State Issues

If we truly value education for our kids, why don’t we fully fund it?

If we value education and what it can bring to our communities and the lives of students, California must do a better job funding schools.
If we value education and what it can bring to our communities and the lives of students, California must do a better job funding schools. Modesto Bee

It is said the best way to know what an organization truly values is to look at its budget. No matter what leaders say they value, the truth is in where the resources are directed.

At Escalon Unified School District, that holds true. With more than 84 percent of our budget going toward personnel, it is obvious we value people – our talented and dedicated teachers and classified staff – who teach, nurture and support our students.

Many might think California schools are getting enough money with recent increases for education and the Proposition 98 funding guarantee. It’s true the state has nearly restored funding levels to what they were before the Great Recession. Yet in most places, those gains aren’t keeping up with increases in healthcare, pension and utility costs. While Proposition 98 was intended to guarantee minimum resources during lean years, our lawmakers are treating it as the funding ceiling during the past few healthy years.

How do we compare to other states?

The California Budget and Policy Center says, as a state, we are 41st in per-student funding and 45th in the percentage of taxable income spent on education. The national average for spending on education is 3.3 percent of a state’s income. California spends just 2.7 percent.

If California moved from 45th to 25th education spending, reaching the national average, that would amount to an increase almost $2,000 per student, per year. For a classroom of 25, that’s nearly $50,000 more each year for academic and behavioral supports, art programs, technology, student services and more.

That we have so many children in need in our state compounds the funding issue. According to the California Department of Education’s student poverty data, 58 percent of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunches – well above the 52 percent average in the rest of the nation.

A look at the National Center for Education statistics on English learners reveals that nearly 23 percent of students in our state are learning English in addition to learning the curriculum. In the rest of our country, only 9.5 percent are doing both. In California, we spend more of our resources meeting basic needs for students, ensuring they are ready to learn. We need more resources than average, not less.

Most school districts are doing whatever they can to minimize costs outside the classroom. Like superintendents throughout our state, my role in managing our share of people’s hard-earned taxes is something I take very seriously. For example, in Escalon Unified we recently completed energy conservation and solar projects that will save us more than 80 percent on energy costs.

These steps help, but we still need the state to do its part.

It’s time to put California’s resources into what we say we value – our young people. If we can’t invest more now, while times are good, we will suffer even more when the next recession hits.

If we want to remain an economic powerhouse, it will take a continued investment in our youth. They need every advantage we can give them to prepare for a world that is growing more competitive, technology-driven and diverse each day.

Ron Costa is superintendent of Escalon Unified School District.