This holiday season, one item at the top of wish lists for most parents is a public school system that delivers a well-rounded education for all students – one that prepares them for college, career, and adulthood. The future of our state and our economy depends on it.
Unfortunately, school budgets have been decimated by $20 billion in cuts in just the last few years. Essential programs for students have been eliminated or cut dramatically.
One thing I see and hear firsthand when I visit local communities throughout the state is that parents, educators, and community members have had it with these cuts.
In a recent survey, nine out of every 10 local PTA leaders and members rated “adequate school funding” as extremely important – the highest response by far to any policy issue. In particular, parents and PTA members believe more funding is needed to restore the arts, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and physical education; as well as to reduce class sizes and add back counselors, school libraries, and librarians.
Californians see something really scary happening: An entire generation of children is being denied the public education program they need to succeed in the workforce and in life.
We cannot let this happen.
That’s why the California State PTA is planning ahead for November 2012.
The November 2012 statewide ballot presents an opportunity we can’t afford to miss for our children. That’s when voters will have a chance to do something truly transformative for our public schools by passing the Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act, which was submitted to the Attorney General last week.
We’re urging everyone to unite around this measure, sponsored by the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization. Here’s why.
First, the Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act is the boldest and most thoughtful proposal out there. It proposes to raise the most new money solely for K-12 schools and early childhood education programs – approximately $10 billion per year. Our state faces a number of serious challenges. This measure seeks to confront the most important of those: strengthening our public education system.
The new money must be used to improve students’ academic performance, graduation rates, and readiness for career, college, and life. The infusion of desperately needed resources will help schools restore and expand the educational program for all students, with more instruction in the arts, physical education, STEM, vocational and career education, and other courses that help keep students engaged in school and prepared for 21st century careers.
Funds can also be used to reduce class sizes; hire more counselors, librarians, and school nurses; or extend learning time through longer school days, a longer school year, or summer school – all components of a well-rounded education that have been cut to the bone in recent years.
Transparency and accountability
Second, the Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act proposes important reforms that ensure transparency, oversight, and accountability.
The new revenue will be placed in a trust account, and the Legislature will be prohibited from interfering with local schools and districts over how to use the funds. Local parents, educators, and staff in every school community, including charter schools, will be empowered to provide input into how the new funding is used, with local governing boards authorizing the decisions. Every school and district must report clearly on how the money is used and what outcomes are achieved.
This would be a powerful reform because it takes a giant step toward real local control – as well as meaningful parent and community engagement.
Third, the initiative will help close the achievement gap. In addition to enabling all schools to provide a more complete range of courses and academic support services, the initiative provides additional per-student funding to support low-income children and English language learners. Plus, 15 percent of the total revenue from the initiative will be targeted to expand access to early childhood education and preschool programs, which are proven to increase school readiness and help to close the gap.
To generate the needed revenues, the initiative relies on a broad-based, graduated income tax increase. Polls show that voters will support such a tax increase if they know the money goes directly to their local schools.
Californians understand that school funding has been cut too deeply. Our children cannot wait any longer for legislators to get their act together to address what our State Superintendent of Public Instruction has called a “state of fiscal emergency” for our schools.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the “fierce urgency of now.” The time is now for all of us to get behind a bold plan that will provide real opportunities and a well-rounded education for all students.
We owe it to them.
Carol Kocivar of San Francisco is president of the California State PTA. She has served as president-elect, vice president for communications, an education commission member, and on numerous committees with the California State PTA. A past president of the San Francisco Second District PTA, Kocivar has worked as a journalist, attorney, and ombudsperson for special education. The California State PTA has nearly 1 million members volunteering on behalf of public schools, children, and families. The PTA also advocates at national, state, and local levels for education and family issues. For information: www.capta.org