July 2011 Archives

By Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, Chair of the Assembly Education CommitteeBrownley_Official_Photo_Color _July 07.jpg

Businesses know that smart investments are the key to future growth. Governments also make smart investments such as the one California made in higher education after adopting a master plan in 1960. Many today credit California universities for its ranking as the eighth largest economy in the world and as an incubator for high technology, biotechnology and agricultural advances.

California's leadership in education and the economy, however, is in danger of slipping. State education spending fell by $17 billion over the last three years, forcing schools to shorten the school year, increase class size, close school libraries and eliminate summer school among other actions.

In higher education, the loss of funding has pushed up fees at community colleges, California State Universities and the University of California, while the state is offering 15,000 fewer Cal Grants this year for students in need. Not as many students are getting into the colleges as more of them save seats for higher-paying, out-of-state students. Meanwhile, those who can afford the higher fees are struggling to get the courses they need to graduate as classes are cut. Students trying to transfer from community colleges into CSUs and UCs are hitting a wall. All of this is causing a bottleneck, delaying students' entry into the work force.

The spending cuts also hurt industry. Economists estimate education's contribution to labor productivity growth ranges between 13 percent and 30 percent. California employers are worried they won't find employees with the education and skills they need.

Our state has set some of the nation's highest academic standards for its youth, yet it is failing to provide sufficient resources for them to succeed. Only a few Californians know our per-pupil spending ranks far below the national average - near the bottom when compared with other states. California now faces two lawsuits, Robles-Wong v. California and Campaign for Quality Education v. California, over the lack of adequate funding for public education. In 2009, the Legislature adopted a resolution I carried stating its intention to bring per-pupil spending up to or beyond the national average and to cover the costs of educating California's diverse student population. This is imperative and we must immediately start figuring out how we are going to fulfill this promise.

One way we can tackle our deficient education funding is by overhauling our overly complex, irrational and inequitable school finance system. Plenty of studies have concluded financial reforms are necessary before we can make significant improvements to our schools, including the Getting Down to Facts studies at Stanford University, the Governor's Committee on Education Excellence and the Public Policy Institute of California. In our current system, an English Learner in one school gets a different level of resources than a similar English Learner in another school. If we create a new school finance structure that is simple, transparent and allocates funds in a more effective way, Californians will be willing to invest more in education.

With this goal in mind, I have introduced several bills over the last five years to develop a new structure. While the measures have received bipartisan support, they were either blocked by a fiscal committee or vetoed by a governor unwilling to commit to accomplishing such a challenging task. This year, I introduced Assembly Bill 18, which sets forth a detailed plan for a simplified school funding system based on the aforementioned studies. It passed the Assembly last month and is now pending in the Senate. Major reforms like these require thoughtful analysis and collaboration. I recently amended my bill based on suggestions I have received from stakeholders and anticipate more amendments as I move forward in the coming year.

AB 18 narrows hundreds of funding streams to three tributaries, leaving just a couple dozen in their existing form. The bill would first establish a base level of funding for all students and would ensure no school loses funds in the base year. Another stream would be devoted and weighted to English Learners and low-income students who need more resources to be successful, while the last would be devoted to quality classroom instruction giving local school districts several options to meet the varied needs of its students.

It doesn't make sense to distribute more money through a broken system, but it makes perfect sense to fix our school funding "engine" now, while the tank is unfortunately empty, so when we are able to fill it in the future, we will get better mileage out of it.

Making a smart investment in education now will bring substantial returns in the future by fueling our industries with the skilled workers they need to maintain the state's competitive edge in a global market, and by assuring every Californian has the opportunity to make a sustainable living wage. Everyone benefits.


Comments (1)

In England people "know" many of the same false things that people here "know." Except in England the false things work against English working people instead of against American working people.

I am in England this week and next and am enjoying some pub conversations while here. (Several pubs, actually. Heh.) Here are some of the things that at least some British working people "know." I think you will find them to be familiar:


  • The reason so many people are unemployed is because the government spends too much money.

  • Public employees get lavish pensions, which is part of why working people are falling behind.

  • The government spends a lot of its money helping countries in Africa and other places.

  • People are living much longer than they used to, so the retirement age should be raised.

  • The government gives a lot of money to people who come here from other countries and then get handouts that the rest of us (British) pay for.

  • Also, there are too many lawsuits.

Sound Familiar?

Does this sound familiar? It looks like the same false propaganda is being served up here in the UK -- but with a UK twist. For example, the retirement system here isn't "going broke," it just isn't affordable. (How come no one says our military is "going broke" or unaffordable?) People are coming here from Eastern Europe, not Mexico. The differences stand out for the similarities of the rest of it. Things that work to create anti-government tension and panic get reformatted and used elsewhere. Hey, if it works, why reinvent the wheel?

I did not hear that the problems come from companies not paying taxes, from bailing out the big banks, from the cost of wars, etc. I haven't probed or argued, just asked what people think to see what is on people's minds.

I have to emphasize this is just from some conversations and not with all that many people at all. I'm only writing because of the similarities of the justifications for cutting back on things working people get from their government. Again, this is just a few people. It's like the old newspaper-pundit cab-driver test of conventional wisdom. But I heard echoes of the same stuff that is being dished out in the US.

Things We Know

Everyone reading this has read or is familiar with the premise of The Shock Doctrine (I hope) and maybe Winner-Take-All-Politics and The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy and some of the other key books. Anyway, we all see clearly what is going on behind these things that people "know." We understand how it works, what the public is hearing and why, who they are hearing this from, and how people are being set against each other and distracted from what is really happening. Working people are being tricked into giving up their share of the common wealth, etc. We get it.

What To Do

But what do we do about it? I think our task, as always, is to get more info out to the public. As more people understand how shock-doctrine attacks work they are more able to resist them. But how do we get more info out to the public? And how do we do that without it sounding like WE are the nutcases? I mean, if you try to tell regular people the crazy things the right is planning for them you sound like an extremist for even saying such things. People are really tuned out these days and don't see what is happening.

I think sites like OurFuture.org, AlterNet, Daily Kos, FDL, Crooks and Liars, etc. have developed a progressive information ecosystem where things are being explained a dozen ways, and understood, and reinforced, over and over, and a lot of people spend time there they are getting it. Here in California we have Speak Out California, The California Progress Report, Calitics and others. So how do we drive more people to those sites? How do we loop more people into the information ecosystem we have going on?

ONE thing I think we can do is ask our labor friends to start bringing their membership in to this loop. I think we have gotten the blogosphere tuned into labor issues, and it's time for the labor community to start joining back with us now. Join the conversation, help us understand your viewpoint, while we all help; each other understand what is happening to us.

Maybe we can make the blogs and site more accessible to new people who show up to check it out, and explain more about how the comments work, about how to write a diary, etc... Maybe we all need "what this site is about" videos... I think this is a good next step.

What do you think? I think we have to start reaching more and more of the public. We owe it to them. How can we accomplish this?

This post first appeared at Campaign for America's Future where I am a Fellow.


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This page is an archive of entries from July 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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