| Time to Renew Our Commitment to Education
By Senator Mark Leno Nov 13, 2009
California boasts one of the largest economies in the world – an economy that continues to require an ever-increasing number of educated, skilled workers. We are a world leader, yet our state ranks 47th in the nation in per-pupil funding for public schools, the very institutions that prepare Californians for college and the workforce. This year’s unprecedented budget crisis, prompted by the global economic downturn, has only made matters worse. Public education funding in California was cut by $11 billion for the 2009-10 budget year.
During the last two years we have earned the dubious distinction of having drained the most funding from our public education system since the Great Depression. Thousands of teachers and educational professionals are losing their jobs. As a result, class size is increasing, course offerings and resources are diminishing and our children are losing out on quality educational experiences and opportunities. Next year California will spend more on the Department of Corrections than on higher education. None of this bodes well for our future.
Clearly, we are facing a serious educational crisis in California. To delve deeper into this issue and learn more about what is happening in our schools, I have scheduled a series of visits to public schools within the Third Senate District, which includes all of Marin and portions of San Francisco and Sonoma counties. From now until December I am meeting with educational leaders, parents, and students to learn more about how they are struggling and surviving in light of state budget cutbacks. It gives me great hope to see our local communities working together to find innovative ways to address this crisis. With limited resources, local leaders and parents are working to boost support for their schools, teachers and community educational programs through ballot initiatives, town halls, private grant programs and creative fundraising events.
California applied for federal education funding that has been made available through President Obama’s economic stimulus and recovery efforts. Earlier this year California was the first state in the nation to be approved for State Fiscal Stabilization Fund dollars, which delivered more than $2.5 billion to California schools.
In addition, the Legislature is meeting in a special session this fall to consider a package of education bills that will ensure that California meets the Obama Administration’s eligibility requirements for the competitive Race to the Top grant program. Without legislative reforms, California would not meet the requirements to receive any portion of the $4.35 billion that will be available to U.S. schools. We want to ensure that California is not only eligible for these funds, but is also poised as one of the most competitive states in the nation so we can secure critical and much-needed monies for our schools.
Race to the Top funding is designed to improve achievement by implementing eductional reforms that target all students and especially those in the lowest-performing schools that have long been neglected. Race to the Top reforms include:
1. Adopting international benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace.
2. Recruiting, developing and retaining effective teachers and principals.
3. Establishing data systems that measure student success and guide teachers and principals on how to improve their practices.
4. Advancing our lowest-performing schools.
California cannot continue to be a world and national leader without making better investments in public education. I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure that education is a top priority for the Legislature. Our future depends on it.
Senator Mark Leno represents the Third Senate District of California, which includes portions of San Francisco and Sonoma Counties and all of Marin County. He can be reached via the web at www.sen.ca.gov/Leno, by phone in the San Francisco District Office at 415-557-1300 or San Rafael District Office at 415-479-6612, or by e-mail, Senator.Leno@senate.ca.gov.
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