It is said the best way to know what an organization truly values is to look at their budget. No matter what leaders say they value, the truth is in where the resources are directed. At Escalon Unified, that holds true. With more than 84 percent of our budget going towards personnel, it is obvious we value people – our talented and dedicated teachers and classified staff – that teach, nurture, and support our students each day.
Many may think the schools in our state are getting enough money with recent increases for education and the Proposition 98 funding guarantee. It’s true that the state has nearly restored funding levels to what they were before the recession, yet in most places the gains are not keeping up with increasing healthcare, pension, and utility costs. While Proposition 98 was intended to be a guarantee of minimum resources during lean years, our lawmakers have been treating it as the funding ceiling during the past few healthy years.
How do we compare with other states?
According to the California Budget and Policy Center, as a state we are ranked 41st in per-student funding and 45th in the percentage of taxable income spent on education. The national state average spent on education is 3.3 percent of income, while in California we come in at just 2.7 percent.
If California moved from 45th to 25th and funded schools at just the average level, that would amount to an increase of 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.
The fact that we have so many children in need in our state compounds the funding issue. According to the California Department of Education Student Poverty Data, 58 percent of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, 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 even more. Nearly 23 percent of students in our state are learning English in addition to the curriculum. In the rest of our country, that average is about 9.5 percent. In California, we spend more of our resources getting our students’ basic needs met to ensure they are ready to learn. We need more resources than average, not less.
Most districts are doing what we can to minimize costs outside the classroom to try to make up for the lack of resources. Like superintendents throughout our state, I take the role of managing our share of people’s hard-earned taxes seriously. For example, in Escalon Unified, we recently completed energy conservation and solar projects that will save us more than 80 percent of our energy costs today and going forward. These steps help, but we still need the state to do its part.
California, it’s time to put our 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 the economic powerhouse we are today, 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 serves as Superintendent of the Escalon Unified School District and contributed this column. The opinions expressed are those of the author.