An Open Letter To California’s Senate Education Committee

There’s a scene in the Monty Python film Life of Brian in which a committee meets to discuss a resolution condemning Roman oppression while their hero, Brian, is being led to his crucifixion. A resolution wasn’t the sort of action Brian needed at that time. But at least he got a discussion.

The Senate Education Committee hasn’t even scheduled a discussion about a crisis in the state’s K-12 education system. The Sacramento City Unified School District, which serves 42,000 students in the state’s capital city, has sent layoff notices to teachers and other staff to address a deficit. As the Sacramento Bee has pointed out in a series of articles, SacCity’s deficit is in large part the result of destructive financial practices that the legislature could — and should — prohibit. Just two common-sense reforms could close SacCity’s gap. Those same destructive financial practices are contributing to financial problems across the K-12 system despite a 60 percent increase in state spending on schools since 2010. If California schools are reducing staff in the tenth year of a bull market and after a 30 percent income tax increase, just imagine how they will act in a recession.

Yet the Senate Education Committee hasn’t even scheduled a hearing on SacCity. Instead, the agenda for the next session (April 24) not only does not address SacCity but includes as a “special order” the consideration of a moratorium on charter schools. Nowhere in the articles about SacCity’s financial distress are charters mentioned as a cause, and the governor has already created a special commission to evaluate charters that will report its findings July 1 — just over two months from now. While there’s not a single reason for the Senate Education Committee to act before the commission’s report, there are 42,000 reasons to act on the financial practices causing SacCity to reduce staffing. The same goes for the discriminatory seniority-based method by which the Education Code requires SacCity to issue layoff notices.

K-12 education is the legislature’s largest expenditure. The legislature writes the Education Code. The school district in the state’s capital city is laying off teachers in the tenth year of a bull market and after a 30 percent income tax increase. The Senate Education Committee should pay attention.

Originally appeared on Medium, 4/20/19