By Ruth Gadebusch
In his latest proposal for school finance, Governor Jerry Brown has again stirred the pot. Such a major portion of the state budget being for education will always keep the pot simmering, but from time to time it really bubbles up.
Public education has long been at the mercy of that school board in the capitol known as the State Legislature exacerbated by that notorious Proposition 13. Ironically, that voter-enacted proposition put greater power in Sacramento, although its advocates were largely local control proponents.
The governor’s budget proposes a serious overhaul in the allocation of school funds. Basically, he wants areas with high need to get more state funds than the relatively well off. Setting the framework for this proposal, let us admit that every legislator, having gone to school once, thinks s/he is an expert on education. Nor did any district ever feel it had enough, as well as feeling someone else is getting more at its expense. That argument will never be settled. Currently, the state budget is looking more promising than it has in some time, however, there is no question in this proposal that some districts will fare better and some will get less than they would under the existing formula.
Of course, it would be wonderful if every district got all that it needs but that is another pipe dream so let’s deal with reality. Some children, especially the poverty stricken, have greater needs. Affluent parents normally have higher education themselves allowing for an advantageous setting providing medical and dental care, better nutrition, cultural experiences, recreational experiences, educational trips, etc., beyond mere existence.
No one denies that all children have these needs, but many of the prosperous do not appreciate how they were able to provide in ways that others, meaning poorer, cannot. It is more than “if those people over there worked as I did, they too could provide well for their children.” To be honest, a few poor fail due to laziness but by and large the successful required luck along with their labor. Nor do people all start at the same point. All this is to advocate greater resources go to the poorer communities as Governor Brown is proposing.
It has long been accepted that no education is so unequal as one offering all students the same regardless of circumstances. If we are ever to overcome the existing great divide, we must bring more up rather than allowing all to be pulled down. Inclusion must overcome exclusion if we are to thrive as a democracy.
Yes, I would hope that the school districts getting less would find ways to overcome their reduction with the state seeking to mitigate any damage done by shifts in allocations, however, we must remember that those districts that would benefit from the shift have long struggled to overcome the imbalance of having more children with greater needs and less resources. It cannot be put strongly enough that all would benefit by meeting the needs of the less privileged. I would note that is exactly what we have been doing for years in making larger allocations for special education students: meeting a particular need with additional resources.
The challenge will be producing results with the added financial means. Keeping in mind that success is different for each, we must serve all our students—and, thereby, our society—regardless of personal situations. Let us hope that School Board in the Capitol and the Governor will come together on this proposal. Equal opportunity is the premise of our nation.
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.