started sending the pink slips to teachers and other employees in
San Francisco. In all, almost 900 of them will get layoff notices
over the next couple of weeks because the city can’t come up with
the $113 million needed to cover the expense of educating its children
and young people. The education workers are being told that at least
some of their jobs could be saved if some proposed “reforms” can
be enacted. These include increasing class sizes, early retirement
and cuts in pay and benefits for those employed in the school district.
I know some of these teachers – especially some of the younger
ones who are slated to be the first to go. They are the kind of
bright, eager, resourceful and dedicated ones that we read so much
about these days as being needed to improve education. Some of them
are at that age where they start hooking up and raising the next
generation. That after working to acquire their credentials they
suddenly find themselves on the streets sucks. But the real victims
here are the kids.
The good news is that the students are fighting back, as
are their parents. Even the usually staid PTAs are protesting and
mobilizing. This week thousands of them have taken to the streets.
Let’s pause here and ask a question. What does it mean that
in the richest country in the world, in the biggest state in the
union, in this sophisticated and liberal city – a Pacific Rim financial
center - we can’t find enough money to properly educate the young?
Don’t get the idea I’m writing about a local phenomenon or
a just about grades K through 12.
It’s happening all over the country. At a February 20 meeting
of the National Governors Association Education Secretary Arne Duncan
said, "I am very, very concerned about layoffs going into the
next school year starting in September. Good superintendents are
going to start sending out pink slips in March and April, like a
month from now, as they start to plan for their budgets.”
Meanwhile, because of ongoing student protests – certainly
not due to political leadership or a diligent media – most of us
are aware of the threat to education at the university level. Let’s
face it, at a time where higher education is being touted as the
answer to everything from unemployment to the nation’s economic
competiveness in the world marketplace, the chances of young people
getting within striking distance of an advanced degree are being
reduced. Here is California what has been the state’s crown jewel,
the University of California system is being hammered by facility
cutbacks and increased tuition costs.
Hardly a statement out of the Obama Administration about
education these days fails to mention the importance of community
colleges. Meanwhile, state officials say that community colleges
in California will enroll 21,000 fewer students this year as a result
of the financial squeeze. In some schools student are finding
it impossible to get into the classes they need to graduate or,
in some cases, to qualify for student loans or aid.
Thousands of students are finding it impossible to even get
into community colleges. The enrollment decline "is a result
of a lack of resources," state Chancellor Jack Scott recently
told reporters.” We’re on the road to a disastrous decline in college
enrollment in California."
"Really, all of us ought to be concerned," Scott
added. "We really need to find a way to educate more students,
"Some of my classes, people have to sit on the floor,"
a student Alex Pristinsky, recently told the Contra Costa Times.
"Every class has to have a waiting list and even the waiting
lists are full," said another student Kelsey Wise, a first-year
psychology major who couldn’t get into an introductory psychology
course because there was no room.
It hardly needs to be pointed out that the weight of this
crisis falls disproportionately upon African Americans, Latino and
other students of color and their communities. Lectures about getting
an education start to ring hollow when it becomes increasingly difficult
to do so for those who try.
By now we’ve heard all the explanations – or excuses - for
the education crisis. It’s the recession, state tax revenues are
doing and the states are required to balance their budgets. Here
is California much of the onus is but on the legacy of the dreaded
Proposition 13. That’s the ballot measure passed by voters almost
exactly 10 years ago, sponsored by rightwing tax activist that
severely limited the ability to finance expenditures from property
taxes. It’s all true but it avoids the fundamental question: why
can a nation and a government that can raise $1 million each to
send young men and women to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan not find
the recourses to adequately educate young people here at home.
We hear a lot of talk these days about educational reform.
A lot of attention is given to the virtues – or lack thereof – of
No Child Left Behind or the relatively miniscule number of charter
schools. Secretary Duncan himself is full of news about “grants”
for this and “grants” for that for educational innovation. It seems
to me the real danger here is the evolution of a two-tiered educational
system with some students perhaps getting a better education (the
jury is still out on the charters) while a larger number get fewer
opportunities. In any case, talk about school reform seems a bit
unseemly when students are trying to learn sitting on the floor.
The White House proposal to grant $900 million to states
and education districts that, in the words of the Associated
Press, “agree to drastically change or even shutter their worst
performing schools” doesn’t address the problem that prompted this
is something peculiar about the people who hold most of the wealth
and pretty much run this country. They don’t seem to be able to
act in their own self interest, in ways that keep the “free market”
economic system going. This educational crisis is not being duplicated
in Brazil or China. In those countries they are doing their utmost
to prepare for the future.
So this week, students, teachers, administrators and campus
worker unions are in the streets demanding action. It shouldn’t
be necessary but it’s commendable and encouraging and it should
be received as a serious wakeup call.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member
Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of
the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Click here
to contact Mr. Bloice.