Ric Llewellyn

Saturday, Dec 15 2012 12:00 PM

RIC LLEWELLYN: What does 'save the schools' really mean?

By Ric Llewellyn

No matter what we do, there's never enough money for schools. Do you remember these headlines from The Californian?

Nov. 3, 2012 -- "Schools face harsh reality if Prop. 30 fails."

Nov. 7, 2012 -- "State voters approve Prop. 30."

Nov. 7, 2012 -- "California State University to rescind tuition hike."

Sweet! It worked just like they told us it would. Vote yourselves a tax increase and you will save our schools!

And then the Nov. 9 edition of The Californian reported that the CSU has proposed new "targeted fee hikes." The proposition that these new higher fees are meant to motivate students to graduate on time has me shaking my head.

Under the proposal "career students" -- the ones with plenty of units and no plan to graduate -- will pay an EXTRA $372 PER UNIT for the privilege of continuing her or his eclectic education at the CSU.

Students who have to repeat a course will pay an EXTRA $91 per unit for the privilege.

Those who want to take more than 18 units per term (you're an academic animal!) will pay an EXTRA $182 per unit over 18 to graduate early or to blast through that double major.

The feint is that these punitive fees will actually open up space for more NEW students. As if students who simply love the environment, or want to complete a degree early or even find some courses overwhelming on the first try are somehow encumbering the CSU.

Just like the crazy (and thankfully abandoned) plan to shut out California residents from graduate studies at the CALIFORNIA State University, these "targeted fee hikes" are an ill-conceived attempt to increase funding by targeting specific kinds of students.

It was reported that room for 12,000 new students would open up if the career students would move on. Let's do some quick math.

Twelve thousand students multiplied by 12 units each (minimum full-time load) multiplied by $372 surcharge equals... $53,568,000 ADDITIONAL income to the CSU per term. That's more than one hundred million dollars a year in ADDED income if those students continue to pursue what they love.

Twelve thousand NEW students represent the status quo of funding shortfalls, service cuts and fee increases. Career students represent more money. Am I jaded?

With all the moaning and groaning about the lack of funding and the need for cuts in service, I find it hard to believe that the design of this new punitive fee proposal is not aimed at increasing income.

Here's my first point. Under the current approach there is no end to the crisis in education funding.

For quite some time we have been having trouble funding education in California. It goes like this. "We are running out of money. If you want to save the schools, vote for this bond or that tax."

We almost always vote to "save the schools." Sometimes we think we're going to make those "rich people" pay like with Proposition 30. Of course, we also raised the sales tax, which applies to almost everything we buy.

My second point is this. We need universal outrage over the policies that result in the mismanagement of public education. That's where a real solution will be found.

Every student should pay more, not just some kinds of students. The first thing that will do is make ALL of them mad. But they are smart so they will develop a clearer understanding of the relationship between CSU expenses and the cost of their education.

Hopefully they will embrace their power to demand change in the delivery of education services. They will stand up against inordinate expenses passed on to them, the consumers of education. They will demand better and more efficient service for their money. There will be a new culture of service in education that students and taxpayers alike will welcome.

The California State University is not the only place doom is perpetually looming. Local schools and community colleges continually face cuts in staff and services. The colleges can offset some costs with fees. But high schools, middle schools and elementary schools have to deal directly with reductions of state funding.

Richard Beene recently blogged about an editorial that appeared in The Orange County Register regarding the California State Teachers Retirement System and Proposition 30. The point was that the new tax receipts won't necessarily go to classrooms and may end up in teachers' pensions.

Part of the official title of the proposition was "temporary taxes to fund education." We voted for the kids! Is a cash infusion for an underfunded teachers' pension plan really education funding? What are the people running the show thinking?

Even more disturbing is what are WE thinking?

Will we continue to vote for higher taxes and tolerate punitive discriminatory fees because someone tells us "it's for the kids"? We need to get smart, ask questions and read the fine print. We need to present options from OUR perspectives. And we need to be willing to say "NO" when it's necessary.

-- Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at llewellyn.californian@gmail.com. Next week: Heather Ijames.

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