Teaching, Learning & Education
By Michael Watkins, County Superintendent of Schools
California's Educational Resources Crisis
Teaching and learning are experiences that shape, or have shaped, all of our lives in one way or another. Nurturing an insecure, or troubled, student to blossom into a resilient and successful learner, or seeing pride in the eyes of a child discovering that he or she can read for the first time, are occurrences that happen daily in our county's classrooms. Teachers have the power to both transform us and help mold us into who we will become. Santa Cruz County schools have a long and rich history of quality and excellence. Yet unless swift and decisive action is taken at both the local and state levels, that tradition could vanish overnight.
Funding for Education
The economic recession of 2007- 2012 hit California's K-12 school districts particularly hard. State funding for schools fell by 20%, a catastrophic drop in revenue that has yet to be recovered, and is not expected to be fully restored until after the year 2020. California, once tops in the nation in per pupil spending is now 41st. Furthermore, California spends $2,000 less per student than the national average and we have the highest student to teacher ratio in the nation at 25:1. In contrast, the cost of warehousing a prisoner is set to top $75,000 by next year. The painstakingly slow trend towards equity in fully funding our schools in such a prosperous state is shameful. Our students deserve better.
Impending Teacher Shortages
A combination of three factors: a shortage of qualified teachers, low teacher salaries and affordable housing has the ability to derail public education in Santa Cruz County and elsewhere. According to the Learning Policy Institute at Stanford, three out of every four districts in the state report a shortage of qualified teachers. As a result they have had to hire untrained teachers and substitutes, assign teachers to teach classes out of their field of expertise, cancel classes and increase class size. Many of the districts in our county are in the same predicament with over 100 non-fully credentialed teachers or interns assigned to classes.
In an effort to address these issues locally, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education is collaborating with the 10 local school districts to embark on an initiative to grow our own teachers by providing grants to qualified para-professionals that are already in the field, and partnering with teacher credentialing programs to offer a local option for prospective teachers. In addition we are also looking to work with city and county leaders as well as private investors to address the teacher housing crisis.