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Q & A: State Schools Funding

June 15, 2005

California's public schools, once a model for the rest of the nation, now typically rank at the low end of most education surveys of per-pupil funding, teacher salaries and test scores.

As the Legislature faces a constitutional deadline today to approve a budget, Times education editor Beth Shuster asked five education experts about the state of schools.

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GET SCHOOL FUNDING WHERE IT SHOULD BE?

James A. Fleming, Capistrano Unified School District chief

With California the sixth-largest economy in the world, state leaders should bring us to the national median of states when it comes to per-pupil spending. We would then rank 25th among states. Now we rank 44th. California's educational community should come together with state government leaders and determine the basic per-pupil level required to run a ... public school with high standards and high expectations.

WHAT SPECIFICALLY SHOULD THE STATE DO TO GET THE MONEY?

Foremost, California must revamp the way we now fund public schools. Secondly, it must also provide greater equity across the state. For example, my district last year received a $4,750 per-pupil basic allocation, plus an additional $1,782 restricted to specific programs as dictated by the state. Our total allotment of $6,532 is $2,970 per student less than the $9,502 allocated to our neighboring district.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 25, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
School funding -- A question-and-answer chart on state schools funding in the June 15 California section said California ranked at the low end of most education surveys of teacher salaries. The surveys include the cost of living as a factor.

OUR SCHOOLS WERE ONCE NATIONAL LEADERS. WHAT HAPPENED?

I don't accept the notion that achievement levels have plummeted. We educate more children today than in previous generations when whole segments of the student populations were benignly ignored. Yes, there are pockets within the state where educators do a poor job. But state and national educational accountability requirements no longer let problems be ignored.... The key issue remains, however, the adequacy of basic funding.... The state and federal governments have mandated, correctly, that all children be educated, but both state and federal governments have declined to provide the money needed to do so fairly.

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Barbara E. Kerr, California Teachers Assn. president

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GET SCHOOL FUNDING WHERE IT SHOULD BE?

We need a whole new approach to the question of school funding. We have some of the highest student achievement in the country, and our expectations for school funding must match our expectations for student achievement. We know the state can't catch up all at once, but something must be done.... Getting to the national average in per-pupil funding certainly would be a start.

WHAT SPECIFICALLY SHOULD THE STATE DO TO GET THE MONEY?

School funding should not be part of a zero-sum game. For instance, if we want our children to achieve, they also need decent healthcare. The governor needs to stop his political posturing and work with legislators to adopt a budget that protects our schools. Leading the state is not about pitting schools against healthcare. He should keep his promise to fully fund public education.

OUR SCHOOLS WERE ONCE NATIONAL LEADERS. WHAT HAPPENED?

By 2000, we were in the neighborhood of $700 below the national average. As a result, in a classroom of 20 students to one teacher, we are spending $14,000 less than the national average; for classrooms with more students, that range is between $21,000 at 30 students to one teacher and $28,000 per classroom with 40 students. In addition, California currently ranks 49th in student class sizes, 47th in the number of computers per student, and dead last in the number of librarians and counselors per student.

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Jack O'Connell, California chief of public instruction

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GET SCHOOL FUNDING WHERE IT SHOULD BE?

Currently, we look at state revenues and simply divide up the pie between education, health services, transportation and other state services. Education gets its lump sum and then is told to go educate our children. Instead of this model, shouldn't California do the research to know what it would take to educate all California students to reach academic proficiency?

WHAT SPECIFICALLY SHOULD THE STATE DO TO GET THE MONEY?

Once we have an idea -- based on research rather than conjecture -- of what it would take to adequately fund our schools, we will, undoubtedly, need to have a statewide conversation about education funding levels.

OUR SCHOOLS WERE ONCE NATIONAL LEADERS. WHAT HAPPENED?

In the same period that school funding levels have declined in California, demographic changes have produced a student population that is more complex, challenging and costly to educate.... It will require significant new investments in our education system to meet the challenge of preparing California's student population to [meet] the demands of the 21st century.

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Mary Perry, EdSource deputy director

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO GET SCHOOL FUNDING WHERE IT SHOULD BE?

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