Most of you have probably heard about the dire straits public schools in California face, but maybe like me, until you see some numbers comparing school budgets between last year and this year, it doesn't fully hit home.
A friend of mine who teaches in a Los Angeles public school sent an email recently inviting me to a fundraising event he and his colleagues are throwing to fill the gap between what they have and what they need to appropriately educate their students.
His school's budget for textbooks was cut from $10,000 to $2,000; reference materials from $5,000 to $750; and instructional materials cut from $65,000 to $12,000. All budget categories suffered, he said, but these cuts hit at the core of their teaching.
School districts across the state have cut funds for textbooks, increased class sizes, and shortened the length of the school year. In many schools, physical education classes, art and music programs, special education, and summer school have been entirely eliminated due to the cuts.
Last month I was in downtown LA visiting a charter high school - Animo Film & Theatre Arts School -- whose population is mostly Latino, with a small percentage of African American students. This school believes in small classroom size (no more than 22), a one-student-at-a-time approach, and a project-based curriculum built around each individual student and his or her interests. Additionally, all students take part in internships with individual mentors beginning in the 10th grade.
I walked around with the principal and met some of the students at Animo. I was immediately impressed at the level of maturity of the students. They looked me in the eye and told me about their projects -- speaking with a sense of pride and confidence in their work. There was a deep sense of care and respect in the school environment, and the students were focused, motivated, friendly, and very clearly invested in their school endeavors.
Contrast this to some factory-like high schools across the state that have increased their class sizes to more than 40 kids per teacher. I am sorry, but this size is ridiculous. Having been a teacher for many years, I am aghast thinking about this scenario. You lose students (especially at the high school age) in this large of a class. Students need personal attention. When a student can be seen by a teacher as an individual learner, the teaching is much more effective, and results definitively more positive. Being taught in a mass (again, particularly at the high school age) is a recipe for failure. No wonder the dropout rate keeps growing.
California is facing a 21 billion dollar budget gap. Animo is teetering on losing their money. If it folds, the students will get absorbed back into the growing factory system of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
High school students aren't the only ones suffering from the education cuts. College students are too. The University of California Board of Regents recently approved a plan to raise undergraduate fees 32 percent by next fall to help make up for the steep cuts in state funding. What this means is that fewer students in California will be able to afford a college education - particularly those from low-income families, who currently make up almost a third of the university's student body.
Add to this that more than 200,000 incoming students will lose most or all tuition assistance offered under the Cal Grants program - a program helps students to enroll in a public or private university by offering financial assistance as long as they meet grade-point-average requirements and are residents of the state.
Not only should educating our kids with the proper resources be a human right priority, but research shows that educating our kids can help reduce many issues that are costing us as a society - crime, unemployment, health care, and national security.
I don't pretend to know all of the ins and out of the state's budget, but it seems like common sense to me that if we keep making cuts in education, continually grow our number of high school dropouts, and reduce the number of students who can afford college - that the things that our costing our society in the short and long run - crime, unemployment, health care, and national security - would only increase as our education priorities slip away.
Where do we go from here?
Tabby Biddle is a writer and former teacher living in Santa Monica, CA. She is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga clothing company centered on empowering women to live a bold life.
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