Palo Alto Weekly
News - April 25, 2014
Palo Alto lawyer takes aim at California's 'broken' education-funding system
Stunned by art, library cuts at son's school, mother is galvanized into action
by Chris Kenrick
Nancy Krop had built a notable career as a civil rights lawyer when her child reached school age and she stumbled upon a disaster — and a new mission.
Attending her son's first-grade orientation meeting in 2009, Krop was stunned to learn that the public school — in a nearby district she declines to name — had cut its music and art program. Its library was closing, and the school was laying off teachers.
Krop, the product of California public education all the way through law school at the University of California at Davis, wondered how she'd managed to miss the financial crisis.
"I thought, 'I'm an educated, well-read person — how did I not know that our schools have dropped from the top five to the bottom five (in per-pupil funding and performance), and how can we fix it if it's not known?"
She felt galvanized to act, signing up to help raise funds for the school, researching education finance and, within a year, moving to Palo Alto so her son could attend Barron Park Elementary School.
"Eventually it got to the point where I realized I needed to move — because I could — but what about all the families who couldn't?"
When Krop graduated from Gunn High School in 1980, California schools were well-funded and high-performing.
"The idea was that if you invested in Californians through college, California would get a huge return on the investment. My law degree cost $3,600 — $1,200 a year.
"California invested in me and my generation and in return receives our property taxes, our income taxes."
Her son's first-grade orientation, with news of canceled programs and teacher layoffs, had been an eye-opener.
Krop, who in her law practice had just won a record $78.5 million settlement in a False Claims Act case, decided to turn her advocacy skills to fixing public education funding in California.
She settled on working through the PTA, reasoning that its 800,000 members, if mobilized, could be a powerful force for change. Now, as the PTA's legislative advocate for Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, she's making the rounds with her message about the state of education funding.
While passage of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's 2012 temporary tax initiative, "stopped the bleeding" in California education funding — which had been cut 20 percent since 2008 — it did nothing to help the state's ranking in per-pupil spending, Krop said.
Average per-pupil spending in California was $8,341 in 2010-11 — 30 percent below the national average of $11,864, according to Education Week's "Quality Counts" index.
Even Palo Alto's $13,000 per student — luxurious by California standards — pales in comparison to top-funded states such as Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont, which spend as much as $16,000 to $22,000 per student, according to Krop's presentation, titled "The Dire State of School Funding."
"In some sense there's a complacency even in Palo Alto that we're a wealthy school district without realizing that, no, we're seriously underfunded compared to where we were a generation ago and compared to top-performing states," she said.
Krop interviewed education veterans ranging from former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin to Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond to a superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"We don't have to guess what works because we have good models that have been used (to improve schools) in other states, like New Jersey," she said.
Her presentation is full of charts on California's soaring high school dropout rates and the long-term cost of not investing in early education.
"High school dropouts earn less, pay fewer taxes, are more likely to collect welfare and turn to crime," she said.
Krop insists a child's educational opportunity should not depend on his or her ZIP code.
"Californians need to understand that if you don't spend that money (on universal preschool), you're spending seven times more later on to catch those children up. And if you don't have to spend it later on, that frees up a lot of money for our school system."
On the "schools-to-prison pipeline," she notes, "For the first time in California history, corrections funding now exceeds higher education funding, with 19 prisons and one university built in the state since 1980."
Krop advocates investing in teachers to stabilize the workforce, which now suffers from a dropout rate of 25 to 30 percent within the first five years. Better mentoring and professional development could reduce that to 10 percent, saving on hiring and retraining costs.
On the revenue side, she advocates reducing California's heavy reliance (more than 60 percent) on the volatile personal income tax and greater reliance on property tax, which should include reform of the commercial property tax, she said.
In Santa Clara County, the property tax burden has shifted from 50-50 between residential and commercial taxpayers to two-thirds on homeowners and one-third on commercial property since 1978, she noted.
"No great economy ever grew by dis-investing in education," Krop is fond of saying, borrowing a quote from Eastin. "We need to turn this ship around."
Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Gary Gechlik,
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 26, 2014 at 5:19 pm
Thanks for commenting back. I am not being sarcastic at all. I will live by the statement, "Mom should be a paragon of extra-curricular virtue, dad should show up and smile."
If you go to any really nice district of elementary school students, that is what the room looks like. Moms are very engaged, they love it. Dads take second seat. My wife believes in 7 day per week education and she is right. She finally decided that Chinese School on Friday nights was too much. My two cents, well, they are just my two cents. My wife does a great job in what she does.
But realistically, try taking a 5 and 6 year old child to visit the Supreme Court in Washington. It is a blast. My daughter decided she would bring a "stick" into the building. It was a "great stick" she found near the Capitol. How could anyone not appreciate such a "great stick"? Well, I made her leave the stick outside. Afterwards, we went back outside, the stick was gone. Kitty remembered that, they took her stick. Those are the great stories childhood is about.
My wife recognizes my value. A father should be an easy going, adventure driven person. That is my Sephardic Jewish nature. There is a great deal to learn from my approach:
1) I think parents need to get to know the system
2) Engagement and participation at what you do best is really where it is at
3) Try not to want to save the world, it does not need saving
4) Do what you want, what makes America great is liberty, not just our government, our schools, or our corporations
5) Don't judge other parents, they have their approaches to learn from, adapted to their children
I could send you the picture of Kitty singing the University of Pennsylvania song with the choir singers, we crashed their freshman weekend admission party, and that was a blast, they loved it. That little girl looked like she knew all the words, waving her hands, really, what did she need me for, she was already half way there? How about my son at the Georgetown School of Law. I had to pull him out of the building. Well, right in front of the criminal law clinic, he yells, "I can't breath, are you attempting to murder me". Five years old, the entire office stands up and laughs to take a look.
What do I do? Well, you can join me on May 7th at the Vernier conference on Science through Data Collection.
Thank you for registering. Your seat is reserved for the workshop. For further inquiries, please email us at email@example.com.
Data-Collection Workshop in San Jose, CA
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
4:00 - 8:00 PM
Doubletree Hotel San Jose
San Jose, CA 95110
This is a free conference, just sign up and show up.
As per how the Sephardic raise their children, very different from what some people feel is their path in modern America. We make our prayers early in life, by the time we have children, our prayers have been spoken. Once those prayers are answered very little work on our part has to be done. As fathers, we just have to continue with our roles, stay healthy and happy, and lightly discipline our children. When the time comes, and our children are ready, we make another set of prayers, prayers that our sons and daughters are happily married, have healthy children of their own, and live moral and educated lives.
I never thought of myself as relating to the 1920's. Generally I relate to the 1930's, a time of community and family values. I don't have the solution to divorce or single parent families. I can only suggest, as a person who has been discriminated against under the law by the community, that there is more to our education system than funding. More over, I have reviewed the data. If you want your child to get a great education, put your first foot forward as a parent:
1) The teacher is generally always right
2) The district is bound by reasonable constraints
3) A child is best raised by their own parents not the government
4) Teenage substance abuse, not just a lack of finances, directly impacts our public educational systems
What do I do with my children to educate them? Well, I regularly discuss the AP curriculum. That's it. He can recognize a monocot from a dicot. My daughter can recognize the cell and the moons of Jupiter. When we discuss God, which we do from time to time, I advise them, whatever decision they make, that is their decision. Of all my faults, hypocrisy as a parent is not one of them. I don't send my children to top quality after school programs to tell them what to believe. I send them to these programs, so they can learn to think for themselves, despite what I believe. The public school teachers have their role, and it is a great role, but they cannot do it all. Parents need to reach out and take personal responsibility.
If they cannot afford to send their children to after school programs, they can afford to sit down with their children, read to them the bible, and watch bible cartoons on youtube, and ask them, what they think. I do this regularly. It is not because I am religious, just the opposite. A religious education is a natural part of a well rounded education, just as important as math and science, but under the law, the public education system cannot provide a religious education.
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