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We Need to Stop Being Cheap About Education

Tough times or not, our state has a large economy, but we are not paying proportionally to meet the needs of our educational system and this will only make us weaker in the future.

We have been in a recession for a couple of years now.  I would presume that virtually everyone reading this has been impacted, or at the least knows someone who has suffered from our economic downturn. I know, it would seem like this subject has been talked to death. I have definitely written on the subject previously. This time my concern will be more sociological in nature and the choices we appear to be making.

I want to start by throwing some facts in your direction. (http://cbp.org/publicastions/education_land.html)

  • California ranks 46 in the country for spending per K-12 student at $8,908; the national average is $11,764.
  • California ranks 47 in the country for percent of personal income spent on K-12 education at 3.37%; the national average is 4.29%.
  • California ranks 50 in the country for K-12 students per teacher at 20.5; the national average is 13.8.

I guess it should come as no surprise that California’s K-12 students rank 46-48 (depending on the study you look at) for academic achievement and standardized testing performance.  When you consider that even in these challenging times California’s economy ranks as roughly the 10th largest in the world these are embarrassing statistics. 

I have heard from others that “we just need to cut the fat.”  It has been 4 years since the start of the “great recession” and I am confident that the fat has been cut.  What is left is only the quality and scale of the educational program we deliver to our children. 

It should be noted that if you look up the numbers for all states you will find that plus or minus 1-2 positions, spending across the country tracks very closely with academic performance.  I guess it is no surprise therefore that our performance ranks at 46 out of 50 since that is where the spending also falls. (www.nea.org/assets/docs/.../NEA_Rankings_and_Estimates010711.pdf

Pre-1978 our educational system was funded largely by property taxes but Prop. 13 changed all that.  Prop. 98 was passed in 1988 as an effort to create a funding baseline in response to the issues created by Prop. 13.  

With the addition of more and more entitlement and service programs from the state, Prop. 98 appears more like a ceiling than a baseline in application.  Local property taxes now make up approximately 20% of the education budget and the balance comes mostly from the state general fund. 

The general fund is primarily built from personal income taxes, sales taxes and vehicle fees.  The first two in the aforementioned list are extremely volatile depending on economic conditions making this a very unstable way to fund public education. 

I would suspect that most of what I have said to this point is not new.  During the last 30-35 years, public education in California has taken a nose dive both in funding and performance.  Whether you wish to blame Prop. 13 at this point is moot. 

During this same period we have added a host of state funded entitlement and service programs.  Some of these programs include Medical-Cal, prescription drug assistance, hospice care, disability services, in home nursing; the list goes on and on.  I bring up these programs because I am concerned about our society as a whole and the choices we now appear to be making. 

For most our western history, during tough times adults have always made personal sacrifice for the sake of their children and their children’s future.  I suspect that a cultural anthropologist would tell me that this behavior actually dates to well before modern history.

So here we are in the largest economic down turn in the U.S. in 70 years, and look at the choices we are making.  During the last 30-35 years, state funding for public education has continued to slide while we have continued to add to the entitlement and support programs for our elderly. 

I know, these programs have seen budget cuts over the last few years as well, but the proportion of the state budget they consume is significantly higher now than 3 decades ago.  Obviously, cutting these programs impacts members of our society who are least able to find other resources or defend themselves, but the choice still concerns me.

The per-child level of funding that the State of California is providing to public schools is currently at roughly the same level it was in 1999.  If you compound all the San Diego County COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustments) for the last 11-12 years you get a 27% rate of inflation. 

I know that in 1999 I was paying $1.54 per gallon of gas for my car and it has more than doubled since then. Food, clothing, utilities, transportation, housing, school supplies and everything else has gone up during the last 12 years. 

I often read articles in which someone is lambasting the quality of public education.  There is no doubt that there was fat to be trimmed, there was no doubt that some of the nice-to-have education programs had to be let go. But if you pay less, you have to expect less.  Funding schools at 1999 levels with 2012 costs means realistically that schools have to provide 20-25% less educational services than they did in even in 1999. 

As a side note: while you may want to blame the state legislature, we should not be blaming the size of government.  California ranks 46 out of 50 states for number of state employees relative to population. We could definitely look at the benefit packages some of them enjoy, but that is a separate conversation.

There is obviously no good answer here. I sure don’t want to imply that after you reach 70 you are disposable so that more resources are available to the young, but sometimes we do have to make tough choices. 

Now I am back to the sociological aspect of this.  If our children are really a priority to us, shouldn’t we be disproportionately protecting that portion of the budget? 

I am the last one who wants to pull the plug on grandma, but tough choices need to be made.  If we allow education to take this big a step backwards for any length of time, our economy and our children will carry the result for decades. 

There are some scary social questions that could be asked here. Have we become a society of selfish adults? Are the members of the “baby-boomer” generation that are now aging, that out of touch with historical social norms? Is living in the moment that much more important than planning and investing in the future and our children who will inherit that future?

Tough times or not, our state has a large economy, but we are not paying proportionally to meet the needs of our educational system and this will only make us weaker in the future. 

As a baby-boomer myself it bothers me that my generation is so consumed in itself that we are letting our children and grandchildren disproportionately pay the long term price. We need to either make tough sacrifices as adults for the sake of our children, or agree to more taxes to ensure the educational system that our children desperately need.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

barry tarvin February 13, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Darn it Kevin, you beat me to it. With all the "facts & figures" in the article, why were the Beni. packages left out? Sure state employees deserve "packages" but they must be reasonable. Spiking in the last few years before retirement must stop. Higher levels of contribution must be added. I think I'd be fine with the savings being sent directly to the classroom.
Scott H. Kidwell February 13, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Getting suckered into comparisons to other states in a circular pattern with the idea that we all need to do what other governments are doing is, in part, what brought us the ever higher golden civil pensions/retirements that we'll be paying for years.
Paul Schnaubelt February 14, 2012 at 04:04 AM
Thank you. What is sad is that the negative comments simply spout the same buzz words and phrases designed to evoke response without thought. Teaching is a stressful occupation. In what other profession is one expected to be 100% effective by 2014. Will all crime be eradicated? All disease and illness adequately treated? All fires prevented? No. Only education has that pressure and with it continually reduced funding. The average pension of a teacher--not an administrator--is $36,000 a year , that after an average of 27 years of service, hardly exorbitant. And by the way, the teacher paid 8% of his/her salary towards that pension every month--and does not receive social security. What a penurious society when we begrudge those providing the most important of services health benefits. No one who works as a teacher gets rich at the public trough. Those who continue this myth do disservice to our community and our nation by discouraging the best and brightest from entering this profession.
Scott H. Kidwell February 14, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Contrary to belief above the education industry is not the only group that must work under budget constraints and pressures to perform. Their brand of difficulty may be different, but no more real or stressful that the private sector. Are comparisons of misery the correct measuring device for allocation of resources available?
Scott H. Kidwell February 14, 2012 at 03:02 PM
How often?
Komfort February 14, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Not as often as some teachers. http://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/la-sex-crime-teacher-paid-to-drop-appeal-over-firing/
Scott H. Kidwell February 14, 2012 at 04:56 PM
YIKES! Sorry my comment led that direction. Gratefully, the vast overwhelming majority of educators, notwithstanding the politics of pay and benefits, would probably agree that it is better that "whosoever shall offend one of these little ones ..., it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."
Kevin George February 14, 2012 at 05:26 PM
But then again they don't have to be worry about being fired or going out of business for doing a sub par job do they? How many teachers are fired every year for incompetence? Does that mean there aren't any incompetent teachers? You aren't allowed to participate in Social Security? The horror!!!! I am forced to pay into SS and as a self employed person I pay both sides, just under15%. After paying taxes in the most taxed State in the union, that leaves me with nothing to invest in MY OWN retirement, which makes that $36,000 " pittance" sound pretty good. No one expects you to be 100% effective, but the 25% drop out rate is FAR from 100% effective. What other profession survives with a 25% failure rate? Ah.........Buzz words....... Are you kidding? You work at the buzz word factory!
Komfort February 14, 2012 at 05:42 PM
The vast majority? A "federation" you might say. http://dailycaller.com/2011/04/11/teachers-support-cop-killer/ "Between negotiating for more benefits and teaching their students, the California Federation of Teachers has adopted a resolution of support for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. At the CFT’s 2011 Convention in late March, the delegates passed 30 resolutions, from solidifying support for anti-bullying legislation to supporting transitional kindergarten. Among the resolutions largely pertaining to education and collective bargaining rights was Resolution 19 – to “Reaffirm support for death row journalist.” “Therefore, be it resolved, that the California Federation of Teachers reaffirm its support and demand that the courts consider the evidence of innocence of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” the Committee Report reads. Mumia Abu-Jamal was a former member of the Black Panthers who was found guilty of murdering Philadelphia police officer Daniel J. Faulkner during a routine traffic stop in 1981. Abu-Jamal was subsequently sentenced to death."
Komfort February 14, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Actual spending per pupil is different than reported spending? Mel and Paul probably want this to be a separate conversation also. http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa662.pdf
Mel Mann February 14, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Komfort: My blog was intended to focus on our declining K-12 education system and the direct relationship that can be found with the level of funding. Nevertheless, blogs tend to have a life of their own and I will let the dialog go its own path…such is the nature of free speech.
Kevin George February 14, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Are these indicators of the great job for which you should be rewarded? Statewide, about 90 percent of California's community college students need remedial math and 75 percent need remedial English. http://www.pe.com/local-news/riverside-county/corona/corona-headlines-index/20110210-more-college-students-require-remedial-courses.ece Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/21/high-school-grads-fail-military-exam_n_799767.html
Kevin George February 14, 2012 at 06:27 PM
C'mon K.........the CATO Institute? To these folks you may as well have said " from the law office of Satan, Hitler and Mussolini."
Komfort February 14, 2012 at 06:34 PM
To the exclusion of any budgetary items you hope to not discuss.
David B Secor February 14, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Thanks, Mel. It's unfortunate, but comments here often ignore the original topic and quickly move into the "Twilight Zone" of sex crimes, cop-killers, Satan, etc. I expect that most readers, who have not commented, appreciate your post and realize that quality, innovative public education is vital and costs money.
Kevin George February 14, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Perhaps it was Mark Berndts stress level that Paul Schnaubelt was talking about.
Kevin George February 14, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Everyone wishes they could restrict an argument to eliminate the opposition but that went out with the advent of the First Amendment. The California Federation of Teachers were the people guilty of poking their nose where it didn't belong, Komfort just reiterated it. And the ever expanding sex crimes case in LA cannot be ignored in a discussion about California education. Can you talk about the Catholic church without having child molestation mentioned these days? Thanks for pointing out that education costs money, but it's the amount that is wasted and frittered away that is the point of discussion here.
Komfort February 14, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Back to the subject at hand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHYtYE8_bzU
Russell Buckley February 14, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Mel - you leave out a few pertinent facts: (1) California public school teachers are the highest paid in the nation. Their pensions are off the table when salaries are negotiated. (2) Californians pay the highest sales taxes in the nation - not even considering local sales taxes (3) Californians pay the second highest gas tax in the nation (4) Californians pay the second highest capital gains tax in the nation (5) Californians pay the third highest state income tax in the nation (the 9.3% bracket starts at the mighty income of $47,000 for individuals). (6) Californians pay the highest Cap and Trade tax in the nation (in fact the only one) (7) Californians pay the sixth highest overall taxes in the nation - and the states that pay more are all scrambling to stay afloat. (8) California corporations pay the highest corporate tax rate west of the Mississippi. The California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility calculated that if pensions were reformed, the state could save $500 billion over the next 30 years - yet we have done little to reduce them to levels enjoyed by private sector taxpayers. We throw money at frivolous projects - like hi speed rail - that almost everyone agrees are a waste of money. We spend three times as much per prisoner as the state with the second highest prison population (Texas). Mel, we have a major spending problem - largely driven by public sector union demands - that, I'm sorry to say, won't be corrected as long as we continue to feed the beast.
Komfort February 14, 2012 at 07:56 PM
"that is a separate conversation."
Russell Buckley February 14, 2012 at 09:04 PM
After I submitted my comment to Mel's blog, I started wondering how Mels "fact" that California is 46th among states in per pupil spending could be true if my "fact" that California teachers are highest paid in the nation is also true. I looked some on the internet and most of the sites I saw put California somewhere in the middle in per pupil spending. Mel - would you mind telling me the reference for California being 46th in the nation? I ask in the spirit of moving closer to agreement on the just what situation is, and what needs to be done to make things better.
Mel Mann February 14, 2012 at 09:18 PM
http://www.cbp.org/publications/education_land.html, then select the first report.
Russell Buckley February 14, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Mel - the website you reference says the State spends $8,900 per pupil, while the California Watchdog says the average in Los Angeles is more like $29,000. Help me reconcile those figures. Is the difference spending from local sources like property taxes? Too, how do you square the facts that California has the highest paid teachers if our per pupil spending is among the lowest?
Kevin George February 14, 2012 at 09:57 PM
That link is a lot to absorb. I could be wrong but I don't see a mention of pensions being included anywhere.
Komfort February 14, 2012 at 10:04 PM
"That is a separate conversation."
Craig Maxwell February 14, 2012 at 10:18 PM
"Public education." (United Nations, Happy Birthday, State Worker, Athletic Scholarship, Girlfriend, etc.)
Mel Mann February 15, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Russell, I do not have the current budget for the LMSVSD I recall that In 2008 it was $101M, I would suspect with cuts since then it is closer to $90M now. The district population is between 12-13K last time I saw one of their fact sheets. The aforementioned numbers are in line with the $8,900 per student number. I would suspect that the $29K comes from either a private school or a school doing a lot of independent fundrasing (a practice that varies widely in success depending on the wealth of the local community. I have also seen the numbers indicating that the California teachers are in the top two states for ranking of pay. At the same time, we all know that the cost of living is significant for many of our larger cities. I read once that $40K in San Diego is equal to $29K in many other parts of the country.
Komfort February 15, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Name___________________________ Monthly____ Annual _________District DOBBERTEEN, KATHIE D _______$8,886.97 __$106,643.64____ LA MESA-SPRING VALLEY HOGARTH, WARREN T________ $16,680.00__ $200,160.00____ LA MESA-SPRING VALLEY MUNDEN, DENNIS E__________ $9,620.37__ $115,444.44____ LA MESA-SPRING VALLEY ROYAL, DON G ________________$11,206.81 __$134,481.72____ LA MESA-SPRING VALLEY SUTTON, CYNTHIA_____________ $9,521.62 __$114,259.44 ____LA MESA-SPRING VALLEY http://www.californiansforpensionreform.com/database.asp?vtsearchname=&vtsearchemploy=LA+MESA-SPRING+VALLEY&vtquery=1&vttable=calstrs
Komfort February 15, 2012 at 01:37 AM
"For example, Hogarth’s pension income grew by 2 percent last year, even as teachers in his former La Mesa-Spring Valley School District were directed to cut pink erasers in half to stretch their limited classroom supplies and save money. “I think in times of recession, it’s a normal response to be critical of pensions,” Hogarth said. “If you asked anyone five years ago, I don’t think anyone would have cared.” http://m.utsandiego.com/news/2010/dec/27/educator-pension-crunch-looms/
Russell Buckley February 15, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Pensions are not a separate conversation - as much as you might like them to be. California public sector pensions are the 600 pound gorilla that crowds out many worthwhile programs. Teachers pensions certainly aren't the worst offenders, but if teachers were to accept reasonable pensions - meaning ones costing about the same as in the private sector, we could afford plenty of erasers - and more teachers. But pensions are never on the table during negotiations. The good old boys and girls who benefit most from them, through their unions, have see to that. You are right, people trusted their elected leaders to manage their money in a frugal manner and had no idea how steadily the public sector unions increased both salaries and pensions until the big increases started to break the bank. The Proposition L tax increase in La Mesa may have been the first warning that many of us had locally. The state's inability to balance the budget was another. Once people started to see the imbalance, they started to speak up and get involved. I have nothing against anyone who works in the public sector - they, like those in the private sector, do necessary work. But we must get pensions back in line with those in the private sector if we want to slow our steady trip into the financial abyss.

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