California Tries Landmark School Reform Plan
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
Faced with the need to hire 300,000 new teachers by 2010 California Gov. Gray Davis used his State-of-the-State speech in January to call the legislature to action. As it turns out, Davis got everything he asked for and then some.
This month, Davis signed a $99.4 billion budget that funds one of the most comprehensive education reform packages in the Union. The $1.35 billion reform plan focuses on teachers, technology and raising student achievement.
"This is the largest and most aggressive package of teacher incentives ever offered by any state in America. This package is more than just a financial statement; it is a value statement. From this point forward, it will be known that California values its teachers, Davis said.
Here is a run down of the major items in the package. For more detailed information go to California Education Budget:
- Spending will be raised by $442 per pupil.
- $2.9 billion in block grants to the districts. They will be able to spend based on local priorities such as raising teacher pay or fixing facilities.
- $974 million for Davis' incentive package which is meant to improve student achievement and recruit and keep good teachers.
- $218 million for a personal income tax credit for teachers who have taught for at least four years. The credits range from $250 to $1,500, depending on length of service.
- $31 million for bonus pay ($10,000 for National Board-certified teachers and $20,000 if the certified teachers will teach in a low performing school for four years), loan forgiveness (6,500 teachers can get as much as $11,000 in student loans forgiven if they teach in low-income or rural schools) and professional development.
- $55 million to up the teacher starting salary from $32,000 to $34,000.
- $128 million on "teacher institutes" that will help hone skills for teaching reading and math.
- $112 million in student scholarships for pupils who score in the top 10 percent of their class or the top 5 percent of the state on the SAT9.
- $29.5 million to put advanced placement courses on at least four core subjects in every high school.
- $102 million for summer school expansion.>
- $231.5 million for computers for high schools and access to the Internet. The money will also go to computer training for teachers.
Ann Bancroft, of the California Department of Education said Davis was pleased with the package. "As far as the legislative process goes, things aren't exactly the same as you propose in the end, but he was very pleased with what lawmakers passed," she said.
Item by item, the reform plan appears to copy successful programs tried out in other states. The difference is that California lumped them all into one massive package.
For instance, last year Massachusetts made headlines when it promised a $20,000 signing bonus to any teacher who would commit to teaching in a struggling school for four years. California now offers $20,000 to teachers with national board certification who will teach in a low-income school for four years.
Mike Griffith of the Education Center on the States says it isn't unusual for states to borrow the best programs from each other and create hybrid legislation.
States are always trying new things and getting out in front of one-another, Griffith said. "A couple of states have legislative packages full (of programs) other states have tried," he said.
Griffith says there is nothing groundbreaking in the California plan except that the teacher incentive portion is the most generous in the nation.
Mike Weimer, a lobbyist for the California Federation of Teachers, a state teachers union, disagrees. He says lawmakers didn't give teachers everything they want namely higher starting salaries. Lawmakers raised the teacher starting pay by $2,000 to $34,000 but Weimer says it isn't enough. Pay should start at $36,000 or $40,000, he says. And that isn't Weimer's only concern.
"The proposals tend to tie an awful lot of money up into student performance. Only some teachers are going to get a lot of bonus money, " Weimer complains.
Under the plan, California teachers could be eligible for up to $30,000 in bonus pay, but the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, are adamantly against teacher pay being tied to one item, such as student test scores.
"It is really unfair to base it (pay) on student performance alone. This is one place the teachers don't have any control. They have control over the curriculum but you can't force a student to learn," Weimer said.