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Guest Article

‘The Root Cause of Teacher Strikes is Found Not in Oakland or Los Angeles, but in Sacramento’

By Vernon M. Billy, Executive Director, California School Boards Association - June 12, 2019

Teachers in the Bay Area’s New Haven Unified School District hit the picket line several weeks ago. Their counterparts in Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento went on strike earlier this year. 2019 is becoming the Year of the Teacher Strike, a phenomenon four decades in the making.

Since the 1970s, California has consistently shortchanged public education and tarnished a school system which was once the state’s crown jewel. Forty years ago, California schools were rated in the top five nationally in per-pupil funding and had the results to match. Today, the state ranks 41st in per-student funding, 50th in student-teacher ratio, 48th in student-administrator ratio, 49th in overall student-staff ratio, 49th in guidance counselors and 50th in librarians.

So, when teachers in LA and Oakland take to the streets for better wages, smaller class sizes and additional resources, they have ample data to support their position. After all, California boasts the fifth-largest economy in the world yet languishes near the bottom in every national measure of school funding and school staffing.

But the sobering statistics don’t end there. California is 45th in the percentage of taxable income spent on education, behind less prosperous states such as Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and South Carolina, and almost 20 percent off the national average.

So, when school leaders say there isn’t enough money to meet the teachers’ demands, give all students a high-quality education and keep the district financially solvent, they, too, have plenty of evidence.

It’s almost provocative to offer in these hyper-partisan times, but maybe both sides have a point?

Ultimately, the fight is not between labor and management nor between teachers and administrators, but between those who are committed to public education and a state that refuses to provide students with the resources they need.

The root cause of teacher strikes is found not in Oakland or Los Angeles, but in Sacramento. It’s here, in the state capital, that lawmakers have failed to prioritize funding schools at a level that meets the needs of every student and prepares them for success in college, career and civic life. This lack of will has resulted in school funding that trails the rest of the country.

If California funded schools simply at the national average, funding would increase by nearly $2,000 per student. For a school of 500 students, that’s an additional $1 million for expanded curriculum in science and the arts, class size reduction, student services, support staff, parent and community engagement, career technical education, textbooks, supplies and extracurricular activities. And that’s just if we boost funding to the national average – returning California to the top 10 in school funding would more than triple those numbers to almost $7,000 per student above today’s funding levels.

California shouldn’t rate at the bottom nationally in any area of significance, let alone education. Substantial research points to a positive relationship between education funding and improved academic outcomes, particularly for economically disadvantaged students. So, it’s no surprise that while California’s school funding has fallen relative to other states, so has its student performance.

In 2017, California’s eighth-graders ranked 41st in math, 37th in reading, 44th in science and 38th in writing on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Those results closely track the state’s lowly ranking of 41st in per-pupil funding. Sadly, California gets what it pays for when it comes to public schools, and it’s simply not enough. That’s why we’re calling on the California State Legislature to increase per-student funding to the national average by 2020 and to the average of the top 10 states by 2025.

We have a moral, practical and economic imperative to provide all students with a high-quality education that prepares them for college, career and civic life. Nothing less than the future of our children, our communities and our state hangs in the balance.


(Vernon M. Billy is the CEO and Executive Director of California School Boards Association.)

Source: McClatchy Newspapers

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