Promises, promises

By Colleen Wilcox
The governor of California may say he is not cutting public
education, but in reality his plan calls for withholding $2.3
billion of what is owed to the schools. Moreover, he proposes
transferring teacher retirement costs to local school districts,
and he wants to do away with Proposition 98.
By Colleen Wilcox

The governor of California may say he is not cutting public education, but in reality his plan calls for withholding $2.3 billion of what is owed to the schools. Moreover, he proposes transferring teacher retirement costs to local school districts, and he wants to do away with Proposition 98.

He claims that Prop. 98 has been eating up a disproportionate share of the state budget; in reality, since 1998, state revenues have increased 30 percent whereas public education has increased by only 24 percent and other state programs have increased by 44 percent.

Proposition 98 is a voter-approved measure that protects students and schools from harmful budget cuts and establishes a minimum level of education funding. And, it is, I assure you, just a minimum.

Even when he was campaigning for governor, and asked about delaying Prop 98 funds to balance the budget, he was quoted in the L.A. Times as promising, “… not over my dead body.” The only thing dead seems to be the promise.

In a recent independent poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, education remains a vital issue for voters and tops the list of their concerns.

Where they once took great pride in their public education system, they now recognize it has fallen to the bottom in most all meaningful categories.

• California ranks 50th in library books per student

• California ranks 48th in the average number of students per teachers

• California ranks 50th in guidance counselors, librarians and computers per student

• California ranks 44th in per-pupil funding

• California schools have suffered almost $10 billion in cuts these last four years. These cuts have translated into school closures, lay offs and a devastating shortage of nurses, custodians and groundskeepers.

• California schools are cutting art and music programs, and extracurricular programs are affordable only to those districts with well-funded parent foundations

• California after-school programs have been decimated and school maintenance is under-funded

It appears that lawsuits are the only effective way to increase school funding in California. Recently in Williams vs California, the state was forced to address the needs of California’s poorest public schools by ensuring that those students at least have textbooks, safe schools and qualified teachers.

Still Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has committed insufficient funds to the task and established a bureaucratic auditing system that measures what we already know; many of our schools do not have adequate instructional materials, teachers and buildings not because they are negligent, but because they can’t afford them!

Our public schools have been battered by wave after wave of slashed funding and false promises. California’s schools have gone from a point of pride to the point of embarrassment and the governor’s proposed budget ensures they will fall still further behind.

Promises, promises.

Governor Schwarzenegger, it is up to you to change the destiny of our public schools. Set an example for our children; honor your promises and restore California’s schools to greatness.

Colleen Wilcox is the Santa Clara County superintendent of schools.

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