Education decimation

By Marsha Sutton

Continuing with last week’s theme, more briefs have accumulated that are educationally noteworthy, mostly having to do with the frightful decimation of the education budget in Sacramento.

Cuts for education

A preliminary list of budget cuts to be considered if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extensions fail was recently prepared the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. Those cuts affecting education were compiled and distributed by School Services of California, a prominent education advocacy organization.

This list includes a number of K-12 education programs, including: eliminate the class-size reduction incentive program for grades kindergarten through third (saving nearly $1.3 billion), reduce general-purpose funding by 2.2 percent (saving over $800 million), and end state support for home-to-school transportation (saving $500 million).

The LAO also lists possible cuts for community colleges and the two state university systems. Items include reducing personnel costs, raising tuition, decreasing equipment funding, lowering enrollment, and limiting grant eligibility.

“While the LAO’s list provides an interesting basis for discussion, we do not regard it as a proposal or even a speculative prediction of things to come,” states School Services of California. Rather, SSC said the list provides a description of possible cuts that California residents might expect under a worst-case scenario.

Nevertheless, the list is a sobering reminder that hard times for education are far from over.

Letting go of class-size reduction

The LAO, according to School Services of California, surveyed school districts throughout the state and found that, despite gigantic state subsidies, K-3 class sizes on average have increased from 20 or 21 in 2008-2009 to about 25 students per class in 2010-2011. Class sizes in other grades have grown from 28 to 31 students over the same period of time.

Even though the state pays a huge chunk of money to districts for the K-3 CSR program, it still doesn’t cover costs. As a result, many districts are choosing to forgo the state CSR money and increase class sizes to save dollars, which means needing fewer teachers.

In a story last fall by The Hechinger Report, an independently funded nonprofit news organization affiliated with Teachers College at Columbia University, statistics indicate that “school personnel were hired at twice the rate that student enrollment grew from 1999 to 2007.”

According to the report, experts are predicting that “the struggling economy is expected to reverse a decades-long trend toward smaller classes.”

California’s class-size reduction program, now the largest in the nation, was launched in 1996 at a cost of $20 billion. But research shows “no gains in achievement attributable to smaller classes,” the report stated.

Nevertheless, the program remains enormously popular. Parents “intuitively believe that small class sizes will allow more individual attention,” said Stanford University emeritus professor Michael Kirst in the report.

In the Del Mar Union School District, a teachers’ contract clause (Article 18) guarantees that class sizes in kindergarten through third grade cannot exceed 20 students, without penalty. For each student in excess of 20, the district must pay the teacher $20 per day per student for a maximum of 15 days, at which time other relief measures can be implemented.

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