To Our Next Governor:
The children of California deserve better. They deserve better than underfunded schools, stretched resources, eliminated programs, and a lack of essential services. They deserve better than shuttered buildings, achievement gaps, and inequity.
They deserve great schools to match the fast-changing, dynamic world in which they will attempt to find their place. They deserve well-paid teachers, state-of-the-art facilities and technology, relevant and rigorous programs, small classes, and pathways to college and career.
They deserve more than merely "adequate." They deserve more of the good news that Governor Brown delivered last month, when he announced an infusion of much-needed funding for public education.
Kofi Annan, the former General Secretary of the United Nations once said, "Education is the premise of progress in every society." We could not agree more, and we seek a new leader in our state who agrees as well.
California public schools, which educate more than six million children in this great state, still face a serious fiscal crisis despite the recent increase in state funding, and we do not believe it needs to be this way. As the superintendents and educators who proudly represent the diverse, vibrant communities of Alameda County, we come directly to you as a candidate for the highest office in our state, demanding change to the troubling narrative of funding inadequacy and to make public education in our state the top priority.
We sincerely appreciate the current efforts to put more funding into the system. They are welcome and necessary. Yet we are still profoundly disappointed to be ranked dead last or at the bottom of every important measure of investment in our public schools. This is unacceptable.
Billions of dollars borrowed from our children's schools over the past decade have yet to be restored to 2007-08 purchasing power levels after adjustments for inflation. Staggering burdens in new costs and unfunded mandates continue to saddle local school districts. It may be true that money is not the only solution to raising academic achievement, but when California ranks near the bottom of educational investment nationally, it has an unmistakably negative impact, especially in a thriving and globally competitive economy. Our state cannot afford to continue to shortchange our public education system, to handicap generations of young people. Because California is the 6th largest economy in the world, there is no excuse for the poor funding of our schools.
The consequences of insufficient funding for California schools are not difficult to spot:
- California ranks 48th nationally in student-to-teacher ratio
- 48th in students-per-staff-member
- 49th in the number of counselors we provide our students
- 45th in percent of taxable income spent on education and
- 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending
Does being No. 46 truly exemplify the Golden State's value we place in one of our most treasured assets, our children? We don't believe it does.
Forty years ago, California was in the top 10 in every meaningful category related to public education. We've lost our place, stuck among the bottom five states for the past decade, and, as a result, we've lost ground nationally on critical achievement measures.
As the state has attempted to restore education funding to the pre-budget-cut levels of the last decade, billions in new, mandated costs have amounted to giving with one hand and taking with the other. Last June, state leaders passed a budget providing $1.36 billion in new ongoing local funding to K-12 schools, yet legislators also demanded we pay an extra $1 billion in brand new costs in order to fix issues beyond our control. The new unfunded mandates passed on to school districts, including but not limited to increasing pension costs, do not move the needle on student achievement. These costs are frequently counted and referenced by legislators as if we have those dollars to spend on teaching and learning... when, in reality, we do not.
The impacts of these mandated costs are disastrous to school districts. We simply cannot continue to do more with less, and the days of making it work are over as pressures mount across the system. Districts are already significantly shortchanged for services required to educate students with disabilities. Schools will close. Programs will be cut. Our valued teachers will not be able to keep up with the cost of living in our expensive state and they will leave. Community confidence will be undermined by the difficult decisions that boards and leaders across the state need to make.
As you travel across California, you can see the grim reality that is now defining the future of our state. The economy, jobs, housing, healthcare, and crime are all issues that can be addressed only if California steps up to meet the daunting challenges of dramatic under-investment in our schools. A real fiscal solvency crisis looms over our public schools, and you only need to examine reports by California School Boards Association (CSBA) and others to know the stark circumstances we face now.
It is not enough to provide one-time monies as a replacement for on-going, consistent funding. It is not nearly enough to raise school funding back to the purchasing power we had in 2007-2008, especially given that California ranked in the bottom of school funding nationally that year as well. We must aspire to greater outcomes for California students. We hope you will commit to robust, consistent education funding as a public investment that will provide the best possible return the state has ever realized. We seek your commitment to springboard California into the top 10 funded states in the nation in order to maintain our state's place as a leading contributor to the world economy.
We want you to take responsibility with us for educating the children of California, and we will not wait quietly for that to happen. We will band together, and we will rally our communities to join us to speak up and speak out. We will support a new governor who shows leadership; one who seeks partnership. And we will loudly oppose anyone who is not willing to make the children of this state their highest priority.
We thank you for committing to the citizens of California at such a critical time. Our families and students need your help.