California surplus

Whenever I have a chance I make my way to the Program Director’s office. A cadre of staff manages an array of issues like tracking transportation, coordinating visits, and dealing with residents in crisis. More often than not when I visit during my late morning rounds, I find at least one of our residents at the PD’s office, who although enrolled in one of the area’s public schools, is never-the-less not able to attend school that day. Inevitably something has happened at school that accounts for their absence. It may be because of disruptive behavior or even feigned illness, but what is clear in speaking to these children is that something is not right. Many tell of being bullied or having been ignored.

The irony is that Hillsides has its own school where the majority of our residents attend classes every day in spite of the significant challenges they experience. Clearly, if the comprehensive and individualized instruction we offer is not required for a resident, he or she is better served in a more appropriate and less restrictive environment. However, conversations with our “expelled” residents from public schools convince me that it is a stretch for the local public school system to adequately address their needs.

All things being equal, the public school system attempts to address the needs of its foster care students. However, education for children who have been traumatized is best provided by teachers and other education staff who have a keen awareness of the emotional challenges the students face. Most public schools systems, while equipped to provide a good education, are at a loss to fund the many ancillary services that are necessary to make education a successful experience for these children.

Much is being written about the budget surplus in California nowadays. Recently, the Los Angeles Times weighed in supporting the Governor’s proposal to allocate funds to education as a result of the surplus. A formula is being proposed by the Governor that provides additional funding to school districts that serve “disadvantaged populations.” The problem, however, is school districts are given the discretion to use these funds as they see fit without safeguards to assure that the funds will be used to address the needs of these “disadvantaged” students.

By any definition, public education in California has been the object of draconian cuts in the last several years. Certainly to the extent that there is indeed a reliable surplus, funding should be restored to public education. However, I would be remiss if I did not advocate that funds specifically designated to serve certain populations should do just that.

It is bad enough that public education has been woefully underfunded. It would only add insult to injury if funds that are now being restored to the public school system short change the students who need it most.

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