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Attacking the Textbook Crisis

School board should grant Zacarias' request for more funds

September 29, 1997

Los Angeles school Supt. Ruben Zacarias has pledged to spend an additional $4.5 million on textbooks this year, an increase of nearly 50% per student at the high school level. The size of the increase reflects the depth of the need in a school district where far too few students have textbooks they can take home. Zacarias says his proposal is a beginning, and he has directed staff members to identify more funds that can be spent on textbooks. His goal is to give every student the proper textbooks.

The superintendent was responding to Los Angeles Times writer Amy Pyle's reports of a major textbook shortage throughout the district, especially at the high school level. At a time when students are being challenged to do more rigorous work, many are forced to share books in one or more classes and routinely have none to take home. The shortage requires teachers to waste precious classroom time reading aloud and reviewing.

The superintendent also has instructed principals to give priority to textbook purchases out of instructional funds controlled at the campus level. But when those funds fall short, the purchases could come at the expense of paper, pencils, laboratory supplies and other materials that must be bought from the same locally controlled pot. Since high school textbooks cost up to $60 each, cost-saving measures such as buying some used textbooks will be needed even with a new infusion of funds.

School board member David Tokofsky calls for spending $2 million more than Zacarias on textbooks, noting that the district's budget, fattened by a surge in state revenues and Sacramento's welcome focus on public schools, has risen by about $1 billion over the preceding year. He argues correctly that textbooks should get priority over personnel costs.

Mayor Richard Riordan, a champion of public education, has described the textbook shortage as an offense against the schoolchildren of Los Angeles. He is right. California law requires that every student have the necessary textbooks, and the Los Angeles Unified School District fails to meet that standard. Zacarias intends to present his proposal to the school board on Oct. 6. Board members should not hesitate to endorse it.

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