MODESTO — Local voices are not only being heard in Sacramento, they are leading the conversations.
Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, vice chairs the state Assembly Committee on Education and sits on the Committee on Higher Education.
Modesto City Schools Board Vice President Cindy Marks is president of the California School Board Association for 2013.
Modesto Junior College students Kevin Sabo and James Varble hold key posts on the Student Senate for California Community Colleges.
Together they give Modesto a voice in education from kindergarten through college, from legislative chambers to nonprofit networks to offices of academia.
"I am excited that so many leaders from the Central Valley are engaged in positions of influence in education policy. Too often the Central Valley is left behind," Olsen said.
Collaboration is critical to moving ideas forward, she said. "In California we too often focus on failures in education and I really think we need to start talking about opportunities for success and ways we can contribute to each other's success," Olsen said.
Topping her legislative to-do list is teacher training, with a professional growth plan expected to be unveiled soon. Another hot topic is school safety. Olsen said she favors a comprehensive approach. "No one can keep evil from happening in this world," she said, but more officers and better mental health care might at least lower the risks.
As for the governor's proposal to change school funding, Olsen said it makes sense to give extra help to students who need it.
"Barring any budget gimmicks, I am pleased with Governor Brown's growing commitment to focus on funding K-12 schools and universities while providing districts with more local control and flexibility," Olsen said.
Some budget concerns
For school board members, Marks said the budget had "many positive points," but she has concerns about how it could affect different districts. "He's taken a step in the right direction," Marks said.
While the higher funding proposed for poor students and English learners would help her own Modesto district, statewide leadership calls for a wider perspective.
MJC student James Varble, speaking as vice president of external affairs for the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, said his group, too, applauds the plan to increase funding.
But he worries about policy changes that could lower funding for schools with high numbers of poor and minority students, such as MJC, and make it harder for returning students trying to change careers, such as laid-off workers in this area, or shut the door to undocumented youth, also a concern here.
"We have the highest unemployment rate in the state," Varble said, which makes access to community colleges especially critical here. "Access, affordability and quality are my three central themes.
"Regardless of party affiliation, state legislators need to understand that a well-educated populace is foundational to the prosperity of our state. As a student advocate, I intend to hold them accountable for their policies and ensure that those who benefited from California's open-door policy for education do not close that door behind them."
Also stepping up to statewide advocacy is Kevin Sabo, president of the MJC Student Senate and vice president of governance and policy for the CCC student senate.
While Varble networks for the group with outside entities, Sabo connects with committees working within the community colleges system, such as the statewide Academic Senate.
By forging networks and making connections, they hope to make big bureaucracy hear their views and the valley's voice.
On the Net: Cindy Marks talks about the budget, http://bit.ly/1207zcw.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.