As a school board member, I am quite concerned about the state of California’s budget cuts to our public schools. I have never suggested that our public schools need more money, but the cuts public schools have endured over the last two years have been difficult, and this year, they will finally be down right draconian.
Recently, the federal government offered a program called Race to the Top, which the state legislature hopes will backfill some of the money public schools lost. Race to the Top is a federal grant program, with $4.35 billion in one-time money being offered to the states. California is potentially eligible for $350-$700 million.
Back in January, the Superintendent, Board President, and Union President of every school district in California was asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), making California eligible for these funds. But many Orange County school districts refused to sign the MOU, because the federal government hadn’t released the requirements for districts awarded the money.
The federal government also asked each state legislature to make permanent changes to their education laws to meet eligibility for Race to the Top funds, which California did. It has now become clear the cost of these new laws governing our public schools will cost the people of California around $1 billion to implement.
Now, let me ask you: If you owned a business, would you sign a contract without being allowed to see the terms and provisions, then agree to make permanent changes to your business practices that cost you more to implement than the amount of one-time money being offered? That is exactly what the federal government has asked of our public schools.
Nothing prevents the Obama Administration from imposing even more stringent federal mandates for districts that receive Race to the Top funds. This is one-time money, and will not support any progress a school district makes.
Given California’s current financial crisis and the climate in Washington, D.C., the political environment is ripe for a federal take over of our public schools. California’s schools desperately need the money and Washington, D.C. is happy to hand it out. Federal spending has increased in the last ten years alone, even though the federal government has failed to pay local school districts what they owe us because of their federal laws.
A federal take over of our public schools is happening incrementally before our very eyes, and it must be stopped. The federal government cannot possibly meet the needs of every school district, because every district is completely different. If this continues, our local school districts could be permanently beholden to Washington, D.C.
I firmly believe the federal government has no business telling local school districts what to do and how to do it. I believe education is a state’s sovereign right, local control is best for every school district, and applaud those districts that stood up to the federal and state governments and just said, “No.”