As many of you wrap up a full year of in-person teaching in the COVID era and embark on a well-deserved summer break, it’s a good time to examine the current education landscape in California and look toward the future.
First, there is some very positive state budget news. The governor’s proposed May Revision budget takes full advantage of an unprecedented surplus and proposes increasing per pupil spending by more than $3,000 per student. This is a sign that California, the fifth largest economy in the world, is slowly making progress in pulling itself up from its inexcusable position — for decades — as near the bottom in the nation in per-pupil funding.
The proposed budget would mean many good things for students, educators and communities. Not only are we beginning the multi-year phase-in of universal transitional kindergarten for all four-year-olds, but the state’s community schools program that CTA members have led the way on is slated to receive an additional $1.5 billion. That’s over the $3 billion proposed in January. Both these programs will hugely benefit students, especially those who have been underserved. They are solid education policy changes that will help us better serve families and our communities.
The short-term political outlook remains good as well. CTA-recommended Tony Thurmond is likely to win re-election as Superintendent of Public Instruction. In addition, there are hundreds of local school board, state legislative and congressional races across the state that will be important to educators, students and their families.
As I write this column, we are mourning the devastating loss of students and teachers in yet another horrific Optimism for Our Future classroom shooting, this time in Uvalde, Texas. Everyone should be able to send their children to school and know they will be safe and taken care of, yet once again over 20 lives have been taken and countless others shattered by a senseless act of gun violence on a school campus. As students, educators and others across the country grieve and wonder when and where the next attack will happen, lawmakers continue to throw up their hands as if there’s nothing they can do, and they continue to put the demands of the firearms lobby above the lives of children.
As a nation we can and must do better. We must never accept such abhorrent events as simply the status quo. Tell lawmakers to enact laws to prevent gun violence in schools and communities – now.
There are, of course, other urgent challenges facing educators, and CTA is ready to help address them. COVID has not gone away. Attacks on curriculum continue, with educators being harassed for being inclusive of LGBTQ+ students and themes, or for teaching honestly about the role of race in the history of the United States. Powerful media outlets stoke division, and disinformation continues to spread, often promulgated by those who would like to do away with public schools.
Despite all this, I remain optimistic about the near- and long-term future of California public schools. CTA members have the strength and capacity to meet whatever challenges come our way. A top focus in the coming year is to help our local chapters build organizational strength and increase member engagement so our voices on these critical issues are heard. CTA members will continue to lead the way and, united as a strong union, we will continue to ensure that all California students get the quality education they deserve.
Have a wonderful summer.
E. Toby Boyd