California’s kids get left behind

All citizens—parents and childless alike—affected by underfunded education

A mother of two children in public schools, Desiree Gonzalez works at Chico State University and is working toward a master’s degree in education.

Harvard lecturer/researcher Ronald Ferguson’s study of more than 1,000 schools demonstrated that “money matters” in education: Student achievement positively correlates with expenditure levels. Politicians give lip service to education, but it is one of the first items to be cut during a budget crisis.

Neglect is evident even in Chico. Schools are overcrowded and packed with “temporary” buildings, the paint is filthy or peeling in many of the rooms, and all but the newest schools look like prisons or trailer parks. The teacher-to-student ratio in grades K-3 will likely be increased next school year. Teachers suffer from burnout at alarming rates due to the frustrating work conditions caused by inadequate state funding and Bush’s misguided No Child Left Behind Act.

Chico Unified was headed in the right direction with its focus on teacher development and improving learning outcomes via professional learning communities (PLCs); however, with morale at an all-time low due to impending layoffs, teacher excitement surrounding PLCs has dimmed considerably.

Is it any wonder that wealthy parents are sending their children to private schools, others endure long waiting lists for charter schools, and still more choose to home school their children? Charter schools drain funds from a financially suffering district, and the district loses money for every child who switches to private or home school.

Unfortunately, these alternatives offer environments parents want for their kids that traditional public schools are not providing.

How can public schools continue to make reduced class sizes and teachers’ professional development a priority in the face of an ever-decreasing budget? How can parents and taxpayers ensure existing funds benefit students, not administration? Why do students become disillusioned with school, and what can be done to make learning interesting and applicable to everyday life?

I expect quality service in return for my paid taxes and believe the government should be held accountable when things go awry.

Districts can’t provide the kind of service optimal for student achievement without adequate funding. Proposition 98 guarantees a percentage of the budget for schools, yet California ranks 46th out of 50 for money paid per student. Even childless citizens should be concerned with the future of today’s generation, for social and economic reasons.

Watch or attend school board meetings. Write to the state government, saying what you expect. Next time elections roll around, be sure to remember how badly our students have been wronged.

Education research shows that students perform better when held to higher standards; this holds true for lawmakers, too.