School's out for summer and the kids are hunkered down in front of the big screen practicing sniper skills or watching endless hours of anime. And it’s budget approval season all across California. I imagine the school board trustees of all 900+ districts will be grabbing their heads – like 4,500 versions of the Edvard Munch painting “The Scream” – as they confront the proposed budgets from their respective Superintendents.
Speaking of anger, there was a big rumble last week on RWCparents* which started with a posting of Larry Gerston’s recent opinion piece stating that the middle class is fleeing from public schools. Or it felt like that was what he was talking about. What I can conclude after multiple readings is he is really saying that Californians should be horrified about the tanking financial support of California schools. But instead of outrage, there is more of a stifled yawn.
He believes it’s because those that need public school the most, the kids who live below the poverty line, come from homes where the parents are least able or likely to vote. And that those who vote, may choose to do so by leaving the public school system. However, his logic caroms around like a teenage driver in a parking lot by suggesting that wealthier parents aren’t actually leaving, either. I think really he’s trying to come to grips with why people are watching a multicar pileup and not readying a rescue team.
And there was some of that same discussion on the RWCparents group as well. Ultimately, this comes down to population demographics. Simply put, there just aren’t that many households with school-aged kids. According to the 2010 Census, 75 percent of the State’s population is over 18. I would estimate that only about 20 precent or so of that figure equates to parents of the 25 percent of the population who are under 18.
So quite frankly, it’s hard to get people worked up about what’s happening, because the vast majority of adults are not directly affected.
I have heard that in Redwood City, only about 14 percent of our households have school-aged children. This has held fairly steady throughout the oughts. The region with the largest number of school-aged children as measured by percentage of households is down in the Southland, which not unrelated also has the bulk of California’s 37 million residents. It is also home to the largest school district in our state (and the second largest in the country), Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), educating 671,648 K – 12 students. That makes LAUSD about 19 times bigger than Redwood City School District and the Sequoia Union High School District combined in terms of enrollment.
Then there’s the other view that it’s not that there aren’t kids in our area, but that middle and upper income kids in particular have fled for private school. However, each year the California State Department of Education analyzes private school attendance and what the most recent report shows is that actually as hard times hit California, private school enrollments dropped. However, it is true that our county is among 10 counties to have more than 10 percent of its school-aged children enrolled in private school (15.25 percent). But even with that, this means that 85 percent of our kids still go to public school.
So when we rage about lack of funding and a seeming lack of concern for our kids, it may be as simple as there aren’t that many of us parents. Remember, the boomers are all a bit old to be having kids. I know, because I am the technical last year for that 20-year generational spread. And I can guarantee that I am not having another child, as it’s essentially a biological impossibility. So the biggest generation in world history has moved on, and with them, their kids – who are probably the most educated group of people, ever. And when a population becomes more educated, then the general birthrate falls.
And the one big elephant in the room is race. Our Redwood City Schools are predominately 70 percent Latino and 20 percent Anglo. However, our city, and our voting population, is still predominately Anglo. So speaking broadly, where have all the Anglos gone? They haven’t “gone” anywhere, they’re here, but without school-aged kids.
So here we have a city in which the voting populace is Anglo without kids, and where the schools have are made up of a majority of Latino children. And whether we like it or not, we still live in a world where kids are treated differently because of the color of their skin and how people perceive their parents.
So the hard work is to convince those without kids, either because their kids have grown or because they just don’t have them, that investing in the next generation that doesn’t look like them is really an investment for themselves, whether it’s because these kids will become the adults who will be their caretakers when they are infirm or these kids will become their employees. Or that these kids will become the adults who purchase their houses when they leap from this mortal coil. The fact is – these kids are our future and we should be supporting them as such.
*rwcparents is a yahoo!group that anyone can join. It’s kind of like an electronic neighborhood fence. www.yahoo.com/groups then search for rwcparents to join.