Funding to Create the Schools California Students Deserve
I am thankful to report that my district, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and my union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) have come to a tentative contract agreement and the possibility of a strike is no longer looming on the horizon. Like most agreements, compromise was made on both sides of the bargaining table. I won't bore you with all the details but I do want to talk about one - college counselors.
One reason why I think the organizing efforts by the union were successful and a tentative agreement was reached is the platform the union created around bargaining, "The Schools LA Students Deserve." The union bundled a list of demands together that were mostly about students getting more support at school sites. The tentative agreement does include a class-size cap, which is a first. It also lowered the counselor-to-student ratio to a cap of 500-to-1 for secondary schools.
One of the counseling positions that "The Schools LA Students Deserve" campaign called for but did not attain in the tentative agreement was a college counselor at every high school. Now some of you out there are probably wondering, what's the big deal? Can't the school counselor deal with college readiness? No they cannot.
Secondary school counselors have to deal with programming students into classes along with many other issues like behavior and attendance. Many secondary schools now have schools within schools or special programs, which have specific requirements of their own, often including special advisory classes staffed by school counselors.
The most important reason why college counselors are needed at high schools in the LAUSD is a policy created in 2005 which states, "On June 14, 2005, the Board of Education approved a resolution to have all students pass college-prep A-G classes, which includes three years of math and two years of World Language, to raise academic standards beginning with the graduating Class of 2016." A-G classes are the pre-requisite classes needed for admission into a four-year public university here in California. When it says three math classes it means a year each of: Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. Did you also notice it says pass. So one could even argue there is a need for college counselors in middle schools. If students don't have the right math classes in middle school then it's going to make passing Algebra I & II a thousand times harder.
If the Los Angeles Unified School District truly wants to raise the percentage of students accepted into four-year universities, it needs to put its money where its policies are. Which is basically what the union was asking them to do. Yet, we are in a position where there are no personnel to ensure this policy's success.
The answer is in per-pupil funding. California ranked 38th in per pupil funding for the 2012-13 school year (which is a huge improvement from where we were in 2011-12, when we were 50th). What disturbs me more is we have the capacity to spend more on education, which is based on local and state revenues but we only dedicate 3.1 percent of these funds to education. It's time for the union and the district to work together to pressure our state and local leaders to give all students in California the schools they deserve.