So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Prop. 30 fact check: Schools are a mess, so why should we pay more?

scantron standardized test

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Fact check No. 4: Schools are a mess because of $20 billion in cuts to education funding over the past four years. But test scores are rising despite that.

Next up: We examine the claim --  Schools are a mess, so why should we pay more?

Background: With less than a week to the Nov. 6 election, there's a lot of information - and misinformation - out there about Prop. 30. The measure, supported by Gov. Jerry Brown, would raise sales and income taxes in order to avert $6 billion in primarily education cuts.

Prop. 30 is written into the enacted 2012-13 California budget, which presumes that the measure will be approved by a majority of voters Tuesday. Over several posts, we try to break down the proposition and examine the big questions that have been raised in political ads these past few weeks.

Read the introductory post for details on what Prop. 30 does and what happens if it fails. 

Arguments against Prop. 30: The arguments fall under four main categories: no new taxes, the measure is flawed, the money would be wasted, and schools are a mess. These positions are primarily supported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the National Federation of Independent Business California and Small Business Action Committee.

4) Schools are a mess, so why should we pay more?

Claim: K-12 education and community colleges are already the biggest piece of the state budget at roughly 40 percent. And yet, schools are a mess. So why should we pay more? We can't just throw money at problems -- the system needs to be fixed.

Facts: Despite California cutting about $20 billion in education funding over the past four years, test scores have continued to rise. While 57 percent proficient or better in English-Language Arts and 51 percent proficient or better in math doesn't sound great, California also has higher standards than most other states, according to Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor of education and public policy.

“Fifty-six percent of all kids proficient. The glass is half-empty and half-full," said Fuller back in August, when state standardized test scores were released. "We’ve got a lot of progress to make. On the other hand...if you lived in Mississippi or if you lived in Texas, it’d be easy to jump over this hurdle. In California, the bar is set pretty high.”

According to a 2011 report by the California Budget Project, California ranks 46th in the nation in terms of the amount it spends per K-12 student, 47th when you account for the spending as a percentage of personal income. California ranks in last place in terms of the number of K-12 students per teacher, 49th in students per guidance counselor, 50th in students per librarian, and 47th in students per administrator.

"Voters do need to have a realistic perspective as to what the state of education funding is like today," says Edgar Zazueta, director of governmental relations at L.A. Unified. "We should see this as a downpayment to getting things better...We’ve gone through almost a decade now of very little funding from Sacramento and Washington, D.C. So this is going to start to get things in the right direction, but it’s going to be an incremental effect.

"...It's just the beginning to get us to the level where we can actually compete with other states and other countries in terms of our academic needs. We’re not talking about huge windfalls here. It’s about trying to slowly get us back to the place where California education should be.

Because of its dire budget situation, L.A. Unified cut a week of instruction for this school year. If Prop. 30 does not pass, officials have warned that K-12 schools across the state could see up to three additional weeks of instruction cut.

Zazueta says such a cut would put California students in a "scary" position relative to their peers come college admissions seasons. California students could be competing with students with a month of additional instruction each year.

"Colleges and universities are going to look at those students and say, who is more prepare for a college education?" Zazueta says.

Cuts over the last few years have also heavily hit the community colleges and UC and CSU system. 

According to the 2012 budget: 

"From 2008-09 through 2011-12, the state reduced funding by $2.65 billion for UC, CSU, CCC and Hastings College of the Law.  The most notable consequences have been significant student tuition and fee increases and declining course offerings, which have made it difficult for students to complete their certifications and degrees in a timely manner."

The "trigger cuts" contingency plan in the 2012 state budget mean that if Prop. 30 fails both UC and CSU will each be hit by a $250 million cut while the state's community colleges would see a loss of $338 million in funding. At campuses across the state, CSU students would see tuition rise by about 5 percent,  and the UC tuition freeze would instead turn into a 20 percent increase.

At the community college level, where tuition cannot be increased because it is set by the state Legislature, more cuts to courses and services would occur, officials said. Last year, California's community colleges had to turn away 200,000 students — they couldn't get into a single course, system officials said.

John Mockler, a veteran of school finance and school policy experts, says he may be a "K-12 person," but such cuts to higher education have rippling impacts.

"It does me no good to wind up our kids and drive them into a wall where they can't go to postsecondary, and that's what we've done," Mockler says. "Achievement in K-12, the number of kids qualified to go to CSU and UC has gone up 15 percent in the last eight years, and the number getting in has gone down 15 percent." 

Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the California Department of Education, says that although people may not personally have children in school, “children who are in school today are going to be the folks who fix your car tomorrow, who maybe diagnose your illness, who build your house, who decides whether you owe more in taxes or less in taxes.”

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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