Tag Archives: California

Gulp – May revise doesn’t look good

According to State Controller John Chiang, four straight months of better-than-expected state revenues were erased in the last 10 days of April. April is the state’s biggest revenue month, because of the April 15 tax deadline and California’s overall dependence on personal income tax receipts to balance its massive budget. 

The state’s monthly cash receipts have been closely-watched as an indicator of whether the Governor’s “May Revise” of his 2010-11 budget proposal will show better- or worse-than-expected fiscal circumstances for the state. According to Chiang’s office:

[April’s] receipts dropped below the Governor’s 2010-11 budget estimates by $3.6 billion, or 26.4 percent. Through March, the States’ revenues were tracking more than $2.3 billion ahead of projections.“Four months of positive receipts were erased in the last 10 days of April,” said Chiang. “Because a surge in revenues has not come, the Governor and Legislature need to move quickly and forge the consensus needed for a balanced budget. Any delay will only limit their options and expose already struggling Californians to greater harm.”

Year-to-date revenues are now behind estimates by approximately $1.3 billion. Personal income taxes accounted for most of the drop in April, coming in $3.1 billion below projections for the month and $2.2 billion short for the year-to-date.

This is not good news. Back in January, no one was sure whether the Governor’s estimates would hold, but institutions that depend on state funding began to breathe a bit easier after the March figures came in so much better than expected. Now, it’s possible that we may have to take further cuts for the coming fiscal year. We’ll find out on Friday when the May revise is supposed to be formally released.

Well, THIS is awkward . . .

After Thursday’s rant comparing Arne Duncan to the smooth talker who stood California up on our last date, it looks like we’re going to forgive him and try again.  The best part is that Superintendent Garcia is apparently on the committee that will be writing the state’s application. Does that mean there’s something in it for SFUSD if the application is successful? I have no idea.  

Anyway, Carlos’ participation on the committee doesn’t change the way I feel about this whole competition — that it is ill-conceived and may in fact be harmful to our schools in the long run.

Will Arne Duncan take California to the prom?

Is it just me, or is the on-again, off-again California-Arne Duncan romance just like a John Hughes movie? Duncan is like the cute popular guy who stood us up on our last date, coming around again all contrite and promising to make it up to us by taking us to the prom with a limo and everything.  Can we trust him? How will it end for sweet, impoverished California? Will his snobby friends accept us?

What I mean is this: there’s a lot of speculation out there that California might enter Round II of Race to the Top after all, but take things in a very different direction after our dismal showing in Round I of the national competition for education dollars. The state was reportedly just days away from dropping out of the race entirely, but after some heavy lobbying from Federal officials — Education Secretary Duncan reportedly made a personal call to Governor Schwarzenegger over the weekend, urging that the state resubmit its application — the state has come up with a new idea. John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation reports:

Instead of revising the state plan and then pitching it again to every district and union local, California would limit its application to a handful of forward-thinking urban districts with predominately minority, low-income students: Long Beach, Fresno, Los Angeles Unified, and perhaps a few others willing to commit to stronger reforms than in the first round.

The state would make the case that the three to six participating districts, with upward of 850,000 students, are still larger than most states, and would set an example for other California districts.

Maybe, but it’s still a long shot. We didn’t even come close the last time around, largely due to the lack of union support. I don’t see that changing if the competition continues to demand things like setting aside seniority provisions and using test scores to evaluate teachers.  The speculation is that Duncan is wooing California because he’s worried too many states will withdraw from the competition, endangering Congress’ support for the President’s overall educational agenda.

That seems to sum up the administration’s game (and our plot) pretty clearly: woo high-profile California with cash and encouragement, demand wide-ranging (and highly questionable) reforms, then drive off into the sunset with states that started with more per-student funding in the first place (AKA the well-endowed head cheerleader). I’d love to cast Duncan as the cute, smart bystander who sees our potential and gets the last dance, but it’s really not looking like that’s the part we can trust him to play.

Simitian introduces Kindergarten readiness bill

Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has introduced a bill that would move back the state’s cutoff for Kindergarten readiness — a move recommended by policy experts.  Currently, students must turn five by December 2nd of the year they enter Kindergarten;  Simitian’s bill would move that date back to Sept. 1.  The change would be phased in over three years starting in 2012.

“Today´s kindergarten classroom is a much different place than most of us experienced,” said Simitian. “We´re placing real academic demands on our kids, and the youngest are struggling to keep up. The evidence shows that giving these younger kindergarteners an extra year can make a big difference in their long term success.”

In addition to benefiting children, Simitian´s bill would also save the State an estimated $700 million dollars in annual education spending due to the reduced student population. The cumulative savings over 13 years would reach $9.1 billion.

The Economist gets it wrong

Usually I can count on The Economist magazine to offer a bemused but pragmatic analysis (albeit from a European viewpoint) of events and issues in the U.S. Not this time! A brief article on California’s education woes is pure conservative party line (with a halfhearted dig at Prop. 13 tacked on at the end for balance). It’s almost as if the writer just phoned in the commentary from a comfy perch in the magazine’s Washington bureau (there is a Los Angeles dateline, so maybe the writer phoned in the piece while relaxing poolside at the Chateau Marmont).  But really, when you look at who is quoted, it’s not surprising the article takes the slant it does:

Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist who is trying to reform education, blames a combination of California’s dysfunctional governance, with “elected school boards made up of wannabes and unions”, and the fact that the state’s teachers’ union is both more powerful and “more regressive” than elsewhere. The California Teachers Association (CTA) is the biggest lobby in the state, having spent some $210m in the past decade—more than any other group— to intervene in California’s politics.

The CTA has used its money to defeat almost any reform that might have turned the standards into reality. It helped to defeat ballot measures that, for example, would have given California a school-voucher system and changed the probation period for teachers. It ensured that the state has “laughably easy teacher tests”, as [Mike Petrilli of the D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute] puts it. It is also the biggest donor to the state’s Democratic Party.

Ah. I see. A controversial promoter of charter schools (not a big fan of elected school boards he) and a researcher from an organization that is considered by many to promote a conservative agenda of privatizing public education.  That explains it.

I’ve certainly read other criticisms of CTA and the amount of money it spends to influence elections, but I think we owe them a debt of gratitude for their work in passing education-friendly legislation and for crushing multiple attempts to introduce vouchers here in California (most of the time, the state PTA and CTA are on the same side in supporting or opposing legislation – and lucky for us PTA members, CTA has a bankroll to actually get the message out).  And if I were making a list of the biggest causes of the crisis we face here in California’s educational system, I’d put outdated, inequitable funding formulas and inadequate funding altogether at the very top of my list: not CTA.

CA reading scores hit rock bottom

. . . and, it’s back to bad news, judging by this article in today’s SF Chronicle:

State shares rock bottom in U.S. reading scores
California remained at the bottom of the barrel in national test scores for reading, sharing last place with Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., according to the Nation’s Report Card released Wednesday.
. . .
In California, 54 percent of fourth-grade students and 64 percent of eighth-grade students tested in early 2009 scored at or above the basic reading level, a measure indicating a partial mastery of grade-level content. Nationally, 66 percent of fourth-graders and 74 percent of eighth-graders scored at basic or above levels.

Given California’s size and diverse student population along with the relatively low amount of money spent per child on education, the state’s scores aren’t as bad as they appear, said David Gordon, Sacramento County schools superintendent and member of the National Assessment Governing Board.

“It’s not really helpful to compare California to most of these other states,” he said. “The level of investment we’re making in our school system is really shameful.”

California spends about $8,000 per student. New Jersey and New York spend about twice as much and score among the top states.

“I think given its circumstances, I would say California is holding its own,” Gordon said. “It’s hard to expect a lot more.

More CA school districts hit the state’s distress list

Not that I’m surprised, but today the state released its list of school districts in financial distress and the Sacramento Bee reports that the number is higher than ever before

School districts file a projected budget with the state by June 30 of every year, covering the fiscal year running from July 1 to the following June 30. Then, they file “interim reports” as the year progresses, so that the state can monitor whether they are staying on track financially.  A district can be given positive, negative or “qualified” certification by the state based on the financial statements it files with any of its budget reports. 

Positive certification means your budget for the current year is balanced, and your projections for the two years following the current year show positive cash flow and the required amount of cash in reserve (two percent in the case of SFUSD). If the state thinks you may not meet your financial obligations in the current or future years, you are given qualified certification; if the state believes you will not meet your financial obligations in the current year or future years, you are given negative certification. According to the Bee:

Happily, despite our looming $113 million budget shortfall through 2012, SFUSD did not hit the “qualified” or “negative” certification lists — yet at least. The consequences of landing on these lists grow progressively more severe, with closer and closer oversight from the state.  This report from School Services of California goes into the possible consequences of a negative or qualified report in great detail; also of interest is this list of warning signs that are most commonly encountered as districts approach a fiscal meltdown.
These developments are interesting in the context of the vote the Board will take tomorrow night — on whether to approve the Superintendent’s proposed Budget Deficit Action Plan.  The Action Plan is not a budget, but it does lay out a framework for how the Superintendent proposes to close the $113 million gap.  The Superintendent’s argument for passing such a plan now is to signal to our labor partners, the state and the bond rating agencies that we are committed to fiscal responsibility and will make hard choices when they are necessary. I tend to agree with that, but I also can see from my e-mail that we need to do a better job of educating members of the public about the various choices before us.

Observe the March 4 Day of Action!

Hope to see everyone at City Hall at 5 p.m. TODAY for a massive rally against state cuts to K-12 and higher education. UESF members and K-12 advocates will be assembling at 4 p.m. at the state building on Van Ness for a rally and march to the main rally an hour later.

Schools all over the city are observing the Day of Action — I’m sure photos will start appearing around the Web so I’ll post things as I see them.

And that’s that: no RttT funds for California (for now)

This morning the Department of Education released the list of finalists for the first round of Race to the Top funding, and California isn’t on the list.  The state can apply for future rounds of funding, with Round 2 applications due June 1.

Individual districts can also apply for innovation grants, and my understanding is that we (SFUSD)  have applied for one. Stay tuned.

Thoughts from the Town Hall meeting

Tonight’s “Funding our Future” town hall meeting was in turn inspiring, frustrating, maddening and energizing. Overall, it was great to see so many people turn out on a weeknight — the large auditorium at Marina Middle School was completely filled, with an overflow crowd watching a TV feed in the school’s cafeteria. I got to the event 40 minutes early, but even then the parking was almost full. 

The organizers, dubbed the “Sherman Six,” started this whole effort in January after feeling angry about proposed budget cuts.  Then the event caught on like wildfire, causing the Sherman Six some sleepless nights wondering how they were going to accommodate a thousand adults and at least a hundred children in Child Watch.  But the event came off without a hitch, and appeared beautifully and extensively organized. My heartfelt thanks to the Sherman Six and all of the other parents and community members who pitched in to make this happen — I am hoping it will mark a turning point in our community’s engagement in the policy (and political) process — locally and at the state level.

So .  .  .  any solutions? Well, it depends on how you define “solution.” I think my takeaway from our state legislators (Senators Mark Leno and Leland Yee, and Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano and Fiona Ma) was that there are lots of ideas out there to reform California’s tax structure and governance system, but not a clear front-runner — nor anything that will happen in the next two years.  Even though it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I appreciated the bluntness of Senator Yee’s statement that no matter how upset we get,  “cuts are coming. They’re coming.”   I do think we have to resign ourselves to hunkering down and getting through this, learning how to be smarter and do without things we’d rather have or used to have at some point in the past.  Fairness will be a crucial part of this discussion, and there is clearly anger at perceived unfairness around the Superintendent’s proposed cuts.

As one UESF member said to me after the meeting, “we’re sitting on a tinderbox.” Teachers, paraprofessionals and other school staff are angry, and they want to be sure that cuts are not landing disproportionately on them. And while I do believe that the Superintendent and his cabinet are trying hard to be as fair and strategic as possible about the cuts, I acknowledge that people at the school sites need more convincing.

If you weren’t able to attend the event, SFGOV-TV did record it and will re-broadcast it sometime this week. I also imagine the program will be available in their Video on Demand area in the coming days. I’ll post a link when it’s up.