I was recently told this story by an individual on my team:
One day last month, I visited the high school where I had taught. About 20 students showed up during lunch to a closed library when the librarian was absent. Feeling comfortable with the situation, I decided to serve as the impromptu substitute. The students filed in, typed their essays on the computers, read books and collaborated on projects.
One student explained that she uses the school library every day, mainly because her mother cannot always pay the internet bill on time. She said she could always count on the school’s library to help her complete her school work.
As I departed the school, I reflected about LAUSD’s funding shortages and how unfortunately, this shuttered library scenario may become a reality for most of our schools.
As we face the budget challenges before us in California, stories such as this reiterate the fact that California already ranks 49th in the nation in its staff-to-student ratio. Our state’s per pupil expenditure, when adjusted for average state salary costs, ranks 43rd in the nation. Recent budget projections for California include revenue increases that will now allow the state to stop issuing deferrals, or I.O.U.s.
We are grateful that California is going to stop borrowing from its schools. Of course we want the state to fully fund our classrooms, but we will accept the same pathetic funding we received last year.
In a state where one in every 200 Californians resides in prison, it is our moral duty to cut off the kindergarten to prison pipeline. We need to create a better future for the next generation. We need the legislature to move forward on creating true reform and a budget with sustainable revenues.
Whether it is the librarian who exposes our students to the world beyond their own through the use of our computers, online reference libraries, and the great literature found on the shelves of our libraries, or the school counselor who works with students to ensure they are enrolling in the right courses, taking the SAT’s, and accessing extra-curricular opportunities, the reality is that all employees are impacted by these budget cuts.
Education funding is in crisis and we as Americans need to unite our voices to speak up for our children. We cannot be patient about ensuring that every classroom is led by an effective teacher and every school is led by an outstanding leader. We need to create the conditions for success in every school and classroom. We must surround our schools with the best supports possible by engaging families as true partners, guaranteeing our youth are safe and nourished so they can achieve excellence, and bringing all available resources in alignment with our mission of ensuring all students are college-prepared and career-ready.
I believe in the value of a quality education. I want this for every youth no matter where they live, what languages they speak or how far behind they may be in learning basic skills. It is our job to educate them and it is everyone’s job to support our public schools so that our communities thrive. We should all understand the value of investing in our children now so we can redirect the pipeline-to-prison instead to a pipeline-to-prosperity through knowledge and skills for the 21st century.
John Deasy is the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.