State and federal legislators spent an afternoon with local education advocates Friday afternoon as part of an advocacy day for education. Attendees heard a broad perspective on issues effecting San Ramon Valley students including new common core standards, state funding proposals and classroom safety.
"This is a critical year, we can call this the year of education differed. So much is at stake in this legislative session," said EdSource Editor and moderator John Fensterwald.
California ranks very low on the spectrum of nationwide spending per student, paying 82.4 percent of the national average, Fensterwald noted. Gov. Jerry Brown's Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) aims to provide more flexibility to local districts and governing boards, while delivering a simpler and more equitable kindergarten-12 education funding system.
At the same time, schools across the state are beginning to implement Common Core Standards -- new testing and curriculum standards meant to make California students more competitive with other countries and level the playing field. Described as a "staircase to readiness," the creators looked at what incoming college students would need to know when they graduated, then looked at what they'd need to know in eleventh grade to get them ready for twelfth and so on, down to the kindergarten level.
"Change is messy, particularly in California. The risk is that none of these things will be coordinated, it may dovetail and be chaotic," Fensterwald said.
Two panels of legislators -- State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Alamo), Assembly Education Chair Joan Buchanan (D-16) and Assembly Education Budget Subcommittee Chair Susan Bonilla (D-14) and Congressmen Eric Swalwell (D-Pleasanton) and George Miller (D-Martinez) -- commented on the LCFF and as well as the future of education in California. While both federal and state legislators spoke in favor of changes to the state's funding system, each expressed concern about the results of a dramatic change in funding formula.
Buchanan said that while she agrees with the governor's goals, how the state arrives there is critically important.
"You think of all the stress that's been put on districts financially, in addition to that, we're asking you to do more with less," Buchanan said. "We're asking you to gear up for the new test, but not giving you any money for technology or bandwidth. Undergoing some big issues in legislature right now."
Bonilla said she wanted to know what the rush to pass the LCFF was, noting that the legislature should be driven by "he right concerns, and not by a false timetable that's been put upon us. "
"We're in an exciting transition period but I truly believe… that we have to put the money into the schools so our students and our teachers, so the whole school system, can be successful," Bonilla said. "We cant just rearrange chairs on the Titanic. We don't want to leave local districts holding the bag. I think local control is good, but only good if we can fund it."
The legislators answers questions submitted by the audience, most of whom were educators or PTA advocates.
With the polls showing huge public support for LCFF, is it a done deal? What changes would you like to see before it gets your vote?
Bonilla It's a long way from being a done deal. What you see in the public in those responses is they know something needs to be fixed. We know there's inequities and that's reflected in those numbers, but the details in those 500 pages isn't known by the average responder.
Buchanan It would take a lot of work. We Have to ask: Do we want a base grant hat leaves us 49th in the nation or do we want to talk about advocacy for all schools? To say you have local control when you don't receive any money for programs is a lie.....There are so many problems with this that need to be fixed.
DeSaulnier Why does education funding have to be this complex? It's like the Winchester house, after years and years of building more stairs it's become more complex.
Even if the governor comes back with a May revision that responds to some of the disuses, is it unlikely that it will pass or you see it as a two-year process?
Buchanan I don't see that there will be major changes between proposal and the May revise. I couldn't vote for it as is without major changes.... I will not vote for a budget that is not a fair education formula. To thin that this is simpler than the other budget formula, I'm not so sure.
Bonilla The accountability piece is probably one of the weakest links in the governor's proposal. I think there's going to be some robust discussions around accountability … I don't think we're going to get that done in the next 2 moths. Not all districts are equal, not all schools are equal, so we have...to have a very thoughtful discussion and fund success.
Will there be separate funding somewhere for common core and technology or is that a local discussion?
Bonilla If there's extra money in Prop 98, which we expect, they need to fund teacher development for Common Core. It's the 21st century, we can't just say our kids don't have computers .We have to climb that mountain and reach the summit for all kids in the state and advocate for multi-year plan over the next 3-5 years giving teachers and schools the tools they needs that's technology, that's textbooks, that's development.
Buchanan I'm skeptical about whether there'd be money there. I'm not saying anyone in administration acknowledged the tremendous cost this is going to be, but they're very interested in paying down the debt and using money to pay down deferrals. I can't tell you with much confidence right now that there's a high level of funding to have the thoughtful level of implementation.
DeSaulnier The economy is doing better but we have a lot of needs and still a lot of efficiencies. We're going to be very strategic about how we invest.
The transition to computer-based testing requires a higher level of computer skills. How do we expect students to do so without adequate funding?
Bonilla I don't expect them to, but it's a challenge that we must meet. We're never going to give them stem education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) if we don't have the technology to do so. We have to exhibit our commitment to conquering this great challenge of technology in classroom.
Buchanan We do not know. The Department of Education does not know how many computers we have in our schools. We don't know what the bandwidth is. We don't know how big the problem is, what we need to solve it, how to work with kids who are used to bubbling in tests. We've taught them a certain way to do tests with paper and pencil; we're not prepared to move on and we're on a collision course.
DeSaulnier If we want to be globally competitive in the knowledge economy, we have to figure out how to address everyone else in the industrialized world. We have to invest more in education, we have to be smarter about it and think this is the opportunity in the next couple years.
The legislators also said the state needs to have honest, frank discussions about underfunded teacher pensions and special education funding. Buchanan encouraged special needs advocates to remain vigilant.
"Mental health issues are of great concern to our students, they're not being addressed. I'm very distressed that the governor line-item vetoed the mental health initiative program," Buchanan said.
Representatives Miller and Swalwell gave insight into Washington D.C.'s thoughts on education funding, which Miller said are often different from those at the local level.
"In my Eritrean public career in the filed of education and in Congress, this is the most dynamic and exciting opportunities for school reform I've ever witnessed," he said. "In California, there's s the theme toward growing the system and meeting the demands of our communities. But in Washington, we're stuck in this old way that we can cut our way to a balanced budget."
Miller said he believed sequestration would continue and encouraged superintendents to come together. Cuts at the federal level are going to be very expensive for communities, families and children, he noted.
Newly minted Congressman Swalwell said he is in favor of ending sequestration and curtailing the $14 million in cuts to federal school funding in his district. In addition to cuts from sequestration, proposition 30, passed in November 2012, only provides school funding through 2016.
"Beyond 2016, when you take sequestration and don't have a sustainable funding source for our schools, that's what keeps me up at night and makes me nervous," he said. "We're seeing an attack on the federal government and the role of public institutions...this is going to be a slow and painful death."
Swalwell and Miller also spoke about the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind, which Miller expects to be a partisan bill. NCLB caused the education establishment to pay a very high price, Miller said, calling making decisions about teachers and schools based on one test impossible.
"We wouldn't treat any organization like that, your child like that but the way it obsessed over one test and allowing that to dictate whether the school is labeled failing or not, I think that could be fixed," Swalwell said. "If we pull that out, the threat is no federal role in public education. If the alternative is the federal government has no role, not a funding source at all, I'm not going to let that happen."
Days after the bombings at the Boston Marathon and with the Sandybrook Elementary shooting in the back of many minds, one attendee submitted questions about increasing police presence on campus and the possible criminalization of normal behavior.
"You have to have a very, very clear understanding of what's taking place. There's a great deal of concern in the minority community about tickets,citations for students that would ordinarily go to principals. You're ending up with court dates and records," said Miller.
Swalwell said he supported increasing police presence through the use of school resource officers, but would rather see "community type policing."
Attendees were encouraged to submit letters to the governor, senators and congressmen in opposition of the Local Control Funding Formula and spread information learned at the advocacy day among their school communities.