In summary

California’s huge public school system is in crisis, with declining academic performance and financial difficulties, but Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new budget is neglecting it.

California has no shortage of critical issues – pandemic, water, housing, and chronic poverty to name a few.

None, however, are more important to the state’s economic and societal future than the shortcomings of its huge public school system of 6 million students.

Even before COVID-19 hit the state two years ago, California’s overall position in nationwide academic achievement tests was embarrassing and the learning gap separating poor and English-speaking students from their more privileged peers was embarrassing.

The pandemic has worsened these negative conditions, as the state’s latest round of academic testing points out.

English and maths “Smarter Balanced” tests were suspended in 2020 as schools closed their doors and moved, quite awkwardly, to distance education. Testing resumed last spring, but less than a quarter of the 3.1 million students in Grades 3 to 8 took them due to uneven attendance.

Nonetheless, the sample was large enough to reveal that learning took a hit and that black and Latino students fell even further behind White and Asian children. High school graduation rates also fell, with those for black and Latino students falling the most.

Less than half of those tested met the standard in English tests and barely a third in math.

The declines were not surprising as the students who needed the most help had the least access to online tools and their families were hit the hardest, both in medical and financial terms, as the pandemic escalated. .

However, the woes of the education system go beyond poor academic performance. Enrollment was already declining due to demographic factors, such as falling birth rates, and many local school systems were feeling the effects as state aid was based on attendance.

Enrollments have declined further over the past two years due to the pandemic, but the state has continued to grant state aid based on pre-pandemic data. This harmless gesture is now coming to an end, unless it is renewed by Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature, with negative consequences for many school systems, even though the increase in state revenues has resulted in an increase in state revenues. significant overall increase in state aid.

A recently introduced bill would change the current practice of basing state attendance aid into one based on enrollment, thereby giving money to schools for children who are not in the room. class. The legislation is estimated to provide schools with an additional $ 3 billion per year, or about $ 500 per student.

Although the bill would require schools to spend at least half of the extra money to tackle truancy, there is no penalty for not bringing missing children back to the classroom. could worsen the already serious gap between registration and attendance.

With these festering problems, educators eagerly awaited Newsom’s 2022-2023 budget proposal, which he unveiled on Monday.

Newsom hasn’t ignored education, but neither has it put it on its list of the most important issues – COVID-19, homelessness, crime, climate change and the cost of living – addressed in the budget.

Basically, the budget would give schools their constitutionally required share of state revenues, increasing per student spending to nearly $ 21,000 per year from all sources, and provide local systems with some relief from the impacts of poverty. decline in registrations. State aid would be based on an average attendance over three years, rather than over one year.

Nothing in the budget, however, directly recognizes the worsening earnings crisis. He pursues the Capitol Hill’s long-standing and unproven assumption that spending more money will make the success gap disappear. But as education spending per student has more than doubled over the past decade, the embarrassing gaps in the school system have become, if at all, more pronounced.