Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 11:14 pm | Fair 71º


Bill Cirone: Special Legislative Session Needed on Education

It's an important first step in making California eligible for new federal funding

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken an important step in calling for a special legislative session to address school accountability measures that will satisfy requirements for new federal education dollars. We salute those efforts.

Bill Cirone
Bill Cirone

For several decades, California has been in a perpetual budget crisis that has enormous negative consequences for our schools. In terms of education, inadequate funding hurts those children who are now in the classroom, as well as future generations of adults who would bear the fruits of an inadequate education. Because our human resources are our most important treasure in a democracy, we must do what we can to fight for those institutions that serve our students and their families.

In seeking financial solutions in this crisis, it’s clear that we have to pursue every avenue available.

The background context for this is important. The typical U.S. school has 30 percent more teachers than California, 61 percent more school site administrators than California and 92 percent more counselors than California. Those rankings do not factor in the $7.6 billion in actual cuts to school programs, $5 billion in lost COLAs and $4.5 billion in deferrals to schools since last February, as a result of the crisis. That’s $17 billion total. Add in cuts to this school year, and school funding falls about 18.4 percent below what’s called for by state law.

No matter what your perspective, it’s clear that lack of funding has serious consequences for students. That’s why the federal dollars become so vital.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently unveiled $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” funds available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It is the largest pool of discretionary funding for education reform in U.S. history. In competing for the funds, states must meet eligibility requirements. California is not eligible to apply.

In calling the special session of the legislature, Gov. Schwarzenegger is hoping that our laws will be changed to make the state eligible to compete for the funds. Certainly schools in Santa Barbara County could use the infusion of new money. It is not likely to make them “whole,” but it will stem the flow of devastating cuts.

As State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has pointed out repeatedly, our students continue to demonstrate a socioeconomic and racial academic achievement gap that is simply unacceptable. The Race to the Top funds would help greatly in bridging that gap, to the benefit of all of our communities.

The application for federal funds must demonstrate collaboration and cooperation among a wide array of individuals and organizations: the governor, the state superintendent of public instruction, the attorney general, the chair of the state board of education and leaders from all areas of public education. That’s how it should be. Calling the special session is the first important step in that collaboration.

We salute the governor for starting the process of making our state eligible for the important funds. The hope is that this will begin the process of forging an approach that gets a wide consensus, increasing our likelihood of receiving the funding.

Our schools are very grateful for those efforts.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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