Legislators Like Teachers Proposal but Balk at the Cost
State Senate and Assembly education leaders on Thursday praised a new report that sets forth a blueprint for making teaching a more attractive profession, but they wondered aloud whether they could come up with enough money to put it into effect.
A 17-member commission of business and education leaders, in a report issued Tuesday, called for giving teachers more control over their profession and setting up a career ladder that would allow the best, senior instructors to earn up to $57,000 a year.
The commission report grew out of the passage of the state’s huge school reform act in 1983 when education leaders in Sacramento said they were unsure of what steps should be taken to raise the quality of teaching.
With their report, “Who Will Teach Our Children,” the commission members put the ball back in the political court. They urged the Legislature to vote higher salaries for teachers, at an estimated cost of $501 million more per year. The panel also called for reducing the average class size from 30 to 25 children, which would carry a price tag of $812 million.
Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista) pointed out that 70% of California voters do not have children in the schools and may be reluctant to pay higher taxes to pay teachers more.
“How are we going to educate the public and the business community about the importance of this and how are we going to get the money?” he asked at a special education hearing by the legislators at Santa Monica College.
In reply, commission members said the state can afford to spend more for education and will need to if it wants excellent schools.
“We are still on the bottom” among the 50 states in terms of spending for education, when calculated as a percentage of personal income, said former Natomas Corp. President Dorman Commons, chairman of the commission.
Over the last three years, California’s public school spending has jumped by nearly $4 billion to an estimated $15.1 billion for the 1985-86 school year. But the state’s education spending is still slightly below the national average when measured by cost per student. And because California is a relatively affluent state, the percentage of personal income spent on schools is among the lowest in the country.
At least one-third of all revenue from the state lottery must be spent on education, and early estimates were that $243 million a year could be generated for elementary and secondary schools. But it will be left to each individual school district to decide how to spend its share of the revenue, and it seems unlikely that a consensus could be reached to spend it all on salaries.
The state Department of Education, in fact, opposes the use of lottery revenue to pay salaries, arguing that lottery funds are too unstable to be used for such on-going costs.
The commission report said that in the next five years, the state will need 85,000 new teachers.
Democrats at the hearing reacted to the report by criticizing Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, noting that he had vetoed a number of bills that would have lowered the size of classes and made conditions better for teachers.
“What are you going to do to pressure old George on this?,” asked Sen. Art Torres (D-South Pasadena).
Several commission members said such huge changes in the way schools operate would have to be “bipartisan in nature” and predicted that the governor could be persuaded to spend the extra money.
William Cunningham, the governor’s education adviser, said Thursday that he had quickly read through the report but had not briefed Deukmejian on it yet.
“We’re going to be studying it, but I don’t have any definitive reaction. It is an expensive proposal in total,” Cunningham said.
American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker strongly praised the report but said there “is an alternative to adopting it. The alternative will be that you will get people who are dumber and less able.”