Governor Brown’s Proposed Budget Could Be Bad News for Science Education
by Jessica L. Sawko
In his recently proposed budget for 2012 – 2013, Governor Brown proposes to reform K-14 education mandates by eliminating nearly half of them. One mandate that he is recommending for elimination is the Graduation Requirements mandate that requires students to complete two years of science in order to graduate from high school. The proposed budget refers to this as an “unnecessary mandate.” The proposal goes on to state that “local districts may choose to continue these activities at local discretion.” (p. 140) Click here to view the Governor’s Budget Summary – 2012-13 K Thru 12 Education. CSTA asks you to note that this is the first draft of the budget and there is work still to be done. As our colleagues at the Association of California School Administrators stated: “The governor’s budget proposal is only the beginning of the yearly budget debate and discussion. Often in January, stakeholders tend to overreact to proposals which seem dire and certain to be implemented. Even as ACSA reviews the governor’s proposal, it is challenging to keep the perspective that this is the first iteration of a budget that is likely to see some change in the coming months.” Please read on to learn more about the issue and possible implications. CSTA will continue to monitor this issue and bring you updates as they are available.
On February 2, 2010, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) published a report Education Mandates: Overhauling a Broken System. In this report the LAO, explains that the Graduation Requirement mandate passed in the 1980s was anticipated by the LAO to have minimal costs. However a 2004 superior court ruling expanded the scope of reimbursable activities associated with the mandate and it is now estimated that annual claims will reach $200 million per year. The LAO report cited the significant variations in reimbursement rates, ranging from $6 to $264 per student, depending on the district as one reason for the need for reforming the mandate. The LAO report suggests that: “requiring students to take two, rather than one, science class in order to graduate from high school now costs upwards of $200 million annually. Through a simple change to statute, the same requirement could be preserved at no cost to the state by clarifying that districts need to provide the additional science class as part of their regular course of study, which virtually all of them now do.” Given the LAO’s track record on analyzing the impact of the second year science graduation requirement on the state budget back in the 1980s, CSTA has serious doubts that eliminating the mandate will be as inconsequential as predicted in the report.
Unfortunately, the governor’s budget proposal does not make mention of any recommended statute changes described in the LAO recommendation in order to maintain the requirement of two years of science for high school graduation. He simply suggests that giving school districts more flexibility is what they need. Perhaps the Governor is banking on the fact that two years of high school science is still required for admission to CSU/UC universities. CSTA called the governor’s office for comment on the proposed mandate elimination and was informed that the Governor did not have a statement at this time.
In light of the experience we have all had with the implementation of NCLB, it is probable, as noted in a recent news article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat by Phil Lafontaine of the California Department of Education, that given the flexibility provided under the proposed budget, “administrators might be tempted to cut the second science class and use those funds to support more English and math.” He goes on to state that “there are some ramifications there in that the inequality could be children of poverty, children of low means, children that are struggling in school may not get science. How are they going to be competitive with children who are getting two, three, even four years?” Great question!
Also in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat article by Kerry Benefield, H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, was quoted as saying: “There is no reduction or elimination of dollars in association with the elimination of that mandate. This is being put forward as a part of a broader proposal to provide school districts with greater flexibility and greater local control.” CSTA reached out to Mr. Palmer to clarify the statement about their being not reduction of dollars associated with the elimination of the mandate, however we did not hear back in time for this article.
CSTA also noted something that in light of his current budget proposal would be quite laughable, if it wasn’t so tragic: on his 2010 campaign website he touted that during his first term as governor of California he: “Promoted more Math and Science: Through the State Board of Education and the Board of trustees of the CA State University System, we increased the graduation requirements to include 3 years of math and 2 years of science.” In that same proposed education plan he promised to: “create local and state initiatives to increase school focus on science, history and the humanities–without reducing needed attention to math and English” and to “place special emphasis on teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). As part of the broader curriculum described above, we need to strengthen STEM teaching and increase the number of STEM graduates. California’s economic growth depends on its continued leadership in innovation, technology, clean energy and other fields that require strong math and science training.” How does eliminating the mandate for a second year of science in order to graduate high school fulfill this campaign promise?
CSTA will be posting more extensive information on this issue in the coming days. CSTA members will receive notice when the information is available. If you are not a member of CSTA, we encourage you to thank your colleagues that are, because their support made it possible for this information to be made available to you. We also encourage you to join CSTA today in order to help CSTA to continue informing you of the issues and fighting for science education in California.
We welcome your comments.
Jessica L. Sawko is executive director of the California Science Teachers Association.
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Responses from Readers:
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