Broken families. Increased hunger. Homelessness.
This isn't a blog about post-earthquake life in Haiti. This is the impact of the recession on scores of children attending California schools, according to a recent report from UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.
California currently leads the nation in unemployment and mortgage foreclosures. The loss of tax revenue has forced schools to cut back on spending, programs and personnel.
The study, called "Educational Opportunities in Hard Times," surveyed 87 school principals to assess how funding issues are impacting schools on a daily basis. The responses weren't pretty.
According to the report's findings, as described in the San Francisco Chronicle:
- 74 percent of elementary principals and 54 percent of secondary principals reported class-size increases
- 70 percent of principals said summer school had been cut or eliminated
- 58 percent said they either cut back or eliminated textbook purchases
- 43 percent reported teacher layoffs
- 41 percent asked parents or community groups to cover the cost of field trips
- 25 percent reported cuts to school psychologists, social workers and nurses
The cutbacks in school services are coming at a time when impoverished children are arriving at the school door in increasing numbers. Roughly 25 percent of children across the state are now living in poverty – an 8 percent increase in just two years, according to the report. In Los Angeles, one in three children are poor, compared to one in five in 2007.
High-poverty schools are being hit the hardest, the report concluded. Those schools were more than four times as likely to have teacher layoffs as low-poverty schools, and received only an eighth as much in donations meant to offset budget cuts. According to the report:
Increasing poverty has led to greater food insecurity. Patti Webb, principal of Farmdale Elementary in the Central Valley, encourages community members to let her know when they need assistance. “Lately it’s been kids telling me ‘We’re hungry,we don’t have food.’” Webb adds that she recently has been approached by parents who previously never needed support. “Even some PTA parents are saying they don’t have enough food.” Ron Miller, who leads another Central Valley school reports:“We know we’re their only source of food.”
Much worse, almost 33 percent of principals surveyed reported increased homelessness.
At Mission Middle School, serving a community with a very high unemployment rate in Riverside County, the front office staff collects “money to help families pay rent, bills.” Teachers at Roosevelt Elementary in Los Angeles County have bought clothes and food for needy families. Principal Randi Wilson notes that this practice is something new for Roosevelt. “I’ve been at this school for over twenty years and I’ve never seen this happen before.” As teachers have become more aware of the challenges their students face, many have become more engaged in their students lives. Eddie Johnson of Bayside High School in Alameda County reports that several of his teachers have taken in homeless youth to live with them.
John Rogers, director at the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, said principals told researchers that they didn't believe schools could continue without financial relief soon: "Before the recession, California schools had fewer resources than most schools across the nation," Rogers said, with the state among the bottom in spending per student. "Now, we have clearly fallen further and further behind."
And there may not be any relief in sight.
San Francisco Unified School District, for example, announced last week that it may eliminate up to 400 district positions, including 100 teachers. The district might also cut school busing for high schoolers and institute unpaid furloughs to grapple with the loss of more than $113 million in funding. Some teachers have said they will try to fight the cuts.