President’s Message: Emma Turner
Emma Turner
Seize the day for public schools

These are tumultuous times for public education. We began the new year with a teacher strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The year’s second month brought another teacher strike, this time in Oakland USD. And the financial strife is not just limited to big cities. Districts across California, small and large — urban, suburban and rural — are making deep cuts to counter rising costs and to maintain solvency.

When the demands for higher pay, lower class sizes, more staff and increased services meet the reality of insufficient resources, the inevitable result is the labor strife we are now experiencing. Teachers are not wrong to expect salaries and conditions more commensurate with the value of the work they perform. District leaders are not wrong to balance the desire for greater staff compensation and support with concern for fiscal stability, which is also a precondition for student success. Both sides have been forced into an untenable situation through decisions made not in local communities, union headquarters or district offices, but instead at the Capitol in Sacramento.

Four decades of disinvestment from public schools have slowly starved the system and we are nearing a breaking point. The teacher strikes, the teacher shortage, the increase in districts receiving qualified or negative budget certifications, the growing number of districts flirting with receivership, all point toward a reckoning. The question is can we avoid that fate before our public school system collapses? We absolutely must. Public schools are the foundation of our democracy and the stakes are too high to fail.

We began the new year with a teacher strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District

As grim as the current situation is, we do have an opportunity to avert disaster. The strikes here in California are building on a wave of labor actions across the country. Voters are showing greater interest in education beyond their child’s particular school and demonstrating greater empathy for the challenges faced by our students. It’s rare that our society delves beyond the surface to address the root cause of issues, but the publicity generated by recent events has captured the imagination of the public. While we have their attention, we need to make the case for the Full and Fair Funding of public schools.

We won’t have many chances like this, so when you address your constituents, I ask that you establish the connection between the difficult choices you’re forced to make and the inadequate level of funding you receive. I urge you to sign the CSBA petition asking the Legislature to raise per-student funding to the national average of $12,526 per-student by 2020 and to the average of the top 10 states — $17,334 — by 2025. It takes only a few moments at www.fullandfairfunding.org to accomplish this simple task. I request that you encourage your friends, and family to do the same. Whatever your preferred form of advocacy: personal conversations with community members, phone calls to legislative offices, constituent newsletters, social media, rallies or town halls, I hope you use that platform to help advance the case for Full and Fair Funding.

We need our legislators to see an overwhelming show of support for greater school funding. I’m not talking about the modest amount offered in the Governor’s budget proposal, but a transformational increase that fundamentally alters the level of support we can provide for students. We must show that the consequences of standing in the way of Full and Fair Funding are greater than the benefits of maintaining the status quo. We may never have a better chance in our lifetimes, and we can’t afford to let this opportunity go to waste. Seize the day and make a difference for our public school students.