Malibu parents to protest school budget cuts

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The move comes in wake of a RAND report detailing, among other things, that California education expenditures and student achievement have plummeted from first to last in the nation beginning in 1978.

By Hans Laetz / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu parent activists are planning to take a bus to the state capital next week to wave signs and protest as part of a plan to reverse 25 years of continuous budget cutting for the state’s public schools.

The bus trip comes after a seminar during the weekend where a RAND Corporation expert told local parents why he filled California’s statewide report card with failing grades. About a dozen Malibu parents went to RAND Saturday for a parent conference about the failing grades, and to talk about joining with other activists for a statewide lobbying effort.

Parents from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District met with RAND experts and state legislators to come to grips with California’s statewide failure to adequately fund public schools, which has caused student achievement to plummet and caused California’s schools to plunge to the bottom of the 50 states and territories.

“If Santa Monica-Malibu is not leading the charge to increase the pot for statewide education spending, then we are lost,” said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a veteran teacher, school board member and activist.

RAND recently issued a report card full of C, D and F grades for the state’s taxpayers and leaders. Study co-author Stephen Carroll showed graph after graph that document California education expenditures and student achievement plummeting from first to last in the nation beginning in 1978.

“The reason, to be blunt, is that we don’t put as much effort into it as the nation as a whole does,” Carroll said.

Carroll said Proposition 13’s passage in 1978 couldn’t be proven as the cause, but ranks high on the list of reforms whose unintended consequences gutted California schools and put student achievement here below 47 states.

A 1970 court case on school finance inequities mandated that new state monies be used to bring poor districts’ budgets up to par with their rich neighbors. Carroll said that admirable goal had the unintended consequence of stagnating the best schools.

Proposition 13’s unintended consequences included transfer of school funding from local districts to the state government, which removed local control and local incentives to improve school spending. That put California’s schools, the best in the nation in 1978, into a downward spiral that they have never recovered from.

Even pro-education laws, like the 1996 class-size reduction law that put kindergarten through third-grade students in 20-student classrooms, weakened schools overall, Carroll said. A sudden need for K-3 teachers in less crowded classrooms caused veteran teachers to transfer away from older children, leaving less qualified teachers in charge of grades four through 12.

Carroll said Proposition 13 did not hurt public safety as badly as it hit education.

“We really care about police and fire protection. We rank fourth in the nation for police and fire expenditures, and eleventh on corrections spending,” he said. “California citizens have chosen to make corrections, police and fire, hospitals and public welfare higher priorities than public education.”

Those decisions in Sacramento has led to class sizes in California that are 30 percent to 40 percent larger than the national average, schools that are falling apart, and teachers that are paid about 20 percent less than in other states.

“The bottom line, of course, is in student performance,” Carroll said. “Well, we beat Louisiana and Mississippi.”

The researcher said the poor student achievement scores remain the same even if California’s large immigrant and English-learning student population is accounted for.

“White kids from high income families in California do less well than white kids from high income families in other states,” he said.

Goldberg, an 18-year Compton High School teacher, former Los Angeles school board member and Los Angeles assemblywoman, pointed out that other urban and industrialized states, like Texas and New York, spend much more on schools than does California.

“When you are looking at a state that is the fifth-largest economy in the world, this is a crime,” she told the parents.

SMMUSD Superintendent John Deasy said he was worried about “how tolerant and complacent we are to the condition we’re in. The dire set of circumstances is what will come home to us in 10 to 15 years from every one of these students experiencing this third-rate education.”

Next week’s lobbying effort is part of a statewide campaign to force Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to restore $2 billion he borrowed from school commitments to balance last year’s budget.

The governor says this year’s school spending will be bigger than last year’s, but parents say he reneged on a handshake deal to restore the badly needed funds.