How do we improve California’s public schools? Ask that question in a chamber full of lawmakers, and the answer might go something like — do a better job of teaching.
Ask a teacher, and the answer might go something like — spend more tax dollars on public education.
Ask a dozen hard-working taxpayers, and the answer might go something like — how should we know?
Making our public schools better may be a complicated issue, but not for the California Education Coalition, a group of school board members, education administrators and unions. For them, it’s not at all complicated. Just spend more on public schools.
That was the message delivered recently to the state Senate budget subcommittee by representatives from the Education Coalition. They were quite forthright in sharing their opinion with lawmakers, and it boiled down to this:
If California wants to be among the ranks of the 10 states that spend the most on public education, lawmakers — which means taxpayers — would somehow have to spend $36 billion more each year than is now spent annually on K-12 public schools.
Experts reckon this state is spending about $10,000 per student per year, which seems a princely sum — until you learn that’s about $6,000 per student per year less than the average of the 10 top-spending states. New York state, for example, is spending just less than $20,000 per student per year on K-12 public schools.
Many people, especially many of those aforementioned hard-working taxpayers, remain doubtful that throwing money at education will solve the problem of lackluster student performance. California has been spending more and more on public education through the years, only to see this state’s academic rankings continue to drop. California public school students were once among the nation’s elite, but these days are below average in almost every academic discipline.
We don’t have the answer to that question of how to improve public education. We only know it must be done.
For proof of that, one need travel no further than the nearest state prison. California’s prison system is seriously overcrowded, to such an extent that the federal government has stepped in to mandate change. Yet, we keep throwing tax money at the prison system.
In fact, if you really want a tough question, how about this — why does California spend about $60,000 a year to house a convicted felon, but only about $10,000 a year to teach kids things they need to know that could conceivably keep them away from a life of crime?
Just in an intuitive sense, it would seem to be far more practical to spend the money up front, teaching children to read, write and add, than at the dead end of a state prison.
So, perhaps it turns out to be an issue of priorities, and California’s priorities seem to be more than a little confused. Is it possible that any thinking Californian would rather spend $60,000 a year warehousing an inmate, than $10,000 a year educating a child?
Still, throwing money at public education’s deficiencies hasn’t solved the problem. So, what should we do?
The best place to start would be to rewrite the state’s massive education code, which is outdated and no longer works. And we need to be more involved in supporting and helping community schools. A greater citizen participation could be a magic potion, and maybe educators wouldn’t feel like they’re working in a vacuum.
This is important, and we need to talk about it.