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Alameda County School District Rallies for Public Education

Members of Alameda County School Districts, from teachers, staff and students to superintendents and school board members gathered on Wednesday, April 3 at the Capitol Mall in Sacramento to rally for better public education funding in California. Various speakers, including Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, Karen Monroe, and student school board representatives from public school districts throughout Alameda County attended the rally to discuss the issues caused by lack of funding. A previous rally was organized by the  East Bay Coalition for Public Education (EBCPE) in Oakland on January 12.

According to the president of the Association of Piedmont Teachers, Gabriel Kessler, the goals of the rally were to “lobby and advocate and to put pressure on both the legislature and the governor to make changes in [the] funding structure for public schools.”

Organizers and attendees of the rally aimed to communicate the need for increased funding.  Attendees of the rally wore red in show of support for the movement dubbed “Red for Ed” and carried provided signs reading, “Our Students Deserve More!”

A point that was repeatedly referenced by speakers at the event was the fact that California ranks in the bottom ten out of all 50 states in terms of per student spending, despite California being the fifth largest economy in the world. California was ranked among the top five states in terms of funding per student in the 1970s. However,  in 1983, per student spending in California dropped below the national average, where it has since remained.

Many believe that the passing of Proposition 13 in 1978 is in part to blame for the drop in 1983 as well as for the current underfunded state of public education in California.

Prop. 13 lowered property tax rates in California, thus reducing the budgets of public school districts in California, which had heavily relied on revenue from local property taxes prior to Prop. 13’s passing.

In spite of the reduced revenue available to public schools, according to the site Ed Data, based on Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD)  total expenditures divided by total enrollment, its per students spending is approximately $18,456.20 for the 2017-18 fiscal year, greater than both the California average and the national average.

“One important reason for BUSD’s having funding above the median is that the District has the good fortune to be located in an exceptional city where taxpayers are highly supportive of increased funding for education,” said BUSD Public Information Officer (PIO), Charles Burress.

In 2016, voters in Berkeley passed Measure E1, which allowed the Berkeley Schools’ Excellence Program (BSEP) to continue. BSEP currently funds 20 percent of BUSD’s overall budget.

However, “The dollars here just don’t go as far,” added Burress, given the cost of living in Berkeley, which is one of the highest in the state.

Many believe that the high cost of living in cities throughout California also impede the ability of school districts to attract and retain staff, making cost of living a notable contributing factor to the exceptionally low ranking of California’s public schools.

Burress said that a lack of adequate funding has impacted BUSD and Berkeley High School (BHS) in a number of ways. According to Burress, low funding has prevented the district from hiring new staff and has led to many key budget reductions in the past two years. “Underfunding takes a significant toll in form of … overcrowding at some sites … our ability to offer more compensation to teachers and other District employees, and limits on access to the wide range of educational materials we would like to offer our students,” said Burress.

Although no members of BUSD spoke at the rally on April 3, Burress said that educators in Berkeley will be more involved in any such events in the future. For example, members of the district plan on attending the upcoming  “Red for Ed” rally on May 22.

While former California Governor Jerry Brown increased funding levels for public schools in the 2018-2019 budget to levels comparable to before their drop during the recession, many argue that it is not enough. The EBCPE is lobbying for current Governor Gavin Newsom to increase funding in the May revision of the Governor’s budget, in order to raise average funding per pupil in California to the top ten among states.   

“We’re hoping that our voices are heard and that we don’t have to keep doing this every year,” said Superintendent of Castro Valley Unified School District, Parvin Ahmadi. Despite numerous efforts to get more funding for education, California schools’ spending has only dropped. “The future should be for children whom we can support to meet their aspirations and their goals,” said Ahmadi.