Reeling from more than $2 million in budget cuts for education over the last three years, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is dealing with a further anticipated $390 million shortfall for this year, by, among other things, reducing academic requirements for graduation, cutting five instructional days for students, and eliminating teacher training and four teacher holiday days. LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy blames the problem on the state’s “continued pathetic level of funding.”
In 2005, the L.A. school board adopted a rigorous high school curriculum, known as the A-G sequence, designed to produce more college-ready graduates. The program requires students to earn a passing grade of a C or higher in 15 college-preparatory classes, the minimum coursework necessary for eligibility for admission to the University of California and California State University systems. After last year’s disappointing statistics showed that only 15% of graduating seniors met the course requirements, school officials are now planning to scale back the standards, reducing the number of credits necessary to graduate high school from 230 to 210 and counting a D as a passing grade. Because of the elimination or reduction of many after-school and summer programs, the district has had to use time during the regular school day to provide additional academic support, an adjustment that impinges on the time available for students to fulfill the stricter course requirements.
The amount of state funding that LAUSD and other districts in California will receive for the coming school year is still up in the air. In line with the terms of Proposition 98, which guarantees that a minimum percentage of the state budget goes to education, the joint Senate and Assembly plan adopted in June would actually increase school funding by $17 billion over the next four years. To support the budget that the legislature adopted this month, Governor Jerry Brown is counting on increases in the state sales tax and income taxes that must be approved by the voters in November. Lawmakers and the governor have agreed that if the proposal fails they would need to prepare a new legislative package that would cut $5.5 billion from K-12 schools and community colleges and also allow districts to reduce the next two school years by an additional fifteen days. While state officials formed the state budget in anticipation of the tax bill passing, LAUSD insisted on basing its budget on the “current fiscal situation” so it reduced the number of school days on the assumption that the tax bill would fail. Superintendent Deasy supports the tax initiative in the hopes that the district will be able to use the funds to restore a full academic calendar year.
In past years, the L.A. school system responded to budget cuts by dramatically increasing class sizes (up to 50 in some high schools), laying off teachers, and reducing or eliminating school programs. Among other things, LAUSD has previously reduced adult education programs, tutoring programs and accelerated programs for gifted students, and reduced the budget for summer school from $40 million in 2007 to $1 million in 2012. With only 61% of districts maintaining a 180-day calendar in 2010-2011, compared to 98% of districts in 2008-2009, California’s public education system as a whole has suffered significant setbacks. A three-year study conducted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which provides nonpartisan fiscal and policy advice for the California legislature, reveals that budget cuts have forced districts across the state to take similar measures. The report, issued last May, calls on the legislature to initiate a broad-scale restructuring of the school funding system.