State lawmakers are wrangling with a plethora of topics this legislative session, the number one item on their agenda being the state budget shortfall.
But a statewide parent organization is calling on them to also focus on what they feel is almost – and in some cases equally – as important.
Educate Our State, an organization formed to advocate for public education, is seeking to obtain 60,000 signatures to send to the Legislature in an effort to convince lawmakers to fully fund education. The group also wants legislators to assist Gov. Jerry Brown in continuing the current temporary tax extensions so that further cuts to public education are not needed.
K-12 education makes up 40 percent of the state budget and higher education is approximately 10 percent.
On May 24, parents statewide united for a day of rallies, including in Mar Vista. Beethoven, Grand View Boulevard and Westminster Avenue elementary school parents dressed in their pajamas and held signs demanding increased funding in a “Wake Up California” rally near Venice High School to draw attention to the plight of public education.
Many of them later rendezvoused at the federal building in Westwood for a larger demonstration.
National educational surveys show California at the bottom of achievement levels in 4th and 8th grade reading and lower than those in 43 states. And the state has dropped to the bottom of per-pupil spending in the United States.
Heather Kahler, whose daughter attends Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice, is dismayed that parent organizations are forced to resort to taking action like “Wake Up California.”
“We shouldn’t have to work so hard to convince our leaders to fund the most valuable asset in this country – education,” Kalher asserted.
“The greatest lesson children have learned in schools has been their experience of what the leaders of this nation have taught them: Children don’t matter, and people in power do not spend the effort on educating children in public schools. And why should they if wealthy people can continue to send their kids to private school, thus leaving the future to the wealthy, as it is at present?”
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe, who works for a charter organization, said he thinks the public understands the ramifications of not funding public education.
“It’s no secret that California is woeful on per-pupil spending. And the consequences to this are clear and evident to all,” he said. “Fully funding public education is imperative for our leaders in Sacramento to enact.”
Brown has stated on several occasions that without the tax extensions, the Legislature will be forced to make even deeper reductions to education.
In his revised budget last month, he noted that his fiscal plan would increase spending for public education. “For years, the state has shortchanged public education in order to balance the budget, forcing school districts to borrow in order to balance their budgets,” the governor said.
But even with this new infusion of funds, California schools are still owed billions by the state, Brown cautioned.
State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Marina del Rey), who represents the 28th Senate District, says it is imperative to have an educated workforce for the future.
“We have to make sure that our educational system is producing graduates that our workforce needs,” Lieu said. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to fund education at the level that we need to.”
State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica) backs the tax extensions. “K-12 education, which has been cut by $18 billion in the past three years, is spared cuts under the governor’s proposal, but only if voters approve maintaining existing taxes for another five years,” she said.
Lieu, who was one of only a handful of legislators in the Assembly who voted against cutting education last year, mentioned a hearing that he held with a local company about their employment needs, which he thinks highlights the importance of properly funding education.
“They told me, ‘We don’t lose sleep at night because of increased taxes,’” the senator recalled. “We lose sleep because of the fact that we can’t fill all of our positions with qualified applicants.”
Pavley also spoke of the importance of supporting education. “Cutting another $26 billion from our education fund does a disservice to all Californians,” the senator said in March. “Comprehensive state education prepares a workforce for the future, and businesses tell me they need an educated workforce.”
Kahler, a children’s animator who is studying to become a teacher at Loyola Marymount University, said that the priorities of lawmakers often conflict with education needs.
“Decisions are made by our leaders based on money, on the economy. Yet wouldn’t our nation be more profitable with more of its citizens being well educated?” she asked “At this rate, what children are learning is to be like their leaders, so we may have yet another generation that is lead by the almighty dollar, and has no concept of humanistic responsibility.”
Lieu said it would take both houses of the Legislature in a bipartisan effort to prevent further drastic cutbacks to public education.
“If we don’t get the tax extensions, public education will be at risk,” he said.
The tax extensions are set to expire next month.
Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) could not be reached for comment.