Created 05/19/2010 - 1:33pm
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
The California State Department of Education recently released student performance rankings based on standardized tests. In the suburban Pleasanton school district, every single school scored in the top 20 percent statewide. In the city of Oakland, however, 50% of our schools received the lowest possible rank.
On the heel of these new rankings, the California budget was released- cutting school budgets to the bone. Additionally the Governor is championing Senate Bill 955 which would attack the rights of school employees to have a due process in firings and would disregard seniority in layoffs. Though SB955 is being portrayed as good for low income communities of color, in truth it's just a divide-and-conquer strategy to attack unions and shift the debate away from the schools' lack of resources as the root of our educational problems.
While it is true that other factors besides seniority should be considered in teacher layoffs, SB 955 is NOT the answer. This bill would gut teachers’ right to an impartial dismissal hearing and change the timeline for notification for teacher layoffs. This bill will make it harder not easier to recruit qualified teachers and would not save the state or local governments a single dime.
If we want educational equity, we need to revise our budget priorities. Consider the following:
--California spends over $436 million annually on the Division of Juvenile Justice (”DJJ”) to lock-up 1400 youth. DJJ is a costly system with a 72% failure rate—meaning 72 percent of youth will be rearrested shortly after release.
--California is on track to spend over $300,000 per youth, per year for lock up in the failed DJJ system. In comparison, a young person in a California public school only merits a $7,088 per youth, per year investment. California ranks 48th in the country when it comes to investing in K-12 education.
The Governor just proposed more cuts to our local schools, but wants to maintain decrepit youth prisons. What the Ella Baker Center and our allies have long advised is to close the DJJ youth prisons– and reallocate a third of that budget to public schools, a third to counties for youth rehabilitation, and a third back to the crippled budget.
Over the last several months, Gov. Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature could have found time to work out a plan that set priorities, cut back on bureaucracy, and limited the damage to struggling schools. Instead Senator Huff and the Governor offer our most experienced teachers up for budgetary sacrifice.
Racial and economic organizations like the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights support community investment first and foremost, including the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA). QIEA moves us in the right direction by funding the reduction of student-to-counselor ratios and class size in low-income schools. Unfortunately, it is not a state-wide program. Only a few schools have been chosen by lottery--we need QEIA statewide. One way to fund it would be through shifting resources from the failing youth prisons to schools.
We can't divide and conquer our way to school reform. Pitting teachers against students and making it easier to fire senior teachers won’t do the trick. Neither will continuing to adopt budgets whose priorities are way out of whack. Educational equity will be achieved only if it is shaped by a powerful vision for what our schools should look like and are given the financial and human resources needed to achieve that vision.
Jakada Imani is the Executive Director of The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a non-profit strategy and action center working for justice, opportunity and peace in urban America.
From: the California Progress Report