All Kelly Maloney needed was a couple dozen copies. He wanted to give his high school English students a practice Advanced Placement exam.
But there was no paper to spare and no working printers.
“The state of public school underfunding has gotten so bad that you can physically see the disparities in the classroom,” Maloney said. “Simple day-to-day tasks … have now become issues.”
Maloney, a graduate student in UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, is one of many concerned for the future of California’s educational system.
Last fall, Maloney began working at John C. Fremont High School in South Los Angeles. Fremont High School is one of the schools the Teacher Education Program partners with to give students like Maloney experience in the field.
Maloney said conditions at his school are dire. Like many schools located in low-income communities, Fremont High School is struggling to provide its students with even the basic necessities.
Recently, the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access released a survey chronicling the conditions of a wide range of California public high schools.
Results indicated that issues like those Maloney faces are a problem statewide.
Overall, the survey pointed to increased class sizes, fewer counselors and less diversity in curriculum offerings.
With these factors, some teachers are noticing a steady decline in student morale.
“It’s gotten to the point where my students are disappointed so often that they’ve just grown to expect it,” Maloney said.
Principals also reported less instructional time with heavy cutbacks to the total number of instructional days and either reduced or eliminated summer school.
These results reflect a survey of 277 public high school principals ““ almost a quarter of the state’s public high school principals. The survey, officially known as the Educational Opportunity Report, is the institute’s fourth annual report on the state of California public schools. This year was the first time the survey focused specifically on conditions in high schools.
John Rogers, director of the institute, said he cofounded the organization in 2000 in hopes that it would serve as a conduit for information on the disparities in learning opportunities across a diverse cross section of California public schools.
One such disparity was reflected in principals’ belief that low-income communities suffer the backlash of budget cuts far more deeply than high-income communities.
According to survey results, poorer schools raised $1 from private donations for every $20 that wealthier schools raised.
“The ZIP code a young person grows up in is closely related to the quality of learning they receive,” Rogers said.
While parents in high-income communities can often foot the bill for specialized programs like arts and music, parents in low-income communities don’t have the extra cash, he said.
Washington Preparatory High School of South Los Angeles is a prime example of a school strapped for resources, Rogers said.
Rogers asked Todd Ullah, principal of Washington Preparatory High School, to speak to the state of his high school in a final presentation of the survey results.
Next year, Ullah’s school is slated to lose half of the teachers for its award-winning performing arts magnet. Although booster fundraising collected $1,500 in donations for the 2011-2012 school year, the amount was not enough to fund all the teacher positions.
“It’s going to destroy the program. All these cuts … are really driving us to a halt,” Ullah said.
Rogers said he hopes the report can act as leverage for advocacy groups looking to affect political change. He pointed to increased taxes as a short-term solution to the funding issues. Last week, however, Gov. Jerry Brown failed to convince Republicans to put a proposal for $12 billion in temporary tax extensions on the June ballot.
As for long-term solutions, some teachers said California lawmakers need to rethink their values system.
“We’ve got to prioritize funding for public education, otherwise soon schools will no longer be able to operate,” Ullah said. “For years, we’ve been striving to do more with less, but now there’s nothing left.”