The state of California has failed to adequately fund our public education system for years. California has the fifth-largest economy in the world, yet it still falls 41st in the nation in per-pupil spending. California’s per-pupil spending is nearly $2000 less than the national average. The effect of this substandard support for students is felt in districts throughout the state and is most certainly felt in Berkeley.
In the Bay Area, the cost of living is among the highest in the nation. California is facing a growing teacher shortage, which hurts our students. As a result of these factors, Berkeley schools had multiple educator vacancies across multiple sites on the first day of school this August.
Over the past year and a half, Berkeley educators have been approaching the school board, speaking about how much they love their jobs, but many can’t keep up with the growing cost of living in the Bay Area. It is becoming more and more difficult to hire and retain highly qualified teachers. Our students deserve a fully funded experience in schools, with consistent educators who can make a long-term career in education. As long as school funding in California remains the same, teachers will continue to abandon the profession and new potential teachers will choose other fields to work in.
Since 2017, the Berkeley Unified School District has cut $3.8 million in efforts to maintain a balanced budget. While there has been great effort and success in avoiding most cuts that directly affect school sites and students thus far, future cuts will impact programs that directly serve students. Safety officers, staff at the Berkeley Technology Academy, as well as high school counselors have been impacted by budget cuts. Currently, the Berkeley Unified School District is working on a parcel tax for the March 2020 ballot that would help meet the compensation needs in BUSD. Yet providing a quality education for our students and providing a sustainable life for teachers is not a struggle that can be resolved only at the local level. Districts all over the state have had to raise class sizes, cut important programs and close schools because expenditures outweigh revenues. The state of California must increase revenue and fund schools based on the real costs of educating our young people.
Our most vulnerable students suffer the most. California has a large population of English language learners and a growing number of students qualifying for special education. Research has shown that when adequate funding is given to support programs for our most vulnerable students, the achievement gap narrows. The current funding is far from adequate, however. Much of the increased revenue that local districts have received in recent years has gone directly toward paying costs that the state itself has mandated, leaving little for students and the staff that serve them.
The Schools and Communities First commercial tax reform is one solution to this lack of funding. Under this fall 2020 ballot initiative, corporations will have to pay their fair share of taxes instead of relying on loopholes. This measure does not change taxes for residential properties. Our local communities will see increased revenues that will go toward public education, as well as our local counties and cities to provide public transportation and other critical city services. This is a necessary first step of many — to elevate our public school system so that our students can achieve their fullest potential. Our public education needs to be fully funded — 6.2 million California public school students depend on it.
Matt Meyer is the president and Janine Waddell is the vice president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 900 teachers, counselors, librarians, substitute teachers and specialists in the Berkeley Unified School District.
A previous version of this article stated that safety officers, staff at Berkeley Technology Academy and high school counselors will be impacted by future cuts. In fact, the budget cuts have already been made.