Although the Lodi Unified School District passed a budget for next year by using $7.7 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Funding from the federal government, what will happen in future years as California's financial crisis grows is unclear—and frightening. [Lodi Unified Passes $246 Million Budget, by Jennifer Bonnet, Lodi News-Sentinel, June 16, 2009]
The deep and ongoing cuts in California's education funding are an assault on what was once the most progressive system in the country.
Exactly 160 years ago, Robert Semple, the president of the California Constitutional Convention, said: "If the people are to govern themselves, they should be qualified to do it. They must be educated, they must educate their children; they must provide means for the diffusion of knowledge and the progress of enlightened principles."
Where, oh where, have those "enlightened principles" gone?
While more than 370,000 California high school seniors graduated in 2008, the state ranks only 40th nationwide in its rate of high school graduates that enter college.
One in five students dropped out of a California high school last year—about the same as the year before, according to state Superintendent Jack O'Connell. [California's High School Drop Out Rate at 20 Percent, by Nanette Asminov, San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 2009]
Think about all the millions of taxpayer dollars essentially wasted on those failed students during their primary school years.
Although California is the nation's wealthiest state and home to 20 percent of the world's billionaires, teachers live on the margin. The state's approach to mending education's never-ending crisis—cutting jobs and mandating pay cuts—guarantees that teaching will be an ever less attractive career for those high school students who actually make it to college and might be inclined to pursue education courses.
College-bound students are increasingly fewer. In 2008, the Public Policy Institute of California conducted a survey in which 84 percent of Californians responded that affording college is "somewhat of a problem" for today's students while 53 percent called it a "big problem." Sixty-six percent of those surveyed believed that the cost of a college education prevents qualified students from enrolling.
One big reason: the California Postsecondary Education Commission found that 18 percent of public college graduates and 29 percent of private college graduates have debt that would exceed manageable levels by accepting a job with earnings equivalent to a teacher's starting salary.
As it is, California teachers have only the 32nd highest salaries in the country when adjusted for cost of living. And like most teachers nationwide, they frequently pay out of pocket for basic classroom tools like pencils and paper.
The continuing assaults on public education undermine the living standards of teachers and school administrators. But more critically, virtually every California resident is negatively impacted because all rely, directly or indirectly, on public schools, colleges and universities to secure a decent education for their children and, as a result, to contribute to society's common good.
California's budget shortfall in its present form stems from the housing and high-tech collapses. But when it comes to money for education, as the old saying goes, "it's always something."
At this late date, Californians can do little to reverse education's downhill trend.
However, I'll recommend the same solution I have put forward for more than twenty years: smaller families, stricter controls on in-migration and tougher enforcement of existing immigration laws, all three of which would immediately ease the pressure on California's soaring population.
And, returning to another related theme that I have promoted for as long as I can remember, California's multiple social pressures would be alleviated if the state had fewer residents.
But does anyone out there listen?
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.