All three levels of schooling in Santa Clarita decry inane
funding practices by the state.
During a road trip to Sacramento
last week, over 70 community leaders held meetings with state legislators and
officials to help draw attention to local issues.
Of those issues, education funding encompassed a large
portion of the discussion.
All three educational levels in Santa Clarita have concerns
The elementary schools are pulling millions out of their
general fund to accommodate special education programs that they are required
to supply, yet not fully paid for.
The Hart District was fighting to get school construction
funds flowing again. District projects qualified for, and counted on over $11 million
dollars in state funds which have now been frozen.
College of the Canyons is witnessing massive growth, typical
of a community college during tough economic times, and yet all the while
education funding has been cut.
The requests by local schools indicate an overall calling
for common sense allotment of state funds.
Many of the problems stem from mandates vs. funding. State
and federal laws have required schools to add programs, but funding has not
increased to compensate the schools for the new services.
This is apparent in elementary schools, where the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires schools to provide special
education pre-school services for children between the ages of 3 and 5. Yet all
state funding is based solely on kindergarten-aged children through 12th grade.
All four elementary school districts say that the pre
schools are a considerable cost.
Last year, Castaic
Union School District
spent $402,665 on providing a special education preschool, while Newhall elementary
spent $972,311. Special Education preschool programs cost Saugus
Union School district
$1,026,248 last year and Sulphur Springs
School District paid $1,236,112.
This compounds a bigger problem with special education
funding in general. Schools are not
fully compensated for their entire special education programs, which forces
them to remove money from their general funds to pay for the programs. This
tactic is called encroachment, and it costs the districts heavily. Last year, Castaic
took $1.43 million from their general funds, while Newhall took $2.33 million, Saugus
consumed $3 million and Sulphur Springs needed to take $1.83 million.
Of the total special education encroachment costs for the
districts, preschool funding is the largest singular cause, and therefore that
was the focus of their lobbying efforts while in Sacramento
For local jr. high and high schools, they just want the
money they were promised. The William S. Hart District complained to
legislators that they had planned, approved and funded several modernization
and construction projects specifically because they qualified for state grants.
Now, those grants have been frozen and the District has been left to foot the
One of the largest issues is an Academy of the Canyons
project, in which the district was supposed to receive state help for half of
the $5.5 million dollar bill. Modernization projects at Sierra Vista Jr. High
were also eligible for $3.4 million in state funding, but now the District is
scrounging to make that up.
District officials on the trip spoke up heavily on this
matter and urged legislators to help free up the money as quickly as possible.
College of the Canyons is also battling funding cuts,
although unlike other districts their enrollment numbers have yet to drop. In
fact, COC saw a 19% enrollment increase last fall, and spring registrations
have jumped 12% over the same semesters last year. Also worth noting is that
last year the school saw record enrollment increases as well.
As the economy declines, it is common for community college
enrollment to go up, as newly unemployed people are looking to garner new
skills. However, the state has recently made deep cuts to education funding,
which has especially hit College of the Canyons because their funding is not
linked to enrollment numbers.
Rather than simply ask for the money, COC officials and
board members used their time on the Sacramento Road Trip to convince state decision
makers that investing in the community college system is a good way to invest
in the economic recovery of California.
COC quoted the numbers; they trained 1,832 people for jobs
with 423 local employers last year alone, and countless others turned to COC
for associate degrees or college transfer credits.
The school has also fast-tracked new programs that teach
auto technology, land surveying, building inspection, speech pathology, retail
management, paralegal, advanced technologies and more.
By receiving more state funding, COC claims that they can
help directly energize the local workforce and economy, all while still
receiving less money per pupil than the CU or UC systems.
While the wheels are somewhat slow to move in Sacramento,
each school hopes that legislators and state policy makers are getting the hint
that a little common sense can go a long way toward solving long term education