Monday, June 22, 2009

"I think California has lost its way...."

In what was the most accurate descriptive statement by any government official of the situation in California during The Great Recession, on May 22 U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated to an assembly of mayors and school administrators: "Honestly, I think California has lost its way, and I think the long-term consequences of that are very troubling."

California's economy is perched at the edge of the precipice. As noted on May 26:

California's Great Recession likely will begin "in earnest" in July 2009. And unfortunately for the Obama Administration and the world, what was the world's 8th largest economy will drag everyone else down with it.

Education Secretary Duncan was most concerned about California's education system. Once the pride of "The Greatest Generation" most of whom experienced first hand The Great Depression and World War II and who paid sufficient property, sales, and income taxes not only to provide a strong elementary and high school education system for their children, but established the California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960 based on the underlying principles that:
  1. some form of higher education ought to be available to everyone regardless of their economic means;
  2. only a person's academic proficiency should determine how far they can go;
  3. the competing demands of fostering excellence and guaranteeing educational access for all would be balanced through the combination of the University of California campuses, the California State University system, and the California Community Colleges System;
  4. a differentiation of function would be assigned so that each of the three systems would strive for excellence in different areas so as to not waste public resources on duplicate efforts;
  5. the top 12.5% (⅛) of graduating high school seniors would be guaranteed a place at one of the University of California campuses, an additional 33% would be able to enter one of the California State University campuses, and the community colleges would accept all applications.
It was the generation which also learned first hand that only through a social compact assuring an adequate economic safety net - part of which in the 21st Century is a strong education system - can a society continually build a strong economy.

Education Secretary Duncan was acknowledging in May that California's public education system, once considered the national model, now ranks near the bottom in both school funding and academic achievement.

Instead of the achieving the dream of 1960, a 2006 study by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access discovered that California sends a lower percentage of its seniors to in-state public four-year universities than any state but Mississippi. Only 12% of the California students who entered the class of 2004 as ninth-graders enrolled in one of the state's public four-year universities. And though one might wish to attribute a multitude of reasons for this reality, the study found:

At the heart of the problem, concludes the study, is a failure to invest in education.

California is among the states with the highest per capita personal income in the country -- it ranks 11th -- yet when spending is adjusted for regional cost of living differences, it ranks 43rd in education spending, according to the report.

Duncan also was expressing concern about the immediate future which is endangered by the financial crisis in California State Government, including schools and local government. According to an Associated Press article, as it stands right now:

Under the governor's plan, K-12 schools and community colleges would lose $5.3 billion over the coming year — on top of billions of dollars in recent reductions and payment delays.

The state would spend $7,806 per K-12 student in 2009-10, almost 10 percent less than two years ago, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

Federal stimulus funds have prevented deeper cuts to a public school system that educates 6.3 million children, of which about a quarter do not speak English well, and nearly half are considered poor under federal guidelines.

School districts have already issued layoff notices to more than 30,000 teachers and other employees, and they could issue more pink slips this summer, according to the state Department of Education.

Duncan was concerned because California already is scheduled to receive $8 billion in stimulus funding for education over the next two years. That money will go elsewhere if the state fails to maintain funding levels for education.

The problem for the Governor and the Legislature is that the "wasteful spending programs" requiring meaningful General Fund expenditures are exactly the programs which would lose existing federal matching funds. They are also the main programs within the Obama Administration stimulus program directly targeted to aid people suffering the most from The Great Recession, plus education.

Last year California's per-pupil spending on K-12 education, which was ranked a shameful 43rd in 2006, fell to 47th.

The California I once knew, the one that created the world's 8th largest economy, has indeed lost its way and is about to stumble over a cliff. We can't rebuild an economy if we are providing the vast majority of our children a third-world education.

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