Articles tagged with California

Budget talks exacerbate partisanship in California

So if you think the gridlock that has stalled Congress and any movement on an economic stimulus package is bad, consider California. For months now, state lawmakers have wrangled over a budget proposal, with Gov. Schwarzenegger pitching seven, yes, seven different plans to address the state’s current $42 billion mid-year budget gap. And none of them, including a proposal from the Dems, have been approved.

Besides frustration, what has such inaction meant in California? Deferrment of tax refunds, for one. Same goes for state grants to college students. On Friday, dozens of state offices closed and more than 200,00 state employees took their first unpaid day off, as part of planned furlough that will last until June 2010.

In schools, officials are bracing for a similiar measure as the governor has given districts the option of ending the school year five days earlier; it’s technically not an option, since the state doesn’t plan on paying schools for the five days either way. In total, school districts across the state will have to slash $2.1 billion from their budgets during this fiscal year— a painful process, but one that schools are at least making movement on, unlike the state.

Legislators have been at an impasse because no one is willing to compromise on the best way to deal with the financial morass. Some want to address it with tax increases, while others want to do it purely through spending cuts.

The reality is the budget will probably have to do a little of both, since aggressive tax hikes would likely dampen consumer spending and drastic budget cuts would endanger critical social services and throw the state into an even deeper black hole. What’s critical, however, is that state officials reach a decision … now. Because their inaction puts everyone, especially schools which are dependent on state funding, at risk.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|February 9th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|Tags: , , |

Lowering the bar to raise graduation rate

California’s troubled economy — the state is on track to run out of cash in a matter of weeks unless drastic measures are enacted— has taken another victim in education: high expectations.

The board at Santa Ana Unified School District, the largest school system in Orange County, has been discussing and will likely move forward with a plan to reduce the number of credits required to graduate from 240 to 220, dropping them from the district with the most stringent requirements to among the lowest in the county.  

In 2008, the district’s graduation rate was 83 percent, which district officials say would have been bumped to 87 percent or higher under the proposed plan.

With about 56 percent of its roughly 52,000 students classified as English Language Learners, the district argues the change would give them a better a chance at succeeding, while providing all students more flexibility in choosing their classes.

While all of that is true, it seems like the real reason is lack of funding. Ironically, the district had increased it’s graduation requirements in 2001, in concert with a pilot program it had launched to increase the high school day from six to seven periods.

The district has since dropped that program and its hopes of expanding it districtwide as the state’s financial situation has worsened.

“The main goal is to ensure all students graduate,” Jennifer Ruvalcaba, a counselor at one of the district’s high school’s told the Orange County Register.

Yes, but shouldn’t the goal also be to ensure all students are competitive? This isn’t a slam on Santa Ana, which like all districts in California are struggling just to survive, but an admonishment to California legislators for letting its school system continue to slip, one credit at a time.

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|January 30th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance|Tags: , , , |

A good lawyer needed in bad economy

A little over a week ago, I was in sunny California; topping 80 degrees, I almost forgot it was winter until I returned to the Washington D.C. area and it’s single-digit weather. What a rude awakening!

Not as rude of an awakening, however, as many of the school districts are having in the Golden State, thanks to its plummeting economy, which was the reason I was out west in the first place. With one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, a housing bubble market that has seen the largest bust, and the foreclosure rates to prove it, California is among the worst affected by the economic downturn.

And education is definitely feeling the effects. Gov. Schwarzenneger has proposed cutting $2.1 billion from schools in the middle of this year and another $3.1 billion from education in the 2009-2010 school year. Ouch!

But as districts begin the torturous process of cutting “extras”, laying off employees, and finally eliminating whole programs or shuttering schools, officials must worry about another unpleasantry: lawsuits.

While I was in California, I visited the Capistrano Unified School District in the southern part of Orange County. There are a lot of good people there, trying to do good things on a shrinking budget. It, like other school districts, are trying to figure out how to continue providing a quality education, even as its budget continues to get smaller and smaller, while operating costs continue to rise. Naturally, they have had to cut and reduce many services— they cut their bus routes by more than half, for example.
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Naomi Dillon|January 23rd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|Tags: , , , |
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