Investing in Education Now Brings Returns in Future

Posted on 14 July 2011

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By Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

Businesses know that smart investments are the key to future growth. Governments also make smart investments such as the one California made in higher education after adopting a master plan in 1960. Many today credit California universities for its ranking as the eighth largest economy in the world and as an incubator for high technology, biotechnology and agricultural advances.

California’s leadership in education and the economy, however, is in danger of slipping. State education spending fell by $17 billion over the last three years, forcing schools to shorten the school year, increase class size, close school libraries and eliminate summer school among other actions.

In higher education, the loss of funding has pushed up fees at community colleges, California State Universities and the University of California, while the state is offering 15,000 fewer Cal Grants this year for students in need. Not as many students are getting into the colleges as more of them save seats for higher-paying, out-of-state students. Meanwhile, those who can afford the higher fees are struggling to get the courses they need to graduate as classes are cut. Students trying to transfer from community colleges into CSUs and UCs are hitting a wall. All of this is causing a bottleneck, delaying students’ entry into the work force.

The spending cuts also hurt industry. Economists estimate education’s contribution to labor productivity growth ranges between 13 percent and 30 percent. California employers are worried they won’t find employees with the education and skills they need.

Our state has set some of the nation’s highest academic standards for its youth, yet it is failing to provide sufficient resources for them to succeed. Only a few Californians know our per-pupil spending ranks far below the national average – near the bottom when compared with other states. California now faces two lawsuits, Robles-Wong v. California and Campaign for Quality Education v. California, over the lack of adequate funding for public education. In 2009, the Legislature adopted a resolution I carried stating its intention to bring per-pupil spending up to or beyond the national average and to cover the costs of educating California’s diverse student population. This is imperative and we must immediately start figuring out how we are going to fulfill this promise.

One way we can tackle our deficient education funding is by overhauling our overly complex, irrational and inequitable school finance system. Plenty of studies have concluded financial reforms are necessary before we can make significant improvements to our schools, including the Getting Down to Facts studies at Stanford University, the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence and the Public Policy Institute of California. In our current system, an English Learner in one school gets a different level of resources than a similar English Learner in another school. If we create a new school finance structure that is simple, transparent and allocates funds in a more effective way, Californians will be willing to invest more in education.

With this goal in mind, I have introduced several bills over the last five years to develop a new structure. While the measures have received bipartisan support, they were either blocked by a fiscal committee or vetoed by a governor unwilling to commit to accomplishing such a challenging task. This year, I introduced Assembly Bill 18, which sets forth a detailed plan for a simplified school funding system based on the aforementioned studies. It passed the Assembly last month and is now pending in the Senate. Major reforms like these require thoughtful analysis and collaboration. I recently amended my bill based on suggestions I have received from stakeholders and anticipate more amendments as I move forward in the coming year.

AB 18 narrows hundreds of funding streams to three tributaries, leaving just a couple dozen in their existing form. The bill would first establish a base level of funding for all students and would ensure no school loses funds in the base year. Another stream would be devoted and weighted to English Learners and low-income students who need more resources to be successful, while the last would be devoted to quality classroom instruction giving local school districts several options to meet the varied needs of its students.

It doesn’t make sense to distribute more money through a broken system, but it makes perfect sense to fix our school funding “engine” now, while the tank is unfortunately empty, so when we are able to fill it in the future, we will get better mileage out of it.

Making a smart investment in education now will bring substantial returns in the future by fueling our industries with the skilled workers they need to maintain the state’s competitive edge in a global market, and by assuring every Californian has the opportunity to make a sustainable living wage. Everyone benefits.


Assemblymember Brownley represents California's 41st Assembly District.

Assemblywoman Brownley,

You have been an incredible advocate for all of California's children for some time. Thank you for this article, and thank you for your continued work with Public Advocates and Californians Together.

The author is right to say we need to reform the education budget; but the main change is to eliminate useless bureaucratic structures. E.g, the over $ 5 billion of the education budget that goes to support the archaic 58 county offices of education.

Secondly, there must be a cap on the number and salary/benefits of school administrators.

Thirdly, at the higher education level, all money for athletic scholarships and intermural activities be abolished. Some coaches make over $ 2 million. Illegal aliens should not be allowed to attend. Make room for citizens.

Until action is applied by the University of California (UC) Board of Regents to chancellors, like Birgeneau at University of California Berkeley, UC shouldn’t come to the Governor or public for support for any tax or tuition increase.

(The author has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at UC Berkeley (Cal) where he observed the culture & way senior management work)

Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) has forgotten that he is a public servant, steward of the public money, not overseer of his own fiefdom (these are not isolated examples): recruits (uses California tax $) out of state $50,000 tuition students that displace qualified Californians from public university education; spends $7,000,000 + for consultants to do his & many vice chancellors jobs (prominent East Coast university accomplishing same 0 cost); pays ex Michigan governor $300,000 for lectures; in procuring a $3,000,000 consulting firm he failed to receive proposals from other firms; Latino enrollment drops while out of state jumps 2010; tuition to Return on Investment drops below top 10; Birgeneau all employees meeting – only 50 attend; visits to Cal down 20%; NCAA places basketball program on probation, absence institutional control.

It’s all shameful. There is no justification for such violations by a steward of the public trust. Absolutely none.

Birgeneau’s violations will continue indefinitely. Governor Brown, UC Board of Regents Chair Lansing, President Yudof must do a better job of vigorously enforcing stringent oversight than has been done in the past over Chancellors like Birgeneau who use the campus as their fiefdom.

Your development of a k-12 finance plan is a good idea.

At present what we have is __Republicans raise taxes
The 12 % tuition increases at the CSU added on Tues. to the prior 10% increase, as well as the expected increase in tuition at the U.C. are tax increases imposed upon students and their families by the Republican strategy in the legislature of no new taxes- on corporations and the rich. But, yes new taxes ( called tuition) on students. Students are correctly offended by this tax increase. So, Republicans are in favor of raising some taxes, just not taxes on the business community and their constituents.
The tax increases ( tuition increases) were decided upon by the Board of Trustees, but forced upon the CSU by the legislature and the economic collapse of 2008 when the banking industry took some 13 Trillion $ from the U.S. economy. The economic collapse engineered by Bank of America, Wells Fargo and others, created the foreclosure crisis, the loss of jobs and homes, and led directly to a drop in the state sales tax and property taxes which in turn produced a 150 million dollar budget cut to the universities. – Thus the tution increases.
Lilian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association described the decision this way,
“The devastating cuts contained in this budget are a direct result of the unwillingness of legislative Republicans to allow the people of California to vote on tax extensions. While these Republicans proudly proclaim that they held the line on taxes, they also opened the door for a middle class tax increase that targets working families throughout the state in the form of higher student fees for the CSU.
In addition to the tuition increases at the CSU and the UC campuses, the budget agreement produced a $10 per unit increase in community college fees plus a probable additional $10 per unit fee increase if the target budget revenues are not achieved.
Republican anti tax policy, along with Democratic Party ineptness, have ended California’s 60 year old commitment to low cost public higher education. See, the post “The Republicans won the budget battle”, on this site. This low cost higher education was a major instrument in creating the California economic miracle that is now being destroyed.
In an increasingly bad job market, young workers are pushed into private, for profit “career colleges” with programs in nursing assistants, medical office transcription, computer repair, and similar “studies” as an alternative to low cost public education. Students in these programs increasingly pay up to $20,000 per year for training, leave the “college” with high debts of $30,000 - $60,000 per year with limited employment opportunities and few options to improve their salaries to a level sufficient to pay off the loans. It is a new form of exploitation of working people much as homeowners were taken in by temporarily “low” cost loans in the housing market. It is another “bubble” economy exploiting and profiting from working people.

The California k-12 education system needs a large increase in funds just to make national average. We spend $58,000 per prisoner in our state prisons but only less than $5,000. per student on K-12 education? We should be outraged! All schools need to be funded properly NOT just title! schools with English language learners. We need to stop blaming teachers for our crisis and support more arts in schools to enhance creativity. On the UC and CU funding issue our in- state tuition is also below average so these increases are not as bad as some make them out to be.
Our OUT-OF STATE tuition is below average for the caliber of schools we have in California. Also we should look at the possibility of a sliding fee schedule for our in-state students in college to open more slots.
I know top students who did not get in to UCB or UCLA or UCSD and ended up paying $50,000.+++ out of state for the same caliber school.
That is $50,000.+ per student spent in another state people! Times that by thousands of California students spending their tuition dollars elsewhere!

If only academically-qualified students were admitted to higher ed, citizens would be more willing to put more money into the higher ed systems. As is is now, much money is wasted on remedial course for the unqualified.Also some student athletes take up room, and most don't care about an education. All intermural sports should be abolished. Billions could be saved. UC Coach Tedford makes over $2 million.

The actual cost per child for k-12 in California is around $9800 per year. This is about the national average.