Debt-Free College: California’s On the Verge of Spending Over a Half-Billion Dollars to Help 360,000 Students

California is on track to remove any reason for its public university students to take out student loans.

Known as Middle Class Scholarship 2.0, the “debt-free” program is slated to receive its first infusion of money this summer: a cool $632 million that lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom promised in last year’s state budget that they said they’d fund this year. 

If that money appears in the state’s budget this June, an anticipated 246,000 California State University students and 114,000 University of California students will receive this aid to help finance their educations starting this fall. Students at other California campuses, including community colleges, are ineligible.

The money will have an immediate impact on low- and middle-class students whose families generally earn less than $201,000. The exact amounts students receive will vary, but grants will range between $1,000 and just over $3,000 on average in the program’s first phase. Students in higher-income households will typically get the larger amounts to make up for the lack of aid they receive from other state and federal grants.

The awards reflect a portion of what students would get if lawmakers funded the whole $2.6 billion price tag. By committing $632 million this fall, the state is funding 24% of the program’s total cost, so each eligible student would receive 24% of the total amount they’d get were the scholarship fully funded.

Even at partial funding, those added dollars will likely lower student debt loads if lawmakers actually fund and maintain the program. Across the UC and CSU, students who borrowed federal loans and graduated in 2019-20 typically took out about $15,000, according to a CalMatters analysis of federal data. (Some students may also take out private loans or have their parents secure federal loans.)

Last year, lawmakers hailed the budget deal to fund the downpayment this year as something that will “ultimately eliminate the de facto requirement for lower- and middle-income students to rely on student loans to attend CSU and UC.” 

There is no schedule for when lawmakers will fully fund the scholarship.

“It will still fall short of … creating a real viable path to a debt-free, quality public degree in California,” said Jessica Thompson, vice president at the California policy group The Institute for College Access & Success.

Competing financial aid overhaul programs

While that first wave of money is likely a sure thing, it is still unclear whether the state will also expand its vaunted Cal Grant program to another 150,000 students as some lawmakers are currently seeking.

The decisions facing the Legislature and Newsom come down to somewhat competing but ultimately complementary visions of funding financial aid in California.

With the enhanced Middle Class Scholarship, which builds on an existing program, many students will definitely get something.

Expanding the Cal Grant program means another roughly 36,000 students would get their tuition fully covered at the UC and Cal States. An additional 109,000 community college students would receive non-tuition grants of $1,648, plus free tuition if they transfer to a UC or Cal State. 

Several thousand students at private colleges would also get awards. The expansion, which would be made possible under Assembly Bill 1746, would effectively remove all the eligibility barriers that advocates say have plagued the Cal Grant, the state’s chief financial aid vehicle. Roughly half a million students receive the Cal Grant already.

But those extra students result in new annual Cal Grant costs that rival the price tag for the Middle Class Scholarship overhaul.

The Cal Grant expansion will cost anywhere from $250 million to $350 million for the tuition waivers and community college student grants. Then there’s another $130 million to $150 million to fund the $6,000 supplemental grant that parents who are students receive if they’re already Cal Grant recipients, among other add-ons, for a potential total of $380 million to $500 million or more. 

Lawmakers of the Higher Education Committee unanimously approved the bill on Tuesday. About 40 students and advocates spoke in support of the bill by phone and in person, but it still faces a long road legislatively and in the state’s budget process. 

Click here to read the full article at CalMatters

Fresno State and City College Students Could Earn $10K For school. Here’s How It Works

A new initiative will give some Fresno-area college students $10,000 each for volunteering in their communities – and applications are now open for the first cohort of students. Fresno State and Fresno City College are among 45 colleges across California to benefit from the state’s new College Corps to help low- and moderate-income students pay for schooling. About 6,500 students overall will benefit from the program, including undocumented students, who don’t qualify for federal aid. In addition to academic credit, real-world job experience and access to training and networking opportunities, students will receive a $7,000 living allowance stipend and a $3,000 education award.

‘CALIFORNIA’S GI BILL’ The 70 Fresno State and 50 Fresno City students chosen to participate will volunteer 450 hours of their time over a year working with community organizations in three areas — K-12 education, climate action, and food insecurity.

Those are the “big challenges that the governor is trying to take on,” according to Josh Fryday, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to run the California Volunteers Office, which manages the program. Fryday was recently in Fresno to announce the city’s One Fresno Youth Job Corps, which will train young people with a $7.4 million grant from his office. For College Corps, applications are still open for organizations that would like to take and train volunteers. But so far, students could be doing literacy tutoring at Fresno Unified, tending to community gardens or working at the Central California Food Bank, Fryday said. He calls the program “California’s GI Bill, because the idea is that if you’re going to serve — if you’re willing to give back and contribute —then we’re going to help you pay for college.”

Click here to read the full article at the Fresno Bee

One-Year Contract Agreement Between S.F. Schools And Teachers Union Offers Up To $10,000 In Bonuses

Working under an expired contract, San Francisco teachers and administrators reached a one-year, stopgap deal late Friday as the district weathers a fiscal crisis.

The tentative contract would give teachers $4,000 in bonuses next year while increasing substitute pay up to $60 per day. The deal also includes a $3,000 bonus for Advanced Placement teachers and another $3,000 for teachers in hard-to-staff schools.

That means a teacher who qualifies for all three could see $10,000 in bonuses next year.

The agreement does not include ongoing raises, other than the guaranteed increases associated with years of experience and education levels, but does offer some immediate financial relief for educators, union officials said.

“Given all of the struggles educators have been through over the past two years, we are relieved that we could get one-time compensation directly to all members, as well as a much needed increase in substitute pay,” Cassondra Curiel, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, said in a joint statement with the district. “We are fighting for the schools our students deserve in a particularly challenging period. This is a step in the right direction.”

The previous teachers’ contract expired in July 2020.

The district is facing a $125 million shortfall next year, as well as a $140 million deficit the year after, leading to an appointed state expert to advise the district and review contract agreements. A staff raise would probably have been rejected by the expert.

“We are living through a moment in history with challenges we have never faced before, and educators continue to inspire us with their resilience and strength,” said Superintendent Vince Matthews. “We are extremely pleased to reach an agreement that supports our educators, our students and our communities.”

The agreement came on the same day the district sent letters to some teachers and other staff advising that they were on a list of people who could get preliminary layoff notices in March.

The school board has adopted a budget plan that is expected to cut $50 million from classrooms, in addition to reductions at the central office and among various programs.

That will include balancing classroom enrollment, to ensure teachers are spread evenly across the district, reducing the number of teachers required. Currently, some teachers have a handful of students, given lower enrollment than expected, while others at different schools have full seats. The school board voted in the fall against shifting teachers to address the disparities.

District officials have said there will probably be staff reductions, although the numbers could change dramatically before official notices go out May.

The tentative deal reached Friday requires approval and is subject to a vote of union members and the school board.

The agreement includes suspending teacher sabbaticals for a year to help mitigate teacher shortages, while also suspending an extra preparation period for Advanced Placement teachers. Those benefits are not standard items in teacher labor agreements and combined cost the district nearly $10 million per year.

The one-year pause on the extra preparation period is arguably the most controversial part of the agreement.

Click here to read the full article at the SF Chronicle

Rewarding Failure In The K-12 System

California spends a lot on education. Ever since the passage of Proposition 98 in 1988, which guarantees to education a minimum of 40% of the general fund, per-pupil spending on K-12 has risen faster than any other category of state appropriations. And yet, for all that new money, the state’s education monopoly continues its history of failure to deliver a quality product.

Just last month, this column cited the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, showing that in 2017-2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, per-pupil spending for the state’s K-12 public schools was $13,129 in inflation-adjusted 2019-20 dollars, the highest ever. Measured in the same constant dollars, per-pupil spending was $9,594 in 1999-2000.

California is quickly rising in the ranks in spending according to multiple metrics and we are now at least 17th highest in the United States. And many of these statistics are pre-pandemic, before the state plowed even more money into the system.

Where it excels in spending money, California lags in educational outcomes due to a clear hostility to meaningful education reforms. For decades, reformers have unsuccessfully advocated for more school choice, merit pay for teachers, advancement based on merit rather than seniority and the ability to fire bad teachers including some credibly accused of crimes against children.

The “reforms” coming out of the union-dominated Legislature will only make matters worse. The latest iteration of this is Senate Bill 830 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, that would change the way schools are funded. Under current law, schools get financial support based on a formula that includes average daily attendance. This bill would eliminate daily attendance from the formula, and with it the financial incentive for school personnel to attempt to get students in the building.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Top American Scientists Voice ‘Alarm’ at Woke California Math Curriculum

Hundreds of America’s top scientists and mathematicians have released an open letter in which they express “alarm” at the likely disastrous consequences of woke K-12 math curricula such as the “Equitable Math’ framework proposed in California.

To date, nearly 600 of the nation’s top quantitative scientists have signed onto the open letter that specifically voices “deep concern” about California’s “equitable math” framework, one that promotes the concept that working to figure out a correct answer is an example of racism and white supremacy invading the classroom.

The scientists write:

[W]e are deeply concerned about the unintended consequences of recent well-intentioned approaches to reform mathematics education, particularly the California Mathematics Framework (CMF). Such frameworks aim to reduce achievement gaps by limiting the availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers. While such reforms superficially seem “successful” at reducing disparities at the high school level, they are merely “kicking the can” to college.

“Such a reform would disadvantage K-12 public school students in the United States compared with their international and private-school peers,” the scientists explain. “It may lead to a de facto privatization of advanced mathematics K-12 education and disproportionately harm students with fewer resources.”

The scientists who signed the open letter, many of whom are STEM professionals and math educators, assert they “wholeheartedly” reject another “deeply worrisome trend” of “devaluing essential mathematical tools such as calculus and algebra in favor of seemingly more modern ‘data science.’”

“The ability to gather and analyze massive amounts of data is indeed transforming our society,” they continue, adding:

But “data science” – computer science, statistics, and artificial intelligence- is built on the foundations of algebra, calculus, and logical thinking. While these mathematical fields are centuries old and sometimes more, they are arguably even more critical for today’s grand challenges than in the Sputnik era.

The U.S. scientists state they are calling upon “national, state, and local governments to involve college-level STEM educators and STEM professionals in the design of K-12 mathematics and science education curriculum.”

Among their goals is to ensure “all students, regardless of background, have access to a math curriculum with precision and rigor,” and eliminate a “one size fits all” approach to K-12 mathematical education.”

While the scientists urge students be offered “multiple pathways and timelines to explore mathematics,” they insist one such pathway “should be the option to obtain the fundamental preparation for college-level STEM, including algebra, calculus, and logical reasoning.”

“Students should have the opportunity to take those classes at varying grade levels of middle and high school when they are ready, so that they acquire the tools to explore other STEM options and can build their proficiency in a balanced pacing, avoiding irresponsible compression late in high school,” they assert.

The mathematicians and scientists stress that initiatives such as California’s “Equitable Math” “propose drastic changes based on scant and inconclusive evidence.”

“Reducing access to advanced mathematics and elevating trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills would cause lasting damage to STEM education in the country and exacerbate inequality by diminishing access to the skills needed for social mobility,” they observe, adding that “[s]ubjecting the children of our largest state to such an experiment is the height of irresponsibility.”

Click here to read the full article at Breitbart

State Health Officials Announce Rollout Vaccination Plan For Children Aged 5-11

California state Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan announced on Wednesday that vaccinations will open up to 3.5 million children ages 5-11 in the state by the end of the week once final national approval for pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations are given.

Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a vaccine mandate for all school aged children in grades K-12 to attend class. While the vaccine had been given a minimum age of 12 to administer, Newsom’s order  noted that  younger children would be included once the approval was given for them.

On Tuesday, FDA vaccine advisors began to recommend approval for kids aged 5-11. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that the vaccine for that age group had an efficacy rate of around 91% in preventing COVID-19 in children, with no side effects shown in clinical trials. Mixed with a growing number of pediatric cases and herd immunity not yet being achieved, including 66 child deaths because of CVID-19 since the beginning of the year, full FDA approval is likely soon.

With Pfizer now shipping out child vaccines in preparation, Dr. Pan said on Wednesday that California is preparing for approval and will have 1.2 million doses ready to distribute in the first week. 4,000 sites and over 1,000 providers will also be assisting in the next wave of vaccinations.

“We have around 4,000 sites that are ready to administer and over 1,000 providers across the state enrolled to vaccinate,” Pan said. “And more than 860,000 doses of vaccine have already been ordered. This is our opportunity to protect another 9% of our population. This is another important turning point in our fight against COVID-19 and gets us closer to achieving full family protection against the virus.

“The more vaccinations we get into the arms of eligible Californians, the more we stop the spread and shrink the pool of people vulnerable to COVID-19. This will get us closer to ending the pandemic. Our youngest children have remained vulnerable to the highly contagious virus as older Californians have received their vaccine. Now the time is coming to protect them. There have been more than 35 pediatric deaths from COVID-19 in California alone, and this is more deaths than we see with flu in a very bad flu season. There simply is not an acceptable number of child deaths when such an effective and safe prevention are available.”

Vaccines expected to become available for ages 5-11 next week

However, despite the prepared network, as well as efforts to add more school locations to administer the vaccine, vaccinations will not be available overnight. In addition to federal finalization, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will need to complete a review of the vaccine for approval in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. While no date has been given as a “start” date, it will likely come some time next week, with a full two dose inoculation goal by Christmas, due to the three week second dose period.

CHHS Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly (Photo: Zoom)

“We enter into these next many weeks confident in the state of play with vaccines and their ultimate protection of so many, but cautious and vigilant with our guard up,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly at the Wednesday briefing. “COVID does cause severe disease in young kids. Any avoidable preventable impact — whether it’s death or severe disease and long-term chronic conditions for young people — if we have a safe effective measure to avoid it, it’s one that we want to emphasize and make available.”

However, the addition of a younger age group is widely expected to spur even more student pullouts and homeschooling efforts by parents who don’t want their child to receive the vaccine, with the highest numbers expected to come from districts that don’t offer many exemptions.

“Younger kids not getting the vaccine have been a ‘saving grace’ to parents who have been really uneasy about pulling their students out of school,” explained Alyssa Hutchinson, an Orange County homeschool transfer advisor who helps parents move to homeschooling options online, to the Globe on Wednesday. “It’s about to become a reality and I’m expecting a large wave of parents asking for help very soon. It usually takes a day for most parents to react for news, so it will be a very busy day for me tomorrow. I’m already seeing an uptick in e-mails right now and I’m afraid to look at my work phone’s unread text amount.

“You also need to realize that these are some of their youngest children the mandate will now be covering. Parents will not respond well.”

Vaccines are expected to begin being administered next week for children aged 5-11.

This article was originally published by the California Globe

Charter Schools Don’t Drain Resources From Regular Public Schools

In their continuing war against charter schools, teacher unions have persistently argued that charter schools, which are mostly non-union, have a large negative financial impact on the regular public school system.  New research, however, contradicts this claim.

In Sacramento, the California Teachers Association is pushing a package of anti-charter-school bills, including AB 1505, recently passed by the State Assembly, which would allow school districts to deny an application for a charter school if it would supposedly produce a negative financial impact on the district’s regular public schools.

CTA president Eric Heins claims that charter schools, which are publicly-funded schools that are autonomous from school districts and have greater flexibility to innovate, are “a drain on many of our public schools.”

This union narrative is undercut, however, by a recently-released series of studies from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington Bothell.

The CRPE studies specifically examined the financial impact of California’s charter schools on the state’s regular public school system since “critics in California and nationwide have claimed charter schools growth undermines school district finances and forces cuts in the quality of schooling districts can provide.”

The researchers’ findings tell a much different story than the claims of union leaders and other charter-school opponents.

They looked for a connection between enrollment in charter schools and county office of education-issued “negative certifications,” which are determinations that a school district cannot meet its financial obligations over a two-year period.

These negative certifications “represent the main indicator of fiscal distress in California school districts and trigger increased state oversight of district finances.”

The researchers found: “On average, charter schools enroll just 3 percent of students in school districts that receive a negative rating from the County Office of Education,” which is “statistically indistinguishable from charter enrollment in school districts that are not in fiscal distress.”

In other words, charter school enrollment does not differ between school districts that are in fiscal distress and those districts that are not, which leads the authors to conclude that there is “no evidence to support the claim that charter schools are to blame for fiscal distress in California school districts.”

Specifically, one of the studies found that between 1998 and 2015, “an average of just 1.5 percent of school districts where charter schools enroll 10 percent of all students entered fiscal distress,” which means that “districts with larger charter school enrollment shares are no more likely to enter fiscal distress.”

If charter schools are not the cause of the fiscal distress in school districts, then what are the real causes?

The researchers noted that the Vallejo City Unified School District had been in fiscal distress longer than any other district in the state.

They cited audit reports showing that Vallejo City Unified’s problems stemmed from “grossly overestimated enrollment figures, underestimated salary expenses and approved union contracts they couldn’t afford.”

More generally, the researchers pointed out, “While many school districts in the state have posted their largest budgets ever, thanks to historic state investments in K-12 education,” key factors such as rising “pension and health care costs, special education expenses, and teacher salaries are putting pressure on school districts’ bottom lines.”

Importantly, “Stopping the growth of charter schools will not address these issues,” which should be a warning to state lawmakers who think that banning new charter schools will somehow improve the fiscal health of mismanaged school districts.

Thus, rather than scapegoating charter schools, which have been shown to improve the achievement of students, especially African Americans and Latinos, school districts should seek to reform themselves.

“When families choose charter schools they do so for a reason,” say the CRPE researchers, and school districts “should be asking why, and what they can do differently to keep those families.”

In other words, the regular public school system should learn from the competition, not destroy it.

Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and author of the 2019 book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.

Desperate times and desperate measures for LAUSD

In politics, strange things happen in the week preceding an election. It is no different with Measure EE, the controversial property tax hike proposed by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although predicting the outcome of any election is dangerous it is clear that Measure EE is in trouble. In fact, its biggest problem might not even be the two-thirds vote threshold required for its approval. What is more disturbing for the district is the extent to which LAUSD has suffered multiple self-inflicted wounds in the conduct of its campaign.

Prior to this week, the district already committed several faults, starting with the screw-up on the language placed before the voters. That language doesn’t match what the LAUSD board approved in the official resolution. Not surprisingly, that problem resulted in a lawsuit.

More recently, the district distributed a mail piece advertising how seniors can apply for an exemption to the tax. No one believes for a second that the letter was anything other than a campaign piece because it was distributed to residents using the voter file rather than data from the assessor.

The bigger problem for the district is that the application for the exemption is itself very intimidating and seniors are justifiably suspicious of the district’s intentions. The application demands sensitive information such as a photocopy of the applicant’s driver’s license or passport. It also requires that the homeowner prove they are the primary resident by providing a copy of their Social Security check, insurance policy or utility bill and a copy of their current property tax bill. To top it all off, the application notes that the district may require that the application be submitted in person.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California’s Public School Chief Says Education No Place For Competition


School educationThe state’s public schools superintendent didn’t hold back in a wide-ranging discussion Thursday night: He raised doubts about the value of charter schools, criticized school districts for the state’s wave of teacher strikes, questioned the severity of public pension debt and insisted the state must spend more to educate its students.

Two months into the new job, Tony Thurmond seems to be exactly the man that his most loyal backers hoped (and his opponents feared) he would be.

In a conversation with CALmatters’ education reporter Ricardo Cano at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, Thurmond talked about how his mother, an immigrant from Panama, died when he was 6, leaving him to be raised by a cousin he never met. He says his family benefited from many government programs to get by, but that “a great public education” was the most vital.

“If it were not for the education, my cousin who took me in, countless mentors, I would easily have ended up in California state prison instead of serving as California’s superintendent of public instruction,” he said. “We owe this to all the students in our state.”

That philosophy, he said, informs his fairly dim view of charter schools, which he characterized as benefiting certain students as the possible expense of others.

“I think there’s a role for all schools,” Thurmond said, including charters—publicly funded but privately managed schools that supporters say offer valuable educational alternatives to children, but which critics say undermine traditional public education. “But I do not believe that the state should ever open new schools without providing resources for those schools. I do not believe that education is an environment for competition.

“Here’s my concern: you cannot open charter schools and new schools to serve every single student in our state,” he continued. “If you take the competition approach, that means some students, a lot of students, will be left behind. And again, I don’t believe that that’s what our mission is. I believe that the promise that we make to each other in society is to provide opportunity to get an education, to live a better life, to be able to acquire what you want through your hard work for yourself and your family. So for me that means that competition is OK in some environments, but when it comes to education we’ve got a responsibility to make sure that every single student gets an education.”

In the 2018 campaign, Thurmond and challenger Marshall Tuck tried to convince voters that they were not as extreme as their opponents sometimes portrayed them to be.

Tuck, with a background in charter schools and over $30 million of charter-backing dollars behind him, stressed his progressive credentials, while Thurmond, supported by teachers’ unions, insisted that he would not be beholden to organized labor.

Thurmond won by 2 percentage points.

Following the teachers’ strike in Los Angeles, where charter school growth has exacerbated tensions in the district, new Gov. Gavin Newsom asked Thurmond to put together a task force to study the fiscal impact that charters have on school districts. Because schools receive state funding on a per-pupil basis, charter skeptics argue that when students transfer to a charter, it leaves traditional schools unable to meet various fixed costs, such as building maintenance and debt.

The task force is composed of public school district superintendents, union representatives and charter school groups. But Thurmond made his position clear.

“There has been, for many districts, a significant fiscal impact and loss of revenue directly attributed to the growth of charter schools,” he said, citing a report from the left-leaning research center In The Public Interest, which estimated that San Diego Unified School district has lost $66 million while Oakland Unified has lost $57 million. “We have to have tough conversations including the fiscal impact of charter growth on the traditional districts and come out in a way where we can do what’s best for all of our students in the state.”

Carlos Marquez, from the California Charter Schools Association, said afterward that allowing districts to deny charter applications based on financial criteria creates “a backdoor moratorium on new schools” and a “blunt instrument for school districts to methodically close down existing high-quality charter schools.”

Disputing the numbers Thurmond citied, he said the underlying problem facing districts is not charters, but insufficient funding.

“I have to believe that part of the debate around fiscal impact and the appropriate role and the appropriate rate of growth for charter schools is mostly being dictated by the environment of scarcity that we’re all living in,” he said. “We have not met the challenge in California of fully funding our public schools—and that’s a place where we can call agree.”

True enough, Thurmond pointed to insufficient state funding as the source of virtually all that ails the state’s public school system.

“We are still 41st in the nation in per-pupil spending,” he said, a number that takes into account the cost of living in each state. “No matter what you do, until you resolve that, we’re going to continue to see challenges.”

Among the challenges he blamed on a lack of funding:

  • The achievement gap between disadvantaged and privileged kids. As CALmatters has reported, less than a quarter of black and Latino students in California are meeting state math standards on statewide tests.
  • The decline in enrollment in unaffordable districts like Palo Alto. When a public school board member from East Palo Alto asked what the state could do to help the district cope financially with declining enrollment rates, Thurmond pointed to the need for workforce housing and magnet schools, but ultimately, he said “clearly we need more funding.”
  • The disparity in the ability of local school districts to borrow. According to a CALmatters analysis, the wealthiest school districts are in some cases able to borrow more than 300 times as much as low-income districts to fund the repair and expansion of buildings. Thurmond’s response: “I don’t know that districts can do it all by themselves,” arguing that the state should kick in more to even things out.
  • The recent teachers strikes in Oakland and Los Angeles, as well as the ongoing financial difficulties at the Sacramento City Unified School District. “There’s not much to cut,” he said of Sacramento. “Unless something miraculous happens, that’s a district that is also going to need a financial bailout from the state.”

But Thurmond also blamed the recent flare-up of labor action across the state on a longstanding lack of trust between teachers’ unions and the school district administrators. And the fault primarily lies with the administrators, he said. Before serving in the state Assembly, Thurmond was a West Contra Costa Unified school board member, and he helped mediate the recent strike in Oakland.

“There is a history in the state, and maybe in the country, of times when school boards would sort of hide the revenue that was available…as a way of avoiding having to negotiate salaries,” he said.

“That is not representative of the conduct of the vast majority of the roughly one thousand school districts across the state,” said Troy Flint of the California School Boards Association. But he also agreed with Thurmond that the primary issue is funding.

“The battle is not between labor and management. The focus needs to be on our legislators and leaders in Sacramento, and forcing them to confront the fallout from being 41st in the nation in school funding,” he said.

On the issue of pensions and health care costs for retired teachers—a growing source of financial stress for many districts—Thurmond insisted the solution was not to cut the benefits owed to employees.

“Everyone deserves a pension,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to pay for it.”

He added that he has formed a task force to identify new sources of funding. One idea: reform the state constitution so that commercial property owners pay property taxes based on the market value of their property, rather than the purchase price.

That tax tweak to Proposition 13, known as “split roll” will be on the ballot in 2020.

Listen to the full discussion here.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

Threat of Sacramento Teacher Strike Spurs Criticism


Charter schoolTeachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District have authorized a strike, hoping to follow in the footsteps of teachers in Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified and secure substantial raises after a brief walkout.

But in key ways, the dynamics appear different. In Los Angeles and Oakland, the public and the local media were clearly sympathetic. Teachers had not had significant raises in years, and with the cost of housing going up arguably have lost purchasing power in recent years.

In Sacramento, however, the argument that the local school district simply can’t afford raises because of the huge long-term increase in pension costs and loss in state funding because of declining enrollment has resonated far more than similar warnings did in Los Angeles and Oakland. Coverage in regular and social media has repeatedly emphasized three points:

  • The Sacramento City Teachers Association secured an 11 percent raise for most members in September 2017 after threatening a strike. The Sacramento County Office of Education warned at the time that without significant cuts, the district faced fiscal disaster. But the local teachers union has rejected calls to reduce the cost of health benefits that the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) says are the most generous in the Sacramento region.
  • The warning from school officials that even without having to provide new raises, the district faces a $35 million hole in a nearly $400 million annual budget and is on track to run out of money in November. At that point, under state law, the district could seek an emergency loan from the state Legislature, but on the condition that it accept an appointed administrator to make key financial decisions going forward, taking away most of the school board’s and Superintendent Jorge Aguilar’s powers. The primary goal of hose decisions would be ensuring the district pays back the state loan.
  • The fact that the four other employee unions in Sacramento City Unified have sided with Aguilar’s warning that a raise could seal state control of the school district for a decade or more, as has happened in other California districts that have been unable to pay their bills. They don’t buy the teachers union claim that the district has failed to honor the contract it signed in 2017, thus making a strike necessary even though state law says such a strike would be illegal since the teachers are still under contract.

Writing Monday, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton warned the teachers union that it risked disaster not just for the district and its 42,000 students but for a city that has built up civic momentum in recent years under Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

“Sacramento’s efforts to sell itself as a place for companies to invest would be damaged because a major selling point is good schools,” Breton wrote. “How many investment opportunities would be lost if Sacramento became known as the city whose schools were bankrupt?”

Aguilar arrived in 2017 at the district and is given good marks in most circles for his determination to avoid financial disaster. But a FCMAT audit released in December pointed out a vast array of problems in Sacramento City’s management that dated back many years. It cited incompetence and poor communications by the district’s business team and a failure to properly analyze budget data that indicated the headaches to come.

Union leaders say these management failings are not their responsibility and should not be held against their push for better pay.

The union’s hope that a strike authorization vote would lead to new concessions hasn’t happened so far. A union statement said the strike was coming “at a date likely in the next month.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com