Archive for January, 2011

Warning for schools ahead

January 27, 2011

This week, as staff from the California Alliance met with forty new legislators in Sacramento, the halls of the Capitol had an ominous air.

When Governor Jerry Brown was sworn into office on January 3rd, California was already in a declared state of fiscal emergency. Within weeks of taking office, Brown declared a new state of fiscal emergency and released a 2011-2012 state budget calling for $12.5 billion in cuts. Few could be surprised by these grim realities. As Brown, said at the press conference releasing this budget,

“For 10 years, we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt. We must now return California to fiscal responsibility and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth.”

K-12 grade education was the one area spared from cuts. Brown’s budget proposes keeping education at current, admittedly low funding levels. But even this is not a sure thing.

Continued funding for education depends on an extension of current personal income and sales taxes, as well as the Vehicle License Fee rate, for five years that must be approved by voters in an election this June. Without this revenue, officials say there will be 31% funding cuts across the board, including education.

Already, officials are painting a grim picture of the inevitable cuts in store for education, if voters do not pass the ballot measure. In a recent speech, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said,

“Unless voters agree to the extension of temporary car, income and sales taxes, the state would be so short of money that it might have to whack more than six weeks off the K-12 school year.”

That’s just one scenario. Increasing class size, cutting custodial staff and cutting or eliminating arts education programs altogether are other likely options if Brown’s ballot measure does not pass.

Despite the serious work ahead, the Alliance staff was encouraged by their meetings with new legislators. An impressive number of representatives were well informed about the cognitive, social and potential workforce benefits of arts education. All are committed to providing California children with a quality education. And most would agree (and we’ll keep working on the others!) that the arts must be a core component to a quality education.

There’s a new Superintendent of Public Instruction in town…

January 11, 2011

by Joe Landon, Policy Director

Just three days after Tom Torlakson was installed as California’s new Superintendent of Public Instruction, his chief deputy, Richard Zeiger, met with the Policy Council of the California Alliance in Sacramento, to discuss the state of education in California, with a particular focus on arts education.

The previous day Torlakson had described California’s school finances as being at the level of ‘emergency’. Zeiger explained that before anything can be done to improve the education outlook, Governor Brown will first deal with the current budget crisis facing the state. He anticipated that education spending for the current year would remain the same as the past year, provided that California’s voters approve revenues in a special election later this year. He noted that we, as the public who cares about quality education for California students, will need to take an active role in assuring the approval of revenues in the special election.

Zeiger was upbeat in his assessment that for the first time in many years, the Superintendent, the State Board of Education, the Governor and the Legislature are in alignment about the need to advance education.

He explained that approximately 70% of the Department of Education’s operating budget comes from the federal government. The other 30% comes from state funding, and both funding streams require strict policing, leaving a very small slice of funding for new initiatives

In discussing how arts education can best navigate the current storm, Zeiger stressed that California remains the creative capital of the world, and that advocates should use this to highlight the importance of arts education in advancing the state’s economy by preparing students to enter the workforce of the twenty-first century, with skills that include creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

Zeiger reported that statewide categorical funding for the arts, as well as other subjects, is unlikely to buck the trend towards local control, which is central to Governor Brown’s vision for remedying the budget crisis. ‘Flexibility’ for local districts to spend these designated funds based on local need will likely accompany the funding.

In a lively back and forth with the twenty Policy Council members who represent various arts, education, parent and business groups, Zeiger was pressed on what will happen if the current ‘flexibility’ allows districts to divert categorical funding from its intended purpose of arts education. Zeiger suggested that focusing on ‘outcome measurements’, with districts reporting on how they are providing arts education, might be another way to help ensure that districts are providing students with access to arts education. He expressed the desire to create a new index of what a comprehensive curriculum looks like and the “need for a system that counts other things” besides math scores.

He encouraged the Alliance to consider “putting on a show”, to highlight the importance of arts education and the good work that continues to be done in classrooms despite the current economic situation.

With candor, humor, and humility, Zeiger expressed the Superintendent’s deep appreciation for the role the arts play in a complete education, and his commitment to work with advocates to ensure that arts education is at the table as important decisions are made about our state’s education system.