Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Every Child Left Behind

Utah is thinking of dropping 12th grade.

The state can no longer afford to pay for it.

That's how much value the state of Utah places on education, I guess. I'd like to say California, where I live, has its priorities a little more in order. But not much. This week, two school districts in my area, Santa Monica-Malibu and Los Angeles Unified, say they're probably going to shorten the school year by five days because of budget shortfalls.

That's five fewer days in which to teach kids the very same curriculum that teachers had a full school year to teach this year. Yet somehow, they've got to cram it all in.

LAUSD is already closed for three weeks at Christmas. When I was a kid, I NEVER had a three-week Christmas break. Did you?


Gutless politicians won't raise taxes on anybody -- individuals OR corporations -- to save public education. The state government in Sacramento is gridlocked because of an outdated, stupid rule in the state constitution that budgets can only be passed by a 2/3 majority, instead of a plain old, 51 votes out of 100, majority. Because of Proposition 13, passed many, many years before my kids were born, taxes in the state are set at artificially low levels (thank you, Howard Jarvis, you're dead now but I'm still angry at you) and the state university system, once the envy of the nation, is raising fees, cutting the number of students admitted, and letting experienced teachers go.

And don't even get me started on President Numbnuts Bush's "No Child Left Behind" act, which sucked the creativity out of teaching in favor of teaching kids only the material that's featured on standardized tests, instead of teaching kids how to think.

My kids are due to enter a public school kindergarten in Southern California this fall. It's one of the better kindergartens in the city where we live. But already, before the recession, parents in the district were covering the costs for physical education, art, music, any necessary building improvements, and an aid in every already overcrowded classroom. I am more than a little worried about my kids entering a school system one parent recently described to me as a "house full of termites."

Yet what are my alternatives? Sending my kids to private schools that range in tuition from what it cost me to go to college 25 years ago, to DOUBLE what it cost, depending on whether the school is parochial or not. Spending all the money I've got on their education now, and having nothing saved for college. Or moving to some other state, which will no doubt be facing its own budget problems.

I'm mad as hell, to quote a fictional but prophetic character, Howard Beale, in NETWORK. Yet unlike Howard, I don't have the option of not taking it anymore.

And what about the kids who aren't as lucky as mine, and are already going to an overcrowded, under-performing school in a poorer part of the city? I can't say their futures are looking too bright, unless working a regular shift at Denny's is the limit to what they can aspire.

Next month I'm going to be attending kindergarten orientation, but I'm already angry before I've walked in the door. I say, let's not pay our state legislators or our Congressmen and Senators for one week next year -- and transfer that money to the school teachers. Maybe THEN the bums in Sacramento and DC will do something. But until they do, every child is getting left behind -- mine included.  There's only one chance you get to educate your kids.   I plan on doing everything I can not to blow it.  But how about a little help, government?  Or what the hell is government for?


Miriam said...

I too live in SoCal and am daunted by what it will mean to educate my twins. The saddest thing is the West side has a lot of great families, but instead of investing in the public schools, they send them to private.

And while there are pockets of good schools, the real estate is unaffordable.

I feel helpless to fight against this least your post made me feel less alone.

latebloomingmom said...

Miriam --
I feel the same way. I do think a lot of us are caught in the bind of not quite being able to handle private school tuition easily -- not for two kids, anyway -- and yet worrying public won't be good enough. If you have any ideas to share, please do!

William V. Madison said...

Meanwhile, in today's Washington Post (19 February 2010), two writers from Utah claim that their state is handling its business so well, and that the federal government is so inflated, that the feds should just back off and let the state run a number of its own affairs ... including, of course, education.

Short-sighted political interests are creating long-term damage across the country -- and much the same is happening in Europe, too. When did voters stop thinking like grownups?

Alex said...

The real anger most people have at Prop. 13 is misguided. Homes have their tax rates readjusted when they're sold (which means a slight loss of revenue, but not that much because people often don't stay in their homes for more than a decade).

The real loss (and it's tens of billions of dollars) comes from property owned by large businesses. This property tends never to change owners (and most of this property is owned by a tangled chain of companies so they company can be sold without officially selling the property). This means that the tax basis for this commercial property never changes even after 30 or 40 years.

The result is that Westside (LA) homeowners sometimes wind up paying more in property taxes than Disney does for all of Disneyland.