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At home or in school, California students face harder times, survey finds

Statewide poll of principals reveals an increase in cutbacks and layoffs at schools, and unemployment and homelessness among families.

January 21, 2010|By Howard Blume

The state's children found no escape from harder times last year whether at school, where they endured larger classes, unfamiliar teachers and scarce supplies -- or at home, where they faced family stresses from emptier refrigerators, job losses and more frequent dislocation.

The grim compilation comes in a report to be released today by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access and the University of California All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity.

"It's the bleakest I've ever seen," said one Los Angeles County school principal, who, like others in the principals survey, participated anonymously.

Among the report's findings:

* High-poverty schools were more than four times as likely (65.6% to 15%) as low-poverty schools to experience teacher layoffs.

* 70% of principals reported that summer school had been cut back severely or eliminated. High-poverty schools were almost three times as likely (48.7% to 16.7%) as low-poverty schools to eliminate summer school.

* 48% of principals reported that after-school programs were cut or eliminated -- in many cases, ending tutoring programs.

* Almost one-third of principals reported increased homelessness; several indicated they had never before seen homelessness at their schools.

* Principals in high-poverty schools were three times as likely (44% to 15%) as those from low-poverty schools to say that support services outside school also were slashed.

A principal in the Inland Empire, where foreclosure rates are as high as 1 in 33 homes, reported long wait times for families she referred to public agencies and nonprofits for support and help.

The proportion of state residents receiving food stamps rose by 25% between September 2008 and September 2009, according to the report.

One principal from Solano County in Northern California recounted a meeting for Spanish-speaking parents where he learned that three-fourths of the parents council had lost their jobs since their previous gathering. A principal from Los Angeles County reported: "I don't go through a day that I don't hear three or four people say they need to move because of layoffs." Another Los Angeles County principal lamented the loss of custodians: "I have 800 children, 50 classrooms. . . . Two people are told they've got to clean up and keep it sanitary. It's impossible."

Some principals reported collecting money to help families and told of teachers who bought food and clothes for students, and, in a few cases, took students into their homes.

In 2009, 29 school systems -- out of more than 1,000 -- put parcel taxes before voters to stem the cuts. Twenty passed, but not one in a district where at least 40% of students receive subsidized meals, the researchers reported.

Polling by the high-poverty Los Angeles Unified School District suggests that local voters might be an exception, according to people who work with the district.

Failing that or other new revenues, analysts have said, more cuts are expected.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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