Guest column: What’s behind the recent wave of teacher strikes? (opinion)
You may remember when public education was a high priority in California. Our public schools were considered top in the nation. Attending a UC or summer school was free.
California residents supported the American Dream for the Baby Boomers who have become the scientists, entrepreneurs, health care professionals and leaders of our time. California has become one of the top economies in the world, a leader in many fields. Clearly our investment in education has paid off.
Jump to 2019. Teachers are striking. Tuitions are unaffordable. Test scores are dismal. Are we, residents of California, investing enough in public education?
This is a difficult question. But, as we struggle to right-size education funding, one approach is to compare our per pupil investment with other states.
Depending on exactly how that number is calculated, per pupil funding in California ranks 22nd, 41st or somewhere in between. In other words, California is about at the national average in per pupil spending — or well below when cost of living is considered.
And how can we not consider cost of living? Teachers and support staff live in the communities they serve.
Most education spending goes to salaries. Nationally, teacher salaries have fallen 4.5% over the last decade when adjusted for inflation. According to 2018 research by the Economic Policy Institute, teacher salaries are currently 18.9% lower than those of comparable U.S. workers.
But perhaps the most important question is not how we compare to other states on dollars spent. Perhaps the most important question is: “What level of investment is appropriate for the world’s sixth-largest economy — a state with a very high cost of living, the largest percent of children living in poverty, and the highest percentage of English learners in the nation?”
These are very significant challenges and if current achievement scores offer any guidance, then we need to reconsider what we are doing. In 2017, California’s eighth graders ranked 42nd in the nation in math, 38th in reading, 44th in the sciences and 39th in writing on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Overall, our student achievement is in the bottom quarter of the nation’s students.
Research shows a strong connection between better funding and better student outcomes, particularly for poorer students.
You may be aware that the majority of funding for local education comes from the state budget. The funding decline experienced during our lifetimes is largely a result of political, not economic choices.
A strong public education system builds healthy resilient communities and a strong democracy. Let’s reconsider what level of investment is worthy of the children of our great state of California.
The California School Boards Association is calling on our state legislature to raise school funding to the national average by 2020 and to the average of the top 10 states by 2025.
Please let our state representatives, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow and Sen. Brian Dahle, know where you stand.
Bonnie Turnbull is a board member on the Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Education.
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