Dear future president,
Last week the parents at my son’s public elementary school were outraged to learn that there was no soap in the bathrooms. After reading 20 or so email responses regarding the condition of the bathrooms on the parents’ group email chain, I could no longer keep quiet. I sent an email to all the parents explaining that the lack of soap was not a reflection of poor administration at the elementary school, as they had insinuated, but rather the tip of the iceberg in regards to California’s underfunding public school crisis.
While public school funding is a state level legislative matter, I am writing to you because I feel strongly that we need national intervention, and we need it now. The wide fluctuation across states in per pupil spending is unjust and requires federal oversight in order to set minimum levels of spending, which would factor in cost of living by state. Without these minimums our entire public school system will continue to worsen until there is no choice but to walk away from public schools all together and let charters and on-line schools take over.
According to a Rand Corporation study entitled, “Tracking K-12 Education Spending in California” by Krop, Carroll, and Ross, “California’s per-pupil spending on K-12 public education has already been falling for about 15 years. In 1978, California’s per-pupil outlay on public education exceeded the national average. The situation has gotten increasingly worse since that year.” When the funding of California public schools was altered with Proposition 13 in the 1970’s, not only did the funding decrease, so did performance levels.
It is a disgrace that some East Coast states like New York spend $20,000 or more per student annually, while California still hovers around $8,000 (edsource.org). This is even all the more ridiculous when cost of living is factored in, as California has five of the top ten most expensive cities to live in (expatistan.com). And, even more outrageous when compared factoring in the state’s gross domestic product “GDP”). Myers, in the Los Angeles Times’ Essential Politics feed, states that California’s 2015 GDP of $2.4 trillion makes it not only the top grossing economy in the United States, but “may be considered the 6th largest in the world.” What a disgrace. California has more money than any other state in our country,and more than many other countries in the world, and it is not willing to spend more on the future of our public school students.
If you haven’t been inside a California urban public school lately, perhaps you are not even aware why additional funds are needed. Funds are needed for everything from books to food to sports teams. The book rooms at most high schools in Los Angeles are a sad commentary on literacy. The same titles sit on the shelves that were there when I went to high school in the 1980’s – “Lord of the Flies” and “1984.” And, while there is nothing wrong with classic literature, today’s urban teens deserve to read more current titles as well, written by engaging and critically acclaimed authors, John Greene being just one example.
The books that are on the shelves are tattered with yellowing pages, what sort of message does that send the one holding the book? School food is the bane of every student, and considering that such a high number of students eat ONLY at school, the fact that we are loading them up with things like “coffee cake” and stale cheese for breakfast only exacerbates the often talked about “achievement gap.”
Then there is the issue of teacher retention and class sizes. Based upon my 20 years of experience teaching in LAUSD, it is virtually impossible to be a “great teacher” when you are teaching four different subjects a day, to class sizes that are normed at 45 students per class in high school. Being a core English teacher, the essay grading load is, at times, unbearable.
If we valued education, we would attempt to make the teaching load something that is more manageable, and the class sizes at a range that actually allowed the teachers to spend more time helping students with their individual needs. Maybe those adjustments would draw more candidates into the profession, and have them stay longer than the five-year average.
I could say so much more about the decline of the sports programs, the lack of quality electives, and the disappearance of arts program. The crumbling infrastructures, and insect and rodent infestations that are common at many campuses. The lack of proper functioning air conditioning when it’s 102 degrees outside.; how many teachers buy their own supplies for the room. Personally, I spend $100 a month, every month, on books for the classroom library. It is an insane personal crusade against the shockingly low-reading levels of high school students, when all it takes to reverse the trend is putting books kids actually want to read in their hands.
Many reading this article may not care because they themselves don’t have children, or they have placed their sons/daughters in private schools. Many others might not think there is a problem with charter schools and the gradual slide into privatizing our country’s education system. Many might actually believe that the learning that happens in classrooms can somehow be replicated more cost effectively by having a student log on from home and complete modules at their own pace, completely overlooking the social nature of true learning, and the role an experienced teacher plays in that process.
I tell my students all the time that they will see the end of public school in their life time. What a sad commentary on the state of affairs of our country. The rich will continue to get richer and the poor will continue to stay poor without a free, fair and quality education for all. And, what a short-sighted idea, to not consider how educating the populous is what makes a country great, what makes it thrive with innovation and ingenuity and possibility.
Without real public education for all, the already somewhat mythical “American Dream,” where anyone can make it if they try hard enough, will officially be dead and buried. What will define us as a nation then?