The pandemic has reshaped seemingly every aspect of our lives. Creating a shock throughout our education system, the economic and social effects of the past two years have spilled over into our school settings, forcing us to acknowledge the full impact of educational inequities and rethink how we truly ensure access and opportunity for every child.
As I have done every year for the past two decades, on May 18 I led several bus loads of students, teachers, education leaders and advocates on a trip to our state Capitol to discuss the greatest challenges facing our public education system today. I believe that if we work collaboratively to rebuild our schools through equity-driven initiatives, we can emerge post-pandemic stronger than ever before.
This year—after two years—my Sacramento Bus Trip for Education returned as an in-person gathering.
Over 180 participants from across Santa Clara County spoke to key decision makers responsible for crafting the state’s education budget and policies: State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, Assemblymembers Alex Lee, Ash Kalra and Marc Berman, state Senators Connie Leyva, John Laird, Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh and Steve Glazer, the state Department of Finance, the Governor’s Office, the California School Employees Association and the California Teachers Association.
There was much to discuss around the state’s education priorities this year—with a historically high state budget surplus projected to be as much as $97.5 billion, we are investing more than ever in our students. Proposition 98, the state’s minimum guarantee to fund K-12 and community college education, is at an all-time high. Since our bus trip 10 years ago, Prop 98 levels have more than doubled from $47.3 billion to now over $110 billion. I have to give some credit to our cohorts for helping to make that happen!
In reality, no one person or group is responsible for this, but what is true is what we’ve been hearing over the past several years; through the passage of Prop 98 by voters to guarantee money for education, along with the voices of those who kept pushing their legislators each year to invest in our future generations—these efforts are paying off.
The governor’s recently released budget proposal, or “May Revise,” was promising in many aspects, with learning recovery at its forefront. As Chris Ferguson from our Department of Finance Education Systems Unit explained, per-pupil spending is historically high at $22,850, with base funding for schools increasing more than $2 billion through the Local Control Funding Formula.
Providing stability to school budgets was a common theme throughout this year’s trip. Enrollment in our K-12 system declined by 110,000 students from the 2020-21 to 2021-22 school year, and districts are experiencing growing staff turnover as well as vacancies. Because schools are funded in large part from their student attendance numbers, declining enrollment has led to tremendous fiscal uncertainties.
The Classified School Employees Association, the California Teachers Association, the Governor’s Office and Superintendent Thurmond discussed various proposals they’re spearheading to provide protections for declining enrollment, as well as strategies to ensure adequate school staffing. That includes SB 830, a bill that would allow districts to receive additional funding around student enrollment numbers, rather than attendance, as well as bills I have authored, SB 868 and SB 874, to recruit and retain qualified teachers and staff across our K-14 systems.
Sen. Leyva, chair of the Senate Education Committee, discussed her bill SB 976 to fully fund our state’s transition to Universal Pre-K for an equitable rollout that doesn’t leave behind child care providers. Sen. Laird, chair of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education, discussed his efforts to broaden student financial aid.
Investing in tomorrow and righting the wrongs of the past is Assemblymember Lee’s prime concern in his role on the Assembly Education Committee and Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education. And like so many of us, he is pushing for more investments in Career Technical Education, like Silicon Valley’s MetroEd, for pathways and programs to prepare our students for skill-based careers. Assemblymember Kalra has been focusing his attention on removing barriers to higher education, including textbook cost transparency through his bill AB 2624.
We could not have pulled off this year’s trip without the generous support of our sponsors: The Nuñez Community Foundation, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Ahmad Thomas, Bloom Energy and our very own San Jose State University.
It’s hard to believe this bus trip tradition began years ago when I was a San Jose councilmember, after a small group of us from the Evergreen area came together to deliver a petition to the governor, urging him to adequately fund public education. Following each year’s trip, we expanded our outreach little by little, and now the bus trip sees participants from across Santa Clara County.
For many of our students, it was their school that offered them a safe environment to heal from the instability of these past years and improve their well-being. The unexpected challenges education faced has made us all examine the role schools play in the lives of our children.
As I work with my colleagues to finalize this year’s state budget, I am grateful for the opportunity to keep our bus trip tradition alive because, as each trip has taught us, when our students succeed, we all succeed.
State Sen. Dave Cortese represents State Senate District 15 in the California Legislature, which encompasses much of Santa Clara County. He serves on the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.