Talking Budget Cuts with California’s Teachers

(Disclosure: I work for Yes on 24)

I had the opportunity to speak this morning with three California teachers about the budget cuts they’ve faced. We also discussed the high stakes of the November election and Proposition 24. All three of the teachers to whom I spoke, Mary Rose Ortego, Sergio Martinez and Tyrone Cabell, are working actively to try and restore the terrible budget cuts in our schools.

Mary Rose Ortega, who teaches third grade, summed up the state of affairs. “30,000 teachers have been laid off in the last 3 years”, she said. With the budget the way it is, she told me, we can expect thousands more pink slips soon.

The numbers became even more shocking when we discussed the effects on individual classrooms. I learned that class sizes have gone up to 40 in most elementary schools, and resources are incredibly scarce. Teachers are rationing paper, textbooks aren’t updated or replaced even when torn, and teacher’s aides have had their hours cut so students are getting even less one on one attention.

Sergio Martinez, who teaches fifth grade, highlighted the damage to the school infrastructure. “We’ve had nurses, counselors, librarians’ hours cut”, he explained. With the library being closed more hours each school day, kids can’t get to the books or the computers. If they don’t have those resources at home, they just aren’t getting them at all.

Of course, test standards haven’t changed one bit. Students and teachers are simply expected to do more with less, and only they will suffer the consequences.

Finally, Tyrone Cabell, who teaches special education, laid out the most chilling picture. Before the draconian cuts began, special ed classes in California were supposed to hold 8-10 students each. Now it’s 15. I asked him to describe how he does his job, and he simply told me “It’s impossible”.

Impossible. That is a word we should NEVER have to use in reference to educating our children. If California cannot give veteran teachers like Mary Rose Ortega, Sergio Martinez and Tyrone Cabell the resources to make their jobs possible, then California is failing our children. Meanwhile, in 2009 California handed a generous set of tax breaks to multistate corporations. If those corporations don’t pay their fair share, schools suffer. There’s just no way around it.

All three teachers stressed to me that passing Proposition 24 in November to end the corporate tax giveaways is a key first step in restoring the funding schools deserve. The corporations don’t want to give up their tax breaks, and they’re running a vigorous opposition campaign. Please stand with the teachers, not the corporations. Vote Yes on 24.