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Warming Trend

January 04, 1988

Education issues vital to California's future simmer on the back burner in Sacramento, needing heat from the business community to make them boil. That is especially true of a fundamental review of the community-college system--a rethinking of everything from helping more students transfer to four-year schools to faculty hiring. Business, which can speak with authority in the Capitol, also needs to be heard on the rest of the public-school agenda.

Bills that propose far-reaching changes for public schools and the community colleges have been thoroughly studied and discussed by the colleges, school officials, unions and the Legislature, which convenes today.

For community colleges the key bill is AB 1725, sponsored by Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara). It has passed both houses, but in different forms, and is in the hands of a conference committee. The measure would declare state policy to be that the mission of community colleges is comprehensive, focused on preparing students for four-year colleges but also providing them with solid two-year programs aimed at more immediate employment needs.

The measure would require a core curriculum on all campuses to better prepare students for transfer to the University of California or the California State University system. It would increase professionalism on faculties and draw clear lines of responsibility for governing a 70-district system that has so far demonstrated that there is weakness, not strength, in numbers.

The Legislature and community-college leaders who are beginning to see the need for working together can go only so far without the help of the business community, which stands to gain the most from an improved system that will graduate better-educated students. That help must come in person in Sacramento, with business leaders arguing for the best possible legislation, then helping to persuade the governor to sign it.

That level of interest from business in the early 1980s led to curriculum reforms and teacher pay increases for kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools in 1983. More reforms are needed in such areas as teacher preparation and teacher testing.

The governor plans to give his highest priority in the K-through-12 grades to building new schools and repairing old ones. Population pressures on the schools are increasing; statewide, the children of immigrants and of the baby-boom generation will swell the school population by 140,000 a year for the next six years. Nowhere is the problem more obvious than in Los Angeles, where the school board still wrestles with overcrowding.

Last fall state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig told a legislative committee that the state needed 800 new schools. The bill: $6.5 billion--plus money to run the schools, pay the teachers and buy the books.

Sacramento will get its first hint of how much action to expect on school issues in mid-January, when Gov. George Deukmejian submits his budget proposals. Last year Honig exploded when he calculated that the budget shortchanged public schools. That led to angry political exchanges that not only spoiled any chance of bigger school budgets but also spilled over to higher education.

Deukmejian and Honig agreed over lunch last September to soften their rhetoric. They have stuck to their bargain so well that Honig was invited last month to make his case for more money for education and, according to Finance Director Jesse Huff, "did some convincing." As a result, Huff said, Honig should be pleased with the governor's next budget. Honig declared himself "hopeful," reserving final judgment until he sees the dollar figures in writing.

Education will be the chief beneficiary if the warming trend continues. But a most positive side effect will be that business can once again speak up for more money for schools without appearing to take sides in Sacramento politics.

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