There is no shortage of critical issues in California – pandemics, water, housing and chronic poverty, to name a few.
However, none is more important to the state’s economic and social future than the shortcomings in its vast, 6 million-student public school system.
Even before COVID-19 hit the state two years ago, California’s position on nationwide tests of academic achievement was embarrassingly low and the learning gap separating poor and English-learning students from their more privileged peers was embarrassingly extensive.
The pandemic has made those negative situations even worse, as the state’s latest set of academic tests underscores.
“Smarter balanced” tests of English skills and maths were suspended in 2020 as schools closed their doors and clumsily moved to distance learning. Last spring, the tests resumed, but fewer than 3.1 million students in classes 3-8 took them because of spotty attendance.
Still, the sample was large enough to reveal that learning took a beating and that black and Latino students fell behind white and Asian children. High school graduation rates also declined, with Black and Latino students reporting the most declines.
Less than half of the test takers met the standard on the English language tests and barely a third did in math.
The decline was not surprising as the students who needed the most help had the least access to online tools and their families were hit hardest, both medically and financially, as the pandemic escalated.
However, the crisis of the education system extends beyond poor academic achievement. Enrollment was already trending downward due to demographic factors, such as declining birth rates, and many local school systems were feeling the pinch because state aid was based on attendance.
Enrollment declined further over the past two years because of the pandemic, but the state continued to provide state aid based on pre-pandemic data. The hold-harm gesture is now ending, unless renewed by Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature, with negative consequences for many school systems, even though the increase in state revenue resulted in a large increase in state aid. Is.
A newly introduced bill would replace the existing practice of basing state aid on attendance based on enrollment, thus giving money to schools for children who are not in class. It is estimated that this would provide an additional $3 billion per year to law schools, or about $500 per student.
Although the bill would require schools to spend the last half of the extra money battling truancy, there is no penalty for failing to bring missing children back to class, narrowing an already dire gap between enrollment and attendance. can increase.
With these festering problems, teachers await Newsom’s proposed 2022-23 budget, which he unveiled on Monday.
Newsom didn’t neglect education, but neither did he put it on his list of the most important issues — COVID-19, homelessness, crime, climate change and the cost of living — the budget addresses.
Basically, the budget would give schools a constitutionally required share of state revenue, increase per-student spending from all sources to about $21,000 a year, and provide local systems with some relief from the effects of declining enrollment. State assistance will be based on average attendance of three years instead of one year.
However, nothing in the Budget directly acknowledges the deepening achievement crisis. It continues Capital’s long-held and unproven belief that spending more money will make the achievement gap disappear. But the embarrassing shortcomings, if anything, of the school system became more apparent as per-pupil education spending more than doubled in the past decade.
Dan Walters is a columnist for CalMatters.