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NOP3 | California’s Economic Growth depends on its investment on education

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By Jamie Kim | New Organizing Project blogger

Part of our series of bloggers on what the elections mean to them.

I have always been grateful for the fact that I was given an option to attend a community college. Its financial accessibility and transfer rate into a four year university made it an obvious choice for me after I graduated from high school. However these days, I am quite relieved by the fact that I was able to able to experience the community college system earlier on.  If I would have graduated from high school today, I don’t think community college would have been as an obvious alternative.

These days, it is a challenge for freshmen students to obtain classes without the units already built into their records. Even returning upperclassmen battle to obtain mandatory core classes to transfer.  Unable to accumulate enough units, students are now transferring in 3 or more years, rather than two.  The impact that I observed in just the two years at my community college was drastic. And I fear that the worst is yet to come.

On the topic of California Education, you have to ask yourself: “What happened?” California used to be the nation’s model for education. California Community Colleges is still the largest higher education system in the nation and provides education and skills to “nearly 3 million students per year.”

However, from 2008-09 to 2011-12 year, enrollment in Community Colleges went down by more than 485,000 students in three academic years due to severe budget cuts.  An additional $338 million cut is planned this year, turning away 180,000  students according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.  Public Policy Institute of California recently  reported that Californian college enrollment in the University of California(UC) and California State university (CSU)  systems has declined by about one-fifth over the past five years, due to declining funding.  CSU announced that it plans to reduce enrollment to deal with “$750 million in funding cut already made in the 2011-2012 fiscal year and position

With the elections around the corner, a legislation that has been prompted as “pro education” is Proposition 30, a state bill proposed by California Governor Jerry Brown to temporarily increase the tax rate on incomes above $250,000 per individual (or $500,000 per couple) by 1 to 3 percentage points over seven years with the remaining amount funded by a sales tax. With its passage its tax revenue will continue to fund California Community Colleges, as well as UC and Cal State institutions.

Dominic Brewer, a professor and Vice Dean of Research at the Rossier School of Education at University of Southern California, says that “while the public generally supports a school spending hike, voters believe that state mismanagement of public schools require major, nonfinancial reforms.” I completely agree that higher funding does not necessarily guarantee higher performance.  But decreased funding will definitely make the already alarming educational environment detrimental

Primary and secondary schools, as well as universities, were forced to increase class sizes and lay off teachers and other programs past years.   This June, The Sacramento Bee wrote that California’s secondary and primary spending per pupil fell to 35th in the nation.   University of California says the state funding for them has already dropped by nearly $900 million (about 27%) over the last four years, “resulting in sharp tuition increases, faculty hiring freezes, academic program cuts and other reductions as well as student fees increasing by 20.4 percent in January.”

In fact if you Google “what happened” and “California education,” the top three searches are: “ From First to Worst, What happened to California School Finance”, “How did we get here? California Taxes and Education”, and “What Happened to California’s Higher Education System?

PBS Documentary From First to Worst (produced by former NPR and PBS education reporter John Merrow)

The University of California newsroom also says:

The University of California Board of Regents has endorsed Prop. 30, noting that if the initiative fails, UC is scheduled to receive a budget reduction of $250 million this year and lose an additional $125 million next year.

California is the 9th largest economy in the world and plays a fundamental role in the U.S trade.  Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there is a shortage in the nation’s labor worker force for those with two years of post-secondary education.  Investing in the state’s education provides a net benefit.  For every dollar spent on students, the state’s economy receives a $3 net return on investment. It is time that we take this investment seriously.  The traditional accessibility to public education system that California has long prided will only sustain California’s economy and ensure a brighter future to come.

Yes, we need reform beyond financial funding.  But education and economic growth starts with voting for Proposition 30.

 



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