John Deasy, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and State Senator Sheila Kuehl, a Democrat from Santa Monica, have criticized the way the state funds and operates the state public school systems.

Deasy and Kuehl joined a panel of education experts Saturday, April 16th, who discussed a recently released RAND study on kindergarten-through-12th-grade education in California.

“This is a chilling report,” Deasy said. “I am struck by what is not there [in California public schools].

“There are no arts and music. There are no guidance counselors or second language classes other than in the high schools.

“There are no librarians, student support specialists, speech therapists, psychologists, social workers, family support specialists or extensive coursework that allows students to accelerate in their learning.”

Other panelists included:

n Mike Smith, director of education programs at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;

n Joseph Caldera and Neal Kleiner, principals at Griffith and Muir Middle Schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District;

n Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, chair of the Assembly Education Committee; and

n Catherine Lhamon, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

RAND, a policy research corporation based in Santa Monica, published a report in January titled “California’s K-12 Public Schools: How Are They Doing?”

The report focused on five topics: funding, teacher qualifications, school facilities, student achievement, and student attainment.

Public schools and students in California were compared to the national average and ranked with the 49 other states.

“Since the late 1980s and onward, California consistently spent $700 to $800 per pupil less than the national average,” said Stephen Carroll, a RAND senior economist and lead author of the report.

“California citizens have chosen to make prisons, police and fire protection, health and hospitals, and public welfare higher funding priorities than education,” Carroll said.

Class size in California is 30 to 40 percent higher than the national average, while pupil-teacher ratios for the nation as a whole have declined in the past three decades, Carroll said.

The report also concludes that California schools with a higher enrollment of low-income students employ fewer teachers with complete teaching credentials.

Spending per pupil on school facilities construction and repair in California is also below the national average.

“We have fallen way behind the national average, but the good news is that several bond measures for school facilities have been approved in recent years,” Carroll said.

In terms of student achievement on standardized tests, California is ranked ahead of only Louisiana and Mississippi.

When data is recalculated to control the fact that California enrolls more students who come from low-income and difficult family backgrounds than other states, student achievement in California is ranked worst in the nation.

“White kids from high income families in California do less well than white kids from high income families in other states and so on, whether we are talking about race, income, and family structure,” Carroll said.

“Across every category, California students do worse than students in other states,” he said.

The high school graduation rate in California is also below the national average, as is the number of high school graduates who choose to attend college, the report concludes.

Carroll said the downward trend in public education in California began in the 1970s and the trend may be because of Proposition 13 and Serrano vs. Priest, which challenged the state funding system for education.

Proposition 13 is a ballot initiative approved by California voters in 1978 that caps the county property tax on real estate to one percent of a property’s assessment until the property is sold.

Homeowners whose homes have not been sold since the passage of Proposition 13 but which have greatly increased in value benefit the most, as do commercial real estate owners whose property can remain deeded to a corporation even if the property is resold.

“What are legislators supposed to do with education when there is a severe reluctance to tax?” Kuehl asked.

“Republicans sign a no-tax pledge when they run for office and they stick to it when they are elected,” she said.

Serrano vs. Priest is a 1971 class action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles that challenged California’s school funding system.

The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and said that the state funding system at the time violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because students of equal age and equal grade level were not receiving equal education resources.

Deasy said federal legislation and the Bush Administration’s “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” also have negative impacts on California public schools.

No Child Left Behind requires that public schools meet standardized test and yearly progress provisions.

If a school fails to meet yearly progress goals for a sixth consecutive year, the school must make major restructuring plans that may include allowing a private management company to take over the school.

Deasy said California achievement standards are higher than those of other states and he referred to two studies released in January by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Those studies are called “The State of State English Standards 2005” and “The State of State Math Standards 2005.”

Both reports give California an “A” grade and praise the state with compliments such as “top notch” and “a model for states.”

The Fordham studies concluded that California educators and administrators require public school students to comprehend more skills in math, reading, and English language arts than other states.

“California is at the top of the list, which is a glaring dichotomy because we expect the most and fund it the least,” Deasy said.

“We absolutely want that no child is left behind,” he said. “The legislation’s draconian implementation absent funding adds to the dilemmas in California.”

Deasy said more funding is not the only answer.

He suggested that legislators should consider changing the property tax system in California, local school districts should have more control in making decisions, and new funding resources should be allocated to public schools with the greatest need.

Kuehl agreed with these and other suggestions.

She said legislators should look at “what students are getting in school and also how to keep them in school.”

Minimum wage and healthcare are major issues in education because the majority of students who drop out of school do so because they have to support their families, Kuehl said.

“The governor says we have a spending problem,” she said. “We don’t have a spending problem, we have a resource problem.

“Things sound reasonable the way he puts them, but he generalizes.

“He doesn’t have a clue about how these systems work because he was never engaged in government before and never ran a school district.”

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed five State Senate and State Assembly education reform bills last year as part of a settlement to a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU filed a lawsuit five years ago called Williams vs. California on behalf of California students who attended public schools that lacked textbooks, instruction materials, qualified teachers, and properly maintained facilities.

The five state bills shift some education funding decisions from the state level to the local level, provide $800 million in funding to make emergency repairs to facilities, and establish minimum thresholds for public schools.

“We cannot become tolerant and complacent about the conditions we are in,” Deasy said. “Every student who experiences a third-rate education system now will be within ten to 15 years the individuals who check the security of your airplane, put in your IV, and drill your teeth.”

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