The level of investment that California is making toward our education system is improving and I am hopeful that it will continue to increase. Last year, the Legislature passed the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which replaced the previous convoluted funding structure for K-12 Education with a more transparent funding model that addresses the socio-economic disparities among school districts. While LCFF increases the base funding levels for all school districts across the state, the new funding formula also provides additional dollars to school districts with high concentrations of low-income students, English learners, and foster youth. The LCFF promised that no school district would be harmed as a result of this new funding structure. I will work to assure that this promise is kept.
In addition, the Legislature has appropriated $1.25 billion to support the implementation of Common Core State Standards as California moves to a new student assessment system. 2014 marks a positive year for education where there will be modest growth in funding and payment of long-overdue deferral obligations to school districts.
While the state has made investing in education a priority, there is still more that could be done. Our expenditures per pupil still rank near the bottom when compared to the other 49 states. To compete in the global economy, California needs an educated and prepared workforce. As our economy rebounds, the first priority for any new state revenue must continue to be our schools, but spending more is not enough, we must also spend wiser.
I believe that local school boards and local school personnel are best positioned to allocate educational dollars, which will occur under LCFF. Small class sizes, longer school years, and rewarding teacher excellence are all actions that local school boards could take if given the resources. We must retain our most talented teachers, but with up to a third of our teachers possibly retiring in the next decade, we must also attract new professionals.
Pre-school has proven to have a positive impact on future school performance, so it is critical that we expand access to pre-school and early education for all children in California. As a founding San Mateo County First 5 Commissioner, I understand the importance of early childhood development. Last year I successfully authored Assembly Bill 260, which extends San Mateo County’s successful child care pilot program. This pilot has been highly effective in maximizing the efficient use of child care subsidy funds and essential to providing access to vital early care and education programs in our community upon which hundreds of young children and their working families depend.
Just as we need to support early education, we must also make investments in higher education. Our community college system has great potential as an entry to advanced education, but it also has great potential for career technical education in many trades and vocations, and can play a crucial role in reeducating our workforce for an ever-shifting spectrum of jobs in the 21st Century.
We also must invest in our state college and university systems so that tuition is not a barrier to those who seek graduation and advanced degrees. I am a proud supporter of the Middle Class Scholarship, a new program that the Legislature passed in last year’s budget which provides undergraduate students with family incomes up to $150,000 a scholarship to attend UC or CSU campuses beginning in the 2014-15 academic year. California’s competitiveness depends on helping our children succeed and making college more affordable is a step in the right direction.