As the number of college-educated Californians drops because fewer people can afford to go to college, our state’s economic prospects decline as well.

The right wing played  its usual role:  Race-bait and attack immigrants and the poor to justify cutting taxes for the rich and the corporations.  Block legislation so that people come to expect nothing from their government except grief. Demand arrests of the undocumented and  new fences at the border. Shift the economic crisis to the states to   crack down on health services for women who can’t otherwise afford care and to families who can’t afford to feed their own children.  Blame teachers and unions for  failures in education caused by childhood poverty. Ignore  the foreclosure crisis and the jobs crisis.

The right wing viewpoint has won another victory in the California budget crisis- even though Democrats control the legislature.  It is long past time for the various progressive  forces in the U.S. , each of which is being crushed by casino capitalism, to work together to defend democracy. This requires unions, teachers, academics, Democratic Party activists and others to recognize that what they have in common is the need for a powerful united front to defend against the right wing onslaughts.

At the national level.

In addition to the extended funding crisis caused by the Great Recession, parents, teachers  and families from around the country say they are fed up with so-called “reform” policies that falsely label more than 80% of U.S. public schools as failures.  A  coalition of individuals and organizations is mobilizing for a national day of action in support of public schools. 
  
On Saturday, July 30, 2011, thousands of people will gather at the White House in Washington, DC and at locations around the nation for   “Save Our Schools” marches.   The  events are being organized by a network of teachers, parents and community activists. 
  You can contact the march efforts and locate your regional demonstration at  http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org,

“For too long, public school stakeholders have been treated like second class citizens in our own communities,” said Sabrina Stevens Shupe, a former Colorado teacher, who is a member of the March’s organizing committee. “Teachers’ knowledge has been dismissed because we are falsely presumed to be self-interested and incompetent.  Students and parents who vocally oppose the disruption and destruction of their schools are often entirely ignored.  At the same time, ideologues with little to no experience in public schools have made misguided decisions that devastate educational quality and equal opportunity.”

Note, the federal NCLB legislation is up for re-authorization this year. In the hands of a Republican Congress, there is little expectation of significant reform.

Duane Campbell is a professor (emeritus) of bilingual-multicultural education at California State University Sacramento and the chair of the Sacramento DSA. His most recent book is Choosing Democracy: A Practical Guide to Multicultural Education. ( 4th. edition, Allyn and Bacon).  He blogs on politics and education issues at www.choosingdemocracy.blogspot.com.

This posting is an article in the Summer Issue of Democratic Left.  It has been updated for this blog posting by adding the information on  the actual budget decision that was not available when the magazine went to print.  The entire issue is on line at http://www.dsausa.org/dl/index.html

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One Response

  1. I hope this crisi will be end anda the child can be happy…

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