February 3rd, 2009

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Pass the Buck

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

California is a large state with a large problem right now.  The state of our economy is just plain weird.  The funding picture for schools isn’t any better than it is for anything else.  We simply don’t know what it’s going to be.  We do have to plan though, and come up with a budget that is supportable for this year and the following two years.  We do the best we can with this scenario.  Keep in mind that we do not generate things that make a profit for us.  We are charged with  spending what is allocated to us in a responsible manner, and at least for this district, I think we do.  In the current financial situation, the Governor has, as part of his overall plan for schools, decided on some options for us.  It is, from the Governor’s side, a completely brilliant plan, and the ultimate in passing the buck.  In a nutshell, here it is: give school districts the ability to choose the programs they are going to fund.  It sounds like a return to local control, and I must say again that I think, from the Governor’s side, it is absolutely stunning.  What it really does is completely shift responsibility for programs from the state to the district.  Great, right?  Maybe.  The Governor and the legislature will be able to stand in front of their various microphones and tell the public, with straight faces, that the loss of any program is the result of the local district choosing to discontinue it.  They are off the hook.  If the state government actually takes the restrictions off all the categorical programs and lets us use that money for things that make sense in our districts, it might turn out all right.  The actual amount of funding that we receive is very, very important though.  One of the things that the CTA is floating an ad on TV about is class size reduction funding.  CTA says it is a target of the Governator.  Naturally, the response from the capital is that it is not.  Remember, one direction of the Gov’s financial thrust is “local control”.  I’ve been in this business a long time, and have become fairly well aquainted with how we are funded.  Here is a general picture of what the public might hear at budget time: we have fully funded the schools according to the Prop. 98 guidelines.  Schools have received a 5.5% COLA (or some other percentage, makes no difference), and that is really good for them.  Sure.  What you don’t hear, unless you work with a schools budget, is that the state has applied a 2% deficit to the 5.5%.  This simply means that instead of a full 5.5% (just for illustration purposes), we receive 3.5%.  It’s the best of smoke and mirrors.  That deficit is simply money we never see.  The bills don’t decrease, and the needs don’t decrease by any percentage.  So, with that kind of bookkeeping in mind, back to class size reduction.  If the state actually fully funds the categoricals (pots of money that may only be spent on certain programs, whether they make sense or not), and gives us control,  we will be faced with what we will fund, and what we won’t.  Maybe, not such a bad deal, as we will be able to fund programs that really do benefit children, and discontinue ones that are clearly marginal.  This will vary from district to district as the needs are different from district to district.  Class size reduction funds are $1,071 per child in each K through 3rd grade level.  I can tell you that working with 20 very young children in my classroom is much better for all concerned than working with 30+.  Yes, I have taught Kindergarten with 32 children in my classroom, no teaching partner, all day.  My small group instruction is better with groups of 6 or 7 instead of 10 or 11.  The same is true for 1st grade, where they are tasked with teaching reading, an art form that is truly amazing.  Now, full funding from the state probably means that we will be able to continue with class size reduction.  If, however, the state government decides to pull the funding, and tell us to use what ever we need to from the newly unleashed categoricals to fund what ever we want, some very difficult choices, class size reduction among the “choices”, will have to be made.  If districts throughout the state eliminate any K though 3 classes from class size reduction, literally thousands of mostly young teachers will be out of jobs in June of this year.  Along with the increasing demands of NCLB, AYP, STAR tests,and state standards, the resulting increase in class sizes, which will undoubtedly float to 30 and beyond in K-3, will have a bit of a harsh effect on meeting any of those goals.  Of course, it will be the districts fault.  The Governator and the so-called legislators will be, with straight faces, off the hook.  Free choice, remember?  I don’t know what the motivation of the Governator is, but, as the title of this blog suggests, I am absolutely skeptical.  Politicians, if nothing else, are self-serving,  That’s probably more to the point than local control.  Keep listening.  Your comments are welcomed.