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The Byrne Report

K-12 Kop

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GOV. ARNOLD Schwarzenegger's new budget is a frontal attack on California's 6 million children. It drastically undermines an already substandard educational system in the name of keeping alive tax breaks for profitable corporations. Adding injury to injury, our maximum leader reneged on an agreement to pay back $2 billion that he "borrowed" from schoolchildren last year. Incredibly, the governor blamed a quarter-million underpaid teachers for the decayed condition of California's schools. And then he called for the privatization of their pension fund.

Leah Shue, a veteran teacher in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, says the political poop hit the fan at a faculty meeting after the governor announced his "reforms," which include holding teacher pay hostage to an undefined merit system.

"A lot of teachers in the room had voted for Schwarzenegger. For some reason, a lot of liberals saw him as approachable. They were shocked and hurt by what he said about teachers. I think they had trusted him and felt betrayed.

"Now they see that he had a hidden agenda--a right-wing agenda."

Indeed, the Schwarzenegger plan raises the hackles of ordinary people because it is nothing short of social engineering in favor of the campaign-donor class. Without touching the inequities in the state's regressive system of sales taxation, Schwarzenegger's budget bludgeon is aimed unapologetically at millions of poor women, the elderly, the disabled and, worst of all, children.

Shue says that many teachers do not believe that the governor's proposals will pass in the Legislature or be subsequently sanctified by voters. Given Arnold's public-relations savvy, educators might be in for a painful lesson from this paterfamilias poser who claims to love kids, even as he slits the throat of their future.

Shue identifies Bush's oxymoronic No Child Left Behind program that penalizes schools that do not measure up to local achievement standards as a major obstacle to good teaching. California set high achievement goals, whereas Texas and Arkansas set low standards. It is no surprise, therefore, that Bible belt schools get rewarded by Bush for producing certified fools. No doubt, Schwarzenegger would like to stack California's voter rolls with more fools, too.

Laura Whiteside teaches at Lincoln Elementary School in Santa Rosa. She says her colleagues view the merit pay proposal as laughable. "There is a statistical correlation between test scores and socioeconomic status. It tells us that either across the country all the bad teachers are concentrated in schools that serve impoverished children, or something else is going on not related to teacher talent."

Both Shue and Whiteside point out that real educational assessment tests are ignored by Bush and Schwarzenegger.

"We have value-added assessments for Spanish-only kids," says Whiteside, a teacher for 25 years. "We measure where a non-English literate child is at in the beginning of the school year, say, three years behind the grade level for reading. If they come up two levels during the year, that is a great improvement, but still below grade level according to state standards."

California remains afflicted with separate and unequal educational systems. Whiteside's own children are lucky enough to attend school in well-heeled Sebastopol, where parents fund math, science, art, music and cultural programs that are not available in any language at nearby Lincoln, which is mostly Latino and poor.

Until recently, Whiteside taught the children of Mexican laborers in Spanish and English, which incontrovertibly improves the learning abilities of Spanish-speaking children. But the Sonoma County school board, she says, is slaughtering bilingual education. True education is a very low governmental priority these days. That is good news for those who pay small wages to housecleaners, weed pullers and grape pickers, but bad news for those who believe that genuine democracy depends upon the existence of an educated, informed public.

Don't look to Schwarzenegger for help. He jump-started his political career three years ago with the Proposition 49 ballot initiative, billed as an after-school program provider for poor kids. It's anything but.

A report issued by the nonpartisan California Budget Project says that implementing Proposition 49, which creates no new funding for itself, forces reductions in existing childcare programs. It also takes money away from noneducational areas, such as healthcare, local government, higher education, environmental programs and social services. Cutting through the political bullshit, it seems that Proposition 49 is actually intended to undermine social services in general and, specifically, Proposition 98, which ordered that educational funding be supported in tandem with need and population increase.

Obviously, public education is just another "box" that Schwarzenegger intends to "blow up." Consequently, people like Shue plan to homeschool their children. Others will go the private school route. Neither of those options are available to the working poor, who may, one day, and not a moment too soon, take matters into their own hands.

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From the January 26-February 1, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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