Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara Superintendent of Schools

With the governor’s surprise early release of his budget this past week, the issue of our state’s financial crisis is once again front and center. As deliberations begin among policymakers, I salute the Santa Barbara County Board of Education for inserting itself into the process by producing a statement of conscience and insisting that our legislators consider its points.

It has always been the case that budgets are a statement of values, maybe more so in difficult times when choices are so stark. The county board’s statement helps remind us what is of vital importance as our state proceeds to make those wrenching decisions. Perhaps the board’s most critical point: “We believe it is a moral imperative that those individuals who reaped the rewards from the state’s earlier investment in an exceptional education system do all they can to ensure that comparable opportunities are available to young people today. The investment gap is unconscionable.”

The county board states that the concept of free and universal public education is the core of what makes our country exceptional, and continues to be the envy of the world. For generations, adults did what was right for the generations that followed. Today, the board said it sees a clear abrogation of that duty.

“In classrooms throughout our state and nation, children learn the skills essential to their contributions to the democratic society they will enter as adults. Young people today will fly the planes, repair the cars, staff the emergency rooms, and make the policies that affect the generation that follows. Their preparation and education are what will make the difference between our success or failure as a society. This is simple fact,” the statement says.

The board members are pragmatists: “We are well aware that our state faces a true fiscal crisis that was years in the making and is staggering in its magnitude. There are no easy solutions. Programs will need to be cut. Revenues will need to be added. We are mindful that representatives at every level need to make extremely difficult and wrenching choices. Every program receiving state funds has fervent supporters who can argue persuasively that those programs are vital. We respectfully submit that not all institutions are equal. Public education is of a different magnitude and impact.”

The board submitted that it is unacceptable and self-defeating for the state to abdicate its responsibility to fund public schools at an adequate level.

“Studies are unambiguous on the high correlation between a lack of education and much more costly consequences, including crime, poverty, the need for social services, incarcerations, law enforcement, and other expensive interventions. That is the practical need. There is also the moral need for societies to take care of their children,” they wrote.

“While we do not presume to tell legislators how they will work the state’s budget to secure the funding necessary to ensure our children receive the education they need and deserve, we are stating emphatically that there is urgent need to do so.

“The current situation is unsustainable. Pared down levels of educational services are not an option. The very fabric of our society is at stake. We cannot lose a generation of young people simply because the adults refused to act.”

In calling upon today’s adults to do what adults of the past have always done for the next generation of children, the Santa Barbara County Board of Education is making a powerful statement of values. The trustees reflect a wide range of political and philosophical differences on a broad range of issues; this unanimous statement therefore stands in testimony to the deep-seated, nonpartisan belief that there is danger in our current condition regarding support of public education, and a moral imperative to take action.

Statement of Conscience
We, the members of the Santa Barbara County Board of Education, feel it is our duty to speak out on behalf of the students and school districts within our jurisdiction.  Our county superintendent recently wrote an article alluding to the Homeland Security motto, “If you see something, say something.”  We see severe danger.  We feel it is our responsibility to make the statements that follow.

When Californians passed Proposition 98 in the year 1988 they did so in a climate where funding for public education was being severely decreased. In recognition of the intrinsic, essential value of public schooling, the proposition required that funding for public education be preserved as a set percentage of the state’s expenditures.  The intent was that school funding would never fall below the floor of funding that Proposition 98 guaranteed.  Instead, Proposition 98 calculations became a funding ceiling above which support would never rise.

There is every indication Proposition 98 would pass again were it placed on the ballot today, given the continued overwhelming support for public schooling.  Californians are clear-sighted in their understanding of the urgency to educate children, for both the short-term needs and the long-range health and sustenance of our communities.

Even before our nation was formed, the colonies and settlements acted on the premise that it was the responsibility of every adult in a community to contribute to resources to educate every child.  Even small villages with few services or amenities nonetheless had schoolhouses.  The concept of free and universal public education is the core of what makes our country exceptional, and continues to be the envy of the world.

In public schools, children of every background, ethnicity, religious tradition, physical or mental ability, or socioeconomic status sit side by side and succeed based on individual effort.  It is a true meritocracy. In classrooms throughout our state and nation, children learn the skills essential to their contributions to the democratic society they will enter as adults.  Young people today will fly the planes, repair the cars, staff the emergency rooms, and make the policies that affect the generation that follows.  Their preparation and education are what will make the difference between our success or failure as a society.  This is simple fact.

In most states, public education is a local responsibility, covered by local property taxes.  California’s Proposition 13 severely curtailed the ability of local governments to continue to support local schools, and; the responsibility for funding public schooling was therefore absorbed by the state, adding to all its other vital responsibilities.

We are well aware that our state faces a true fiscal crisis that was years in the making and is staggering in its magnitude.  There are no easy solutions.  Programs will need to be cut.  Revenues will need to be added.  As elected officials in our own sphere, we are mindful that representatives at every level need to make extremely difficult choices at every turn, and that the choices available in terms of the state budget will be wrenching.  Every program currently receiving state funds has fervent supporters who can argue persuasively that those programs are vital and deserve continued support.   We respectfully submit that not all institutions are equal.   Public education is of a different magnitude and impact.

We submit that it is unacceptable and self-defeating for the state to abdicate its responsibility to fund public schools at an adequate level.  All that is important to our state’s health and vitality depends upon the satisfactory educational preparation of every child who lives or works here.  Studies are unambiguous on how strongly a lack of education correlates with crime, poverty, the need for social services, incarcerations, law enforcement and a whole host of costly interventions.  That is the practical need.  There is also the moral need for societies to take care of their children.

For decades California had a truly exceptional historical record of providing outstanding educational services from kindergarten through graduate and professional education.  We believe it is a moral imperative that those individuals who reaped the rewards from the state’s earlier investment in education do all they can to ensure that comparable educational opportunities are available to young people today.  The investment gap and consequent denial of educational opportunities are unconscionable.

We do not presume to tell our legislators how they will work the state’s budget to secure the funding necessary to ensure our children receive the education they need and deserve; the logistics of how to go about that task is theirs to decide.

We are stating emphatically, however, that there is urgent need to do so. The current situation is unsustainable.  Education is not a frill; pared down levels of educational services are not an option.  The very fabric of our society is at stake. We cannot lose a generation of young people simply because the adults refused to act.
PASSED AND ADOPTED, by the Santa Barbara County Board of Education on January 5, 2012 by the following vote:

Ayes:               7
Noes:              0
Absent:           0
Abstain:          0

Dr. Richard Fulton, President                      Mrs. Nina Taylor, Vice President
Dr. William Carty                                           Mrs. Helen L. Hill
Mr. Weldon U. Howell, Jr.                             Mr. William K. Macdonald
Dr. Peter R. MacDougall