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California K-12 public education facing a perfect storm

by Adrienne Verrilli, published

Governor-elect Jerry Brown met with Calfornia educators at UCLA last week for a state budget forum to discuss how to tackle Calfornia's $28 billion deficit.  Promising to cut the state's budget by 20 percent next year, Brown told the forum's audience to "fasten your seat belt" when his proposed budget is released on January 10, 2011. 

Brown's plea at the forum was for cooperation from all of California's interest groups to work together to solve the state's financial crisis, and he acknowledged that the budget deficit is "a huge challenge, unprecendented in my lifetime."  What he was met with was an audience that wanted to focus more on revenue generation to avoid more cuts to the state's education budget.  The school superintendents' and union leaders' position is that the K-12 schools have borne the brunt of the  budget cuts over the past three years.  According to California Teachers Union President David Sanchez, "we understand we have to make some hard choices," but that "there is not more meat on this bone to carve."  In fact, the state's cuts have resulted in the layoff of 30,000 teachers, larger class sizes and less spending per pupil, dropping from $9,100 in 2007 to $7,342 this year.

Meanwhile, a report released by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning found that while California's school-age population is expected to grow, the number of qualified school teachers will soon evaporate, particularly those who teach elementary school, math and science.  Driving the decline is the wave of retirements by the baby boomers, layoffs, and burn-out.  However, even more troubling is that the number of people seeking credentialed teaching jobs had dropped 43 percent between 2002 and 2008.  At San Jose State University (SJSU), the number of students enrolled in the credentialed program declined 10 percent according to Mark Felton, SJSU's chair of secondary education.  And with the news of more mass layoffs of K-12 teachers, Felton said that would-be applicants are so discouraged that SJSU hasn't even filled next year's classes.

The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning's report concluded that:

     "Districts have increased class size and reduced time for teachers to plan and deliver instruction, holding teachers to the same rising standards with more students in their classes and fewer days in the instructional year.  These conditions, set against California's disastrous budget climate, cause deep concern that too few of the state's 6.2 million students will have the effective teachers they need to help them become well-educated productive citizens."

In the word's of SJSU's Mark Felton, "This is the perfect storm."  Perfect storm indeed.

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