By CTA President Dean E. Vogel
As a former kindergarten teacher, I can sing all the words to “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” in my sleep. It’s a song children learn early on and take delight in singing. Happily, the state Legislature granted a reprieve for a proposed cut in school transportation, allowing school bus wheels to continue going “round and round” at least through this school year. It’s an important victory, especially for thousands of students who depend on school buses to get them to class every day.
Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking of the state budget as going “round and round” these days as legislators contemplate more cuts to schools. The latest program to hit the chopping block is transitional kindergarten, which the governor has now proposed to make voluntary, instead of mandatory.
In 2010, after years of debate, the Legislature passed a law, SB 1381 by state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), that raises the kindergarten entry age, requiring children to reach their fifth birthday by Sept. 1. The bill also creates a “transitional kindergarten” (TK) program for children who will no longer be eligible for kindergarten under the change. Studies show TK programs may be beneficial in closing the achievement gap and reducing the number of kids who end up in special education classes or repeating grades. Unfortunately, under the current budget proposal, the mandated TK program will be eliminated, and along with it, the chance to prepare more children to succeed in school.
It’s a shame for the state to renege on these plans. Of course, we all know this comes down to the need for more state revenues. CTA continues to put pressure on the Legislature to approve a budget that will provide more funding to public education. The governor’s proposed spending plan increases K-14 funding by $4.9 billion, but only if voters approve his tax initiative on the November ballot.
Thankfully, California voters are showing signs they may be ready do that. They recognize the erosion to state schools and other essential public services caused by dwindling revenues and they are ready to do something about it. Unfortunately, voters may be bewildered by the choice of funding initiatives that are currently being circulated for signatures.
Gov. Brown’s proposal will get much-needed resources to our schools, colleges and other essential services and fix the state budget deficit. That’s why CTA is supporting it. The governor’s initiative works within the state budget structure to pay down the state’s current wall of debt, while at the same time it provides new revenue for public education and other essential services, and guarantees that local communities receive funds to pay for the services the Legislature now requires counties to provide. Without addressing this realignment issue, the state could be looking at another $12 billion shortfall in the next 18 months.
We’re fortunate to be an important voice in advocating for the governor’s funding initiative — but our efforts to advocate for initiatives like this one, or for candidates, trustees, or other issues that directly affect our classrooms, could be seriously curtailed if another measure, the Corporate Power Grab Initiative, is approved by voters. This insidious initiative is designed to silence the voice of labor unions and middle-class Californians. We can’t let that happen.
Home-to-school transportation, transitional kindergarten programs, increasing funding to our schools and essential public services — these are all vital and worth fighting for. But can you imagine what will happen if our voice is silenced? We cannot allow it. I hope each of you takes time to think about why our voice matters, and to join us in the important work ahead.