Investing in Education – Our 21st Century Challenge

By Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, Chair of the Assembly Education CommitteeBrownley_Official_Photo_Color _July 07.jpg
Businesses know that smart investments are the key to future growth. Governments also make smart investments such as the one California made in higher education after adopting a master plan in 1960. Many today credit California universities for its ranking as the eighth largest economy in the world and as an incubator for high technology, biotechnology and agricultural advances.
California’s leadership in education and the economy, however, is in danger of slipping. State education spending fell by $17 billion over the last three years, forcing schools to shorten the school year, increase class size, close school libraries and eliminate summer school among other actions.
In higher education, the loss of funding has pushed up fees at community colleges, California State Universities and the University of California, while the state is offering 15,000 fewer Cal Grants this year for students in need. Not as many students are getting into the colleges as more of them save seats for higher-paying, out-of-state students. Meanwhile, those who can afford the higher fees are struggling to get the courses they need to graduate as classes are cut. Students trying to transfer from community colleges into CSUs and UCs are hitting a wall. All of this is causing a bottleneck, delaying students’ entry into the work force.
The spending cuts also hurt industry. Economists estimate education’s contribution to labor productivity growth ranges between 13 percent and 30 percent. California employers are worried they won’t find employees with the education and skills they need.
Our state has set some of the nation’s highest academic standards for its youth, yet it is failing to provide sufficient resources for them to succeed. Only a few Californians know our per-pupil spending ranks far below the national average – near the bottom when compared with other states. California now faces two lawsuits, Robles-Wong v. California and Campaign for Quality Education v. California, over the lack of adequate funding for public education. In 2009, the Legislature adopted a resolution I carried stating its intention to bring per-pupil spending up to or beyond the national average and to cover the costs of educating California’s diverse student population. This is imperative and we must immediately start figuring out how we are going to fulfill this promise.
One way we can tackle our deficient education funding is by overhauling our overly complex, irrational and inequitable school finance system. Plenty of studies have concluded financial reforms are necessary before we can make significant improvements to our schools, including the Getting Down to Facts studies at Stanford University, the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence and the Public Policy Institute of California. In our current system, an English Learner in one school gets a different level of resources than a similar English Learner in another school. If we create a new school finance structure that is simple, transparent and allocates funds in a more effective way, Californians will be willing to invest more in education.
With this goal in mind, I have introduced several bills over the last five years to develop a new structure. While the measures have received bipartisan support, they were either blocked by a fiscal committee or vetoed by a governor unwilling to commit to accomplishing such a challenging task. This year, I introduced Assembly Bill 18, which sets forth a detailed plan for a simplified school funding system based on the aforementioned studies. It passed the Assembly last month and is now pending in the Senate. Major reforms like these require thoughtful analysis and collaboration. I recently amended my bill based on suggestions I have received from stakeholders and anticipate more amendments as I move forward in the coming year.
AB 18 narrows hundreds of funding streams to three tributaries, leaving just a couple dozen in their existing form. The bill would first establish a base level of funding for all students and would ensure no school loses funds in the base year. Another stream would be devoted and weighted to English Learners and low-income students who need more resources to be successful, while the last would be devoted to quality classroom instruction giving local school districts several options to meet the varied needs of its students.
It doesn’t make sense to distribute more money through a broken system, but it makes perfect sense to fix our school funding “engine” now, while the tank is unfortunately empty, so when we are able to fill it in the future, we will get better mileage out of it.
Making a smart investment in education now will bring substantial returns in the future by fueling our industries with the skilled workers they need to maintain the state’s competitive edge in a global market, and by assuring every Californian has the opportunity to make a sustainable living wage. Everyone benefits.

How important are the Arts?

I am fortunate to be traveling through portions of Europe that were not too long ago lifted from the veil of the Soviet Union’s gray and dull veneer. The experience is not only illuminating for the normal reasons that travel is mind-expanding, but because I am in a place with a thousand year tradition and commitment to the arts—music is everywhere and consistently good.Last night I marveled at a musician who plays music on glasses that are filled to different levels of water and thus, when touched in such a way can play beautiful melodies and create amazing sounds. Arts, the theatre, and architecture simply soar from place to place and one extraordinary edifice to another. This is the legacy of Prague—a place that has bounced back-and-forth through history under control of one conqueror or another. In just the past hundred years or so there was the overthrow of the Hapsburg Empire, the uniting of geographies to create an unnatural country; Nazi occupation during World War ll; the Soviet occupation for over 40 years and then independence a mere twenty years ago and a poet named Havel becoming its President.  

And all the while, these people have maintained a commitment to the arts–through war and repression they have persisted. Even the dreary and weary vagaries of Soviet domination have been unable to extinguish the love of song and the joy of creating that is clearly a hallmark of this country.

There is clearly a lesson here for us in California that we cannot and should not sacrifice the arts for austerity. We have all but removed them from our schools and have made it difficult for our children to experience music and theater and art because they are the first things to be sacrificed when budgets get tight. Without exposure to creativity, the mind does not develop to its full potential. And how sad, short-sighted and reckless it is to remove these opportunities from our youth—many of whom will never know their potential to play an instrument, write a symphony, build a building or paint a masterpiece and yet who might very well be the next Yo Yo Ma, Mozart, Frank Lloyd Wright or Picasso.
While there is no doubt we need to teach the basic skills to our children, we need to remind ourselves that exposing our children to the arts, music, literature are as basic and fundamental to their education as anything else we put before them. It is through the arts that we appreciate the spiritual (consider the amazing churches and temples of religions throughout the world), the up-lifting quality of Beethoven’s 9th, etc. etc. Without giving our children the chance and choice to pursue these life experiences, we deny them what others know so well as the glue that holds a society and its culture together. Let’s hold tight to what others have known for thousands of years: that we must encourage and pass strong traditions of music and the arts to our children and their children that reflect our nation’s vibrancy and limitless spirit.

Getting CA Back On The Right Track

Dan Walters asks, When U.S. economy recovers, will California be left behind?  Walters talks about “the business climate” which usually is interpreted to mean do we tax and regulate  businesses.

Well here is a business problem: many businesses say that recovery will be delayed in California because there just are not enough trained workers ready to compete in a 21st-century economy.  And the infrastructure is in terrible shape, and courts take too long to hear cases, etc.

These problems are not because of high taxes. Instead they are problems because we have cut taxes and government and now there is not enough government to educate workers, fix roads and bridges, hear court cares, etc.

We need to get our priorities back where they belong and get our government back to educating our kids and workforce and fixing roads and hearing court cases, etc., so businesses want to come here and stay here and thrive and provide the 21st century jobs that we need.


I’m Aaron Greenberg, a rising senior at the University of Chicago and a life-long Californian (and Angeleno). This summer I’ll be adding my voice to the debates that occupy this blog.
I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but it’s my hope that my opinions might help clarify those of “my generation.”
American and California politics often fracture along lines of race and class. But it has become increasingly clear that ‘age’ and ‘generational’ politics are also at work. The discourse of hope, imagination, change, etc. and the image of Obama (itself emulating youth culture’s visual vernacular) clearly distinguish him as the ‘youth candidate’ of the 2000s, following through with young peoples’ excitement over Howard Dean in 2004.
What is it that about Obama that gets us so excited? That makes his culture, personality and politics so appealing? (Even when promises of progressive change prove fickle). If Obama is an image, an avatar for something that “we” can believe in, what sorts of political concerns are behind that belief? Is Obama calling forth his own youth constituency? Or were they there before, waiting for the right candidate?
I hope that my posts — even if they concern only local politics — can help illuminate some of these questions, both as they relate immediately to Obama and to our larger, changing political culture.
From my own experience education and law enforcement (which seem to go increasingly hand-in-hand) are the most important political issues to young people. The political dividing looks something like this: conservatives want to “make government smaller” (reversing the public services they see as “entitlements”), while progressives want to strengthen public services like education in order to fashion a more enlightened citizenry.
The way these things have panned out, conservatives (especially during the past eight years of Bush) have set educational policy. Progressives find themselves again on the defensive. The No Child Left Behind legislation of Bush’s first term has effectively framed criteria for “success” around federal testing standards. Schools that don’t meet those standards are financially punished; those that excel are rewarded.
Match this with Proposition 13 type funding procedures (native to California, now spread across the nation) and the sort of circular poverty takes hold in deep, structural ways. Poor neighborhoods produce underfunded schools that lack the resources to meet federal testing requirements. Meanwhile school curricula aggressively ‘teach to the test,’ threatening once sacred elementary school rituals like the field trip.
What’s politically interesting about a curriculum tailored to tests? (Tests and their preparations created by private publishers).
The Spring 2008 editorial in the magazine Rethinking Schools gets to the bottom of what’s politically and socially so toxic about these teach-for-the-test programs:
“… the standards-tests-punishment trinity has led public schools even further from their democratic promise and turned them into profit machines for multinational publishing corporations and other private interests. And they are a testament to the resistance and search for alternatives that has been building throughout these hard times.”
But there’s even more that progressives need to think about. In reforming and amending legislation like NCLB and Proposition 13, progressives should pretend to be high school students who have spent their entire lives in public education. They need to think about what kinds of attitudes the average high school student will have towards education, and what kinds of attitudes they want public services (i.e. the state) to foster.
For most young people, public education and law enforcement are their two most important contact points with government. In light of the reputation and reality of law enforcement (at least in urban centers), it will be difficult to turn around attitudes toward police — and given the way that policing often violently enforces institutionalized state racism, the state will have to fundamentally change before we could even begin to focus attentions on a kinder, gentler police force.
Public education, given its current form, seems remote from any positive vision of it. How does education today help young people engage with democratic processes? Or even prepare them to be citizens in a multicultural republic? When educators are constrained to a curriculum covering only the most rudimentary lessons, what hope is there for developing an intellectual, creative and most importantly, critical electorate?
Conservatives would say that these aren’t the right questions. They want education private, or only nominally public (i.e. charter schools) because they don’t see government’s role or mandate as covering basic social services. (The most successful conservative activist on this front is anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, who has said that he wants to “reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The (mythical) “market” or “competition” are supposed to develop the institutions (medical, educational, municipal) that people need in order to live together. Government exists for inter/national security only. (And even there, given Blackwater’s rise, conservatives are even pushing the limits of their own ideology. Government doesn’t seem to have any role for them anymore.)
Progressives should work for education not simply because it’s such an important function of the democratic state, but because, from the perspective of its beneficiaries (young people) education is their main engagement with that state. It’s uncommon for anyone under 18 (or even 25) to have much involvement with federal employees. Teachers are government’s greatest asset, its most important ambassadors. That’s not to say they should represent an administration’s political line. Instead, they most deeply represent the aspirations of a democratic government that values equality, service and civic engagement.
There are many reasons that public education should focus less on testing and more on a holistic pedagogy — field trips, extracurricular activities, creative arts, physical education, community service, etc. Those are all valuable endeavors on their own. But making school more involved and less like a (testing) prison will also produce citizens who care more about their community. Better schools make better citizens who care about government, and who don’t see it as something to be subverted on the way to “progress.”

Job Killers — Or Just More Fear?

The California Chamber of Commerce has released its annual list of what it calls “job-killer bills.”
Why is it that the Chamber’s job-killer bills hit-list seems to only target Democrats? Not a single targeted bill belongs to a Republican. “Bad bills”, like those designed to protect public health, climate concerns or consumer rights legislation, are all authored by Democrats. The chamber has always been a lobbying organization, but it has gotten so bad that the Chamber seems to have devolved into little more than just one more fear-mongering Republican Party front group.
The “job killers” on this list are any laws that protect consumers, reduce energy use, require worker protections or anything else that might hinder a very few corporate executives from reeling in another several-hundred-million dollars a year. The jobs that are “killed” are those of lobbyists for the energy industry.
The first group on the “job killer” list is bills that ask for any kind of energy or water conservation or environmental standards for new housing construction. For example, AB 1085. The bill describes itself as undating,

“building design and construction standards and energy conservation standards for new residential and nonresidential buildings to reduce wasteful, uneconomic, inefficient, or unnecessary consumption of energy.”

But the Chamber’s job-killer list says this

Substantially increases the cost of housing and development in California by implementing significant energy efficiency measures

Now, think about this — if it costs less to heat and cool your house, this saves you money. If you want to add energy-saving technology like solar electric or water-heating on your house this creates good jobs. Maybe Exxon won’t benefit as much from this as the new, upcoming solar industry, but heck, the solar companies aren’t coughing up the big bucks and providing the good jobs to the Chamber of Commerce’s lobbyists!
The next group of “job killers” is “workplace mandates” like paid sick leave for employees, disability pay for on-the-job injuries or providing California’s citizens with health insurance.
Ah yes, the money businesses pay out to provide sick leave and disability pay for those pesky employees “kills jobs.” They could hire so many more people if they didn’t have to actually pay them and keep them from getting injured! This is one of the oldest arguments in the books. Slaves are always cheaper. But why do we have an economy if not to provide US with good jobs and other benefits? Do we have an economy so a very few corporate CEOs get all the money and benefits, or do we have an economy so the people can also get good pay and benefits and safe working conditions? The evidence (this, for example) is clear that good wages and benefits do not hurt jobs or the economy.
Then there are “economic development barriers” like asking online retailers to collect the same sales taxes that you local business owner collects, asking the wealthy to help pay for our schools, raising fire standards in high-risk fire areas and protecting our environment. I guess the online retailers must be paying the Chamber more this year than the retailers who have to actually rent storefronts and pay wages in your town. I can’t think of any other reason why SOME retailers should collect sales taxes and others should be exempt. Doesn’t this change the playing field waaayyy in favor of online retailers and harm the prospects of businesses that actually set up in our local communities? God forbid we ask them to help pay for our schools and police and fire protection!
This “job killer: list is nothing more than the use of fear to scare us into allowing a few rich corporations to have their way. By saying that protecting workers or the environment might “cost jobs” they are trying to make us afraid to ask these big corporations to live up to their responsibilities to our communities. How long will we let these lobbyists make us afraid?

Use Rebates To Help California Schools

I received this in my email today from a friend I trust:

hey everyone!
sorry for the mass email. but some things just call for them. so the other night, karen and i were sitting around wondering what to spend our tax rebate on: big screen tv? that new touchscreen phone? a trip to mexico to drink pina coladas? we decided to set up a site (which we threw up in a night so cut us some slack):
to encourage people to use their tax rebates (or portions of them) to stimulate the minds of the future. we just find it kind of sad that our public schools are so lacking in supplies… teachers are requesting such basic seeming needs: crayons, chairs, dictionaries, etc. and often end up paying for them themselves! not to mention that California is cutting more than $4.5 billion from k-12 education and this alone month they’ve laid off over 10,000 teachers. they have cut art classes, music classes, and even p.e.! in a state as wealthy and progressive as California, this feels kind of embarrassing. luckily Californians are caring and always ready to step up when asked.
anyway, i thought you may be interested in checking it out, and telling people about it! if you get a chance, digg, reddit it, blog about it, facebook it, and pass it on!
thanks for your time everyone

So click through to Stimulated Minds.

Conservatives Opposed To Rule Of Law, Our Constitution And Good Education

Conservative leader and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich writes about the California court ruling that children – even home-schooled children – must be educated by credentialed teachers, saying it is an example of “Judicial Supremacy.” In his article he quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial calling the ruling a “strange new chapter” in the “annals of judicial imperialism.” Later in the piece he writes,

The decision represents yet another case of a special interest — in this case, the education unions and bureaucracy — using the courts to get what they can’t get through the popular vote.
This is yet another example of judicial supremacy: Rule by an out-of-control judiciary rather than the will of the people. It joins court rulings such as the removal of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance on a long list of usurpations of the freedom and self-determination of the American people.

Lets take a moment to examine what Gingrich is really complaining about here.
Here’s how the American system of law and justice is supposed to work: We have a Constitution and we have laws that we are all supposed to follow by mutual agreement. And we have in place a judicial system for interpreting our Constitution and laws, again by mutual agreement. So when there is a dispute we take that dispute to the courts, and the judges rule according to the Constitution and laws. And then we agree to follow their rulings.
Newt Gingrich and the conservatives complain that this is “Judicial Supremacy” and “judicial imperialism.” Wow, this sounds pretty bad! But look at the meaning of these negative-sounding words. Isn’t “Judicial Supremacy” really just another way of saying that we agree to follow “rule of law?” When Gingrich uses language that casts a negative frame on the concept, isn’t he undermining public respect for the rule of law? Gingrich and other conservatives are happy enough with our American system when it works in their favor but when it rules against their agenda they launch another anti-government screed.
This post is not written in opposition to home or private schooling, but to point out the importance to all of us that we all operate under the same set of agreed-upon rules. At least in California, another agreed-upon rule is that our children should receive the best possible education. Article 9 of our California Constitution states that a good education is “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.” The wording at the beginning of Article 9 is as follows:

A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.

To this end Article 9 describes how California will manage a system of free, public schools. And Article 9 makes it clear that to this end our children deserve qualified, “credentialed” teachers.
Once again, We, the People of California have decided that a good education is “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.” This is what we want. Just what is it that Gingrich and other conservatives want instead if it doesn’t involve qualified teachers providing education to our state’s children?
Note – Gingrich also criticized court rulings mandating the “removal” of the phrase “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. But this misrepresents what the courts ruled. The courts ruled that public schools cannot force children to recite this pledge. It violates our Constitution’s clause against our having a government mandated religion to make children repeat that this is a nation “under God.” It also raises a question of just what he does want our Constitution to say. Does he want the government to mandate that we follow a particular religion? His writings suggest this to be the case.

A Line In The Sand — Stop Cutting School Budgets

Governor Schwarzenegger has declared a “fiscal emergency” and is asking the legislature to solve the problem entirely with budget cuts. He has asked for 10% “across-the-board” cuts which at first glance seems to sound fair, but really means avoiding decisions about what budget items are the most important. It means cutting schools 10%. And law enforcement. And medical care. (Of course, they can’t cut the interest owed on Governor Schwarzenegger’s past borrowing.)
And more than that — much, much more than that — it is a trick that leaves out the fact that the state is not collecting needed tax revenue because of loopholes that let big corporations and the wealthy off the hook while the rest of us make up the difference.
It’s time to draw a line in the sand and demand that our state government not cut the budget for our children’s education any more.
Isn’t there a lot of “fat” in the budget, just waiting to be cut? Most people think so. But think about this — every time the state has a shortfall they cut spending, saying they are cutting out the “fat.” As a result, in the decades since Proposition 13 passed they have trimmed and trimmed and trimmed, and we now are long past the point where there is anything left to cut. In fact, today California schools have the lowest number of administrators per student of any state. Our schools have squeezed and squeezed and dropped programs and forgone pay raises and they can’t operate any more efficiently.
I was listening to a radio show the other night, someone from the San Francisco schools said this budget cut could mean they have to have 61 students per classroom.
But the Republicans in the legislature won’t let us talk about taxes — not even the yacht tax loophole. You and I have to pay sales taxes but people who buy yachts and private jets do not. They keep California as the only state that won’t tax the oil companies for the oil they pump out from our state. They won’t find a way to make commercial property owners pay market-rate property taxes.
The Governor and a Republican minority in the Assembly and Senate are still willing to block all alternatives to cutting teachers and health care and roads and parks and those things that We, the People call our government.
So it is time to draw a line in the sand. No more cuts. It is time to ask the corporations and wealthy to start giving back some of the incredible wealth they have made off of the physical, legal and financial infrastructure that We, the People of California put in place that enabled their gains in the first place.
Here are steps you can take to help fight back:
First, join us. Click this link and join Speak Out California. This way we can keep you up to date on our activities, including our activities to help keep our schools funded.
Next, start Speaking Out yourself, writing letters to the editor and contacting your legislators, demanding that the state enact alternatives to budget cuts, like closing tax loopholes and making wealthy people pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us pay.
The California Teachers Association provides a web page that helps you find the correct contact information for your state legislators. Please write to your legislators.
The Education Coalition has a website with facts to help you make your points. Give them a visit, too.
And finally, this is Speak Out California’s fundraising month. Help us out so we can continue the work we are doing. Help us keep the progressive voice alive.

Political Suicide

Conventional wisdom considers it political suicide for a candidate to talk about the need to raise taxes so the state can pay its bills — especially if it involves reforming Proposition 13.
Much of the public thinks that government “spends too much” and that much of the state’s budget goes to “waste, fraud and abuse.”
Much of the pubic also thinks that the primary beneficiaries of Prop. 13 were little old ladies who otherwise would lose their homes to increasing property taxes.
Reality, rarely consulted, understands things very differently.
California faces another budget crisis. The Governor proposes solving the problem with budget cuts.
California’s budget pays teachers, fights crime, maintains roads and bridges and other necessary activities. There simply is no room for cuts to balance the budget. In fact, budget cuts just make following year shortfalls worse. If you lay off teachers they aren’t paying taxes. If you don’t fix roads the economy gets worse. In the long term, if you don’t educate kids employers move jobs to states and countries that do. And, of course, it is always a really bad idea to cut back on police and courts — especially after years and years of cuts in education.
Budget cuts don’t work, so how about the modern solution to budget problems? I mean, of course, just borrowing the needed money. But Governor Schwarzenegger proved that the state can’t borrow its way out of budget crunches: A major reason for this year’s budget problems is the interest owed on Schwarzenegger’s past easy fixes of issuing bonds.
The reality is that the budget cannot be fixed with budget cuts or more borrowing. We need to increase taxes. We need to start by reforming Proposition 13, raising corporate taxes, closing tax loopholes and taxing oil that is pumped from the ground. If we decide to do these things we might find that we not only fix California’s budget problems for good, we might even be able to lower income taxes.
Reality also shows that the major beneficiaries of Proposition 13 were not little old ladies but large commercial real estate holders. It would be so easy to put a “little old lady” exception into property tax rules so they are not forced from their homes. But it would be political suicide to even discuss reforming Proposition 13 because of the power of the large commercial real estate owners. They want their tax break and don’t care if the whole state goes broke and everyone else suffers. They are able to put a lot more money into the election process than regular people. That is why it is political suicide to talk about raising property taxes.
Why is it political suicide for a candidate to propose ways to fix problems, but not political suicide to cause them or make them worse?
A lot of people say they want a candidate who tells it like it is. But really, that would be political suicide.

Governor’s Veto of The Dream Act limits the Future for Many

This week the US Senate refused to take up a measure entitled, The DREAM ACT, legislation that would have protected certain children of illegal immigrants from deportation and qualified young adults up to age 30 for permanent legal residency if they completed at least two years of either post-secondary education or military service.
Earlier this month, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation that would have provided financial aid to California’s undocumented youngsters who are attending college. While the issue of immigration has taken on an intensity not seen in this state and country for many years, Speak Out California’s board member, Dyanne Cano, provides her thoughts as a young woman of color on the subject for our readers.

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