My Education Plan

Mar 7, 2018 | Blog, Policy

By Buffy Wicks

My Education Plan

California once had the best public schools in the country. Families moved west in search of better opportunity and quality education for their children. Unfortunately, California now ranks 47th out of 50th in standard of living for children. One in four children go hungry every day. We rank 41st in the nation on spending per child. More troubling, access to quality schools all too often is determined by where a child lives. Thus, there are glaring racial and socioeconomic inequities.

We are failing many our children; especially children of color. It is unconscionable. We urgently need a “kids-first” agenda, one that prepares our students for the changing workforce of the future. An educated workforce is not only critical to our economic growth, but essential in our ability to combat the growing wealth inequalities that are so pervasive in California.

Here’s what I will fight for:

More Funding For Schools

We must invest in our children by investing in our schools. California has only recently dug out of the deep hole created by the recession, and we remain woefully behind other states when it comes to ensuring our public schools have the resources they need to prepare our children for college and careers.

The quality of a school depends on the teachers in the classrooms, and therefore we must ensure teaching is a profession that is desirable and viable. We should provide more professional development, coaching, mentoring, and resources for continued education. We should pay our teachers more. In areas with a high cost of living, like Assembly District 15, we need to provide housing assistance so our educators can live within the communities in which they work.

We have a significant teacher shortage, particularly for science and math, and have the highest teacher to student ratio in the country. We should reinstate recruitment and incentives programs to attract and retain racially and culturally diverse teachers.

Address the Needs of the Whole Child

We know learning in the classroom is significantly impacted by circumstances outside of the classroom. It’s critical we look at the whole child and address their social, emotional, and behavioral growth to provide each child the opportunity to thrive. Children living in pervasive poverty and experiencing trauma need schools with more resources to address their social and emotional needs. These resources should include school psychologists, nurses, librarians and an investment in restorative justice programs.

Children who are socially and emotionally developed handle challenging difficult situations better; they create positive relationships, learn to check their emotions, and can calm themselves when upset. The ability to hone these skills enable children to learn and achieve at higher levels.

Learning Starts on Day One

Since children begin to learn from the day they are born, we should think of early child care as education and as an entitlement, like elementary school, social security, unemployment benefits or Medicare.

To this end, we should subsidize quality child care on a sliding scale and fund universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. We should professionalize the care industry by unionizing the workforce, providing professional development and apprenticeship programs and increase their educational requirements so early caregivers can receive the same pay as elementary school teachers.

Early childhood educators should have access to free community college as well as housing assistance as a way to live where they work. The more affordable and quality early education our children get, the better a society we are.

High Expectations and Accountability for All of Our Schools

Every school should be great. We should expect the best from all of our public schools, both traditional public schools as well as charter public schools. Along with increased funding and support for our public schools, we should set high standards informed by multiple measures for accountability — academic achievement, dropout rates, rates of suspension, graduation rates, etc — and clear transparency in how resources are spent.

We should support and model the successful elements of high performing public schools so other students can benefit. For consistently low performing public schools, increased funding should be coupled with clear accountability and a focus on supporting and developing strong school leaders.

Charter public schools can serve a need in our community, but we need more transparency and accountability in how they are run. Charter public schools must be subject to the Brown Act, the Political Reform Act and the Public Records Act, as this would enable parents and the community at large more insight into how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

We need to make it easier to identify poor performing charter public schools and to take action to quickly fix or shut those schools down. We need to find ways for charter public schools to work with district schools. Collaboration requires both the district as well as the charter to both come to the table in partnership. Lastly, we need to outlaw for-profit charter schools and under no circumstance should we consider vouchers for private schools.

Preparing Students for Life

We should be preparing students with tangible skills for life. I believe we need more project-based learning opportunities, where students learn by completing inter-disciplinary projects that solve complex real-world questions. Kids learn through doing and collaborating, and hands on projects are a vehicle for gaining skills traditionally taught through lectures and worksheets.

Project based learning emphasizes higher-order learning skills — critical thinking, synthesis, and evaluation — over comprehension or memorization skills. For instance, we should start financial literacy at a young age, and teach our kids the basics, like how to save, how to spend within their means and how the stock market works.

Research has shown that students who engage in regular project-based learning demonstrate better problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and do better on standardized tests than their peers. In order to successfully implement this model, teachers need training, coaching and high-quality planning materials. Partnerships between secondary schools and higher education should be strengthened to leverage resources and provide additional opportunities for students through mentorship programs, professional development for teachers, curriculum materials, and early college preparation instruction.

Reinvent Higher Education

The California Master Plan of 1960 established significant public investments in our higher education system — laying the framework for University of California, California State University, and California Community College schools. This set California on the path to becoming the 6th largest economy in the world.

Over the course of time, most notably since the early 2000s, we have significantly reduced public funding to our higher education institutions. We are transferring that cost to students, many of whom now face significant student debt. I believe we need to return to the spirit of the California Master Plan and prioritize our higher education system, making higher education accessible to all.

Students today deserve to have the same opportunities as past generations. Specifically, we need to make college debt-free for low-to-middle income students, not only covering the cost of tuition but housing, food and books. This means generating stable, predictable revenue as well as prioritizing higher education in our state budget process.

Since 1980, we have built one new UC campus, while at the same time adding 22 new prisons. University of California, Berkeley currently receives only 11% of its total budget from the State, but it continues to be a major economic engine for the state and one of the top universities for upward mobility. The state investment in our colleges and universities more than pays for itself through their contributions to innovation, job creation and increased incomes for graduates. At UC, within five years of graduation, the majority of Pell grant recipient students will earn more than their family. As the state grapples with the growing income inequality, investments in education can advance social and economic mobility while supporting state workforce needs. But we must invest more public dollars.

Our community colleges should be free to all, and we should support programs that aim to help students graduate or transfer. We need to create incentives for students to attend under-utilized campuses, which would help alleviate overcrowded campuses.

We should also promote concurrent enrollment across campuses to create flexibility for our students as well as leverage online learning. Lastly, we should create a higher education system that promotes lifelong learning and seeks to help non-traditional students gain the educational credentials necessary to compete in the modern workforce.

Feeding our Children to Create Lifelong Nutritional Habits

We have tragic paradox — a quarter of our kids go hungry every day, and yet 33% are obese. We add to the problem by not feeding our children appetizing, nutritious food nor are we giving them enough time during lunch to eat in our crowded urban schools. No school should be serving chips, pizza, soda and candy for lunch.

We need to prepare our kids to make good nutritional habits starting at a young age in order to combat our obesity, heart disease and other weight-related illnesses. Studies show that nutritional school lunches raise student achievement. We should be incentivizing and bringing to scale ideas like the Edible Schoolyard Project, born right here in AD15, which interweaves student-led urban gardening with nutritional lunches to serve healthy meals to our students. We should increase public funding for Farm to School programs. As it does on many issues, California should be leading the way nationally on providing the most nutritious school lunches available.

So how are we going to fund these principles I believe in so strongly? One way to provide more revenue, is to close the Proposition 13 commercial property loophole. By doing so, we will add $9–11.4 billion into our state budget every year. This would mean that big corporations like Chevron, Transamerica, and Disney would be required to pay their market-rate fair share of property tax. This would infuse the critical resources our state needs to ensure our children have the quality education they deserve, and these corporations would benefit from a better educated workforce.

 

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