Sen. Carol Liu chairs the Senate Education Committee. A member of the large “teacher caucus” — former educators who serve in the Legislature — she completed a six-year term in the Assembly before becoming the first Asian American woman elected state senator in 2008. She taught history to junior and senior high school students in Richmond, in what is now the West Contra Costa Unified School District, and later served there as a district administrator. Liu taught in the Education Department at UC Berkeley before rejoining the Legislature in her current capacity representing Senate District 25, which includes Glendale and Pasadena in Southern California.
What are your goals for public education?
As a mother, an educator and a legislator, I am particularly passionate about ensuring all children have access to early education. The state budget has not been kind to early education for many years. The good news is that the tide is changing. Policymakers recognize that early childhood education is critical to revitalizing California’s economy. This year, proposals are moving forward to support parents and provide quality care and learning environments for children. At the federal level we saw the introduction of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act of 2013 and the proposed reauthorization of the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
Here in Sacramento we have a few proposals on the horizon as well, including SB 1123, the Strong Families, Strong Children Act. This bill expands access for low-income infants, toddlers and their parents to quality early learning and parental support services.
We need to make California public schools the best in the nation. What can lawmakers do to help educators make that happen?
Stable and predictable funding, extensive support for local school districts, and better resources for all teachers and students. We also need sufficient resources, teacher training and oversight to successfully implement Common Core standards.
Teaching is a great profession, but the difficult years of budget cuts and layoffs have turned off many potential new educators. As we move out of the recession and begin to restore funding, we need to attract people into teaching. That means we need to fulfill the promise of a stable, rewarding career with opportunities to succeed, advance and improve. I am a proponent of the community schools strategy, which brings government, communities, nonprofits and businesses together with school districts to deliver wraparound services for struggling students and their families. Effectively implemented, this strategy can relieve the expectation on teachers to be all things to all students.
What are the best ways educators can tell lawmakers what is happening in their schools?
Please write, email through our Senate website, and attend events hosted in your district. For example, I regularly host roundtable discussions with educators in the 25th Senate District.
As a former teacher, who was the teacher who had the greatest impact on you?
Several people showed me how a caring, dedicated and enthusiastic teacher can motivate kids to learn. The person I remember most is Bob Smith, who taught American government in the late 1950s at Oakland High School. He was so supportive of the students, with that “rah rah” attitude and willingness to help all the time.
What led you to run for office?
After I got married and relocated to Southern California, I became an active community volunteer and civic leader. I first focused on education and other issues affecting children, serving as president of the PTA and the Pasadena City College Foundation Board. The more involved I became, the more I wanted to help. Back then I assisted in a whole range of issues — from environmental protection to child care services — that affect local quality of life. I was elected in 1992 to the La Cañada Flintridge City Council, where I served for eight years, including two terms as mayor. When the opportunity opened to run for state Assembly, I wanted to take all that public service experience to Sacramento and help make things better for the people of California with a particular focus on improving the public education system.
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