Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hey, Who Needs Education; We're Going To Get A High-Speed Train, Instead

How have schools responded to budget cuts? Recent statewide surveys indicate that the impact has been dramatic. A survey by the Legislative Analyst’s Office found that:

-More than half (58 percent) of responding school districts reduced their number of instructional days in 2010-11 compared to 2008-09 and 30 percent shortened their school year by a week;

-Nearly half (48 percent) of schools ended their ninth grade class size reduction programs; 

-More than one-fourth (26 percent) eliminated programs supported by arts and music grants.
-A University of California at Los Angeles survey of high school principals found that:

-Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of respondents reported increasing class sizes; 

-Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents reported reducing or eliminating summer school; and 

-One-half (50 percent) of respondents reported reducing the number of counselors, in a state that already has nearly the most students per counselor in the nation.
Governor Brown’s May Revision provides a $2.7 billion increase in 2011-12 K-12 Proposition 98 funding. However, almost all of the additional dollars would be used to reverse delays in payments to schools, so-called “deferrals.” Even with the increased funds, 2011-12 K-12 Proposition 98 funding would be $3.8 billion (7.5 percent) lower than the amount provided to schools in 2007-08.
Maintaining or improving a state education system doesn't involve photo ops or ribbon cutting.  The pay-off is for our children, not for ourselves.  Schools don't produce revenue; they just cost tax dollars to operate. So, let me ask, parenthetically, where are all those angry parents who actually understand how their kids are getting screwed in order for California to go on building its high-speed train?

The school budget slashing that has been taking place in California for a decade or more, from kindergarten to university, gets into the papers far less frequently than its importance warrants.  What most of us are reluctant to accept is the notion that the most valuable natural resource of any government, local, state or national, is its human resources.  And, like the necessity of petroleum processing, our children also need to be "processed;" that is, educated to fulfill their enormous potential.

However, while we resonate immediately and passionately about the gasoline refineries and their daily productivity and costs (and therefore what we pay at the pumps), we seem to care far less about our schools and their performance. We've been paying more and getting less every year. Does anyone care?

We fail to appreciate the close coupling between education levels, school "out-put," and the economy.  The most financially productive states also have the best education systems.  That's not a coincidence. 

Yes, it is a zero-sum game.  There are finite resources, even when borrowing seems almost infinite.  Dollars spent on high-speed rail are not available for our schools, our teachers, and our curricula.  Things won't improve without dollars.  Funding is the necessary but not sufficient element of school optimization.  It is an egregious oversight for our Governor and Legislature to not acknowledge the trade-offs taking place here, between the state's schooling and the high-speed rail project.

Our school drop-out rate is phenomenal. Our incarceration rate is outrageous, as is the recidivism rate. Our state's education system was once the Nation's best; now it's among the worst. At the same time, our economy is tanking. Do you suppose that's happenstance and out of our control?

The Central Valley has terrible unemployment rates. Who are these unemployed?  What is their education/training, skills background?  What can they do?  Can they build a high-speed rail system? If not, the Unions are certainly wasting their time and money lobbying for something that will have no pay-off -- hiring -- whatsoever.


Teaching jobs disappear
By Tami Luhby @CNNMoney August 4, 2011: 7:04 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Friday's jobs report could kick off the worst quarter for state and local government jobs on record. And teachers are at the center of the bullseye.

The public sector is estimated to have shed 65,000 positions in July, according to Greg Daco, U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight. Some 50,000 are projected to come from state and local governments.

And things won't get better anytime soon. The state and local government sector could shed around 110,000 jobs in the third quarter, which would top the massive downsizing that occurred in the early 1980s.

"The sector keeps bleeding jobs," Daco said. "The third quarter could be the worst ever."

All told, the state and local government sector has lost 577,000 jobs since its peak in September 2008. Some 224,000 of those have been in education.

While teachers and other school employees are often dismissed temporarily over the summer, more are getting the ax this year because of major state budget cuts to public education. And fewer are expected to get rehired in September, leading to the grim estimates for the quarter.

"Since the state and local sector is facing a lot of tough budget decisions, it will lay off teachers it won't rehire in September," Daco said.

Rachel Zertuche of Austin, Texas, is one of those educators looking for a new job. The 6th grade social studies teacher was let go after more than six years in Austin classrooms.

While she hunts for a new position, the new mom is commuting 26 miles to work part-time in an office and taking some proofreading jobs. Her husband, a cook in an upscale restaurant, took a second job at Romano's Macaroni Grill.

Competition for teaching jobs is stiff, she said.

"There are so many of us who were laid off," said Zertuche, who has been teaching a total of 14 years. "We're all scurrying for the same positions."

How long do unemployment benefits last in your state?
Around the country, districts are sending thousands of workers to the unemployment office. In years' past, school administrators were able to meet their budgets through attrition or retirement. And many were able to recall a good number of those who were let go.

But not this year, they say. The disappearance of federal stimulus funds and the continued weakness in the economy mean fewer dollars for public education. And that means fewer employees.

Over the past two school years, New York has lost 10,000 school jobs, but 9,000 of them were through attrition or retirement, according to the New York State United Teachers union.
Now, the ax is falling on actual workers. School districts, which suffered a $1.3 billion cut in state aid for the 2011-12 year, have left 5,660 teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses out of work. Another 1,940 school professionals, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and teachers aides, are in the same boat.

"This year, there is no room for contraction, which is why you'll see real people on unemployment lines," said Dick Ianuzzi, president of the 600,000-member union.

That means class sizes are soaring and students have fewer support services. 

In California, there are now 30 to 35 kids in some classes, up from 20, said Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association. Art, music and some electives are disappearing. School libraries are closed because there are no librarians to staff them.

"What it means for the learning environment is that it changes it drastically," Vogel said.

 2 million government jobs at stake

Some 4,200 teachers around the Golden State are anxiously awaiting word that there's a job for them in September. 
Julia Cervantes-Espinoza, who teaches 2nd and 4th grade in the Los Angeles Unified School District, has been laid off each of the last three years. But this is the first time she ended school without being rehired. More than 2,000 teachers remain unemployed in her district.

While she's starting to apply for positions teaching English as a Second Language in community colleges, she remains hopeful that a job will open up for her. She's relatively high on the seniority list.

"I'm Number 153 so I think I'll get called back, but we'll see," Cervantes-Espinoza said.  

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