By Daniel Zingale
My two sons have gone to what some describe as “good” public schools in Sacramento for 13 years. You know the type. The PTA raises money for arts and music. There are Autumn Fairs and St. Patrick’s Day Breakfasts. Test scores are high.
If you follow coverage of the Governor’s school finance reform plan, you’d assume I’m against it. It’s been portrayed as a battle between well-to-do suburban districts and less fortunate ones. Like Walnut Creek has everything to lose and Oakland Unified everything to gain.
As usual, it’s more complicated than that.
First, let’s get the facts straight. The plan significantly increases funding for schools that serve at risk children-whether they’re low income, learning English or foster children. No districts will lose money. The plan makes school funding more transparent and ups community control. A zip code doesn’t neatly predict winners and losers.
I support the proposal, with both my heart and my head. I don’t talk much about what’s in my heart because I don’t want to sound like a sanctimonious jerk. But here it goes.
I think about kids in a nearby housing project. They don’t have the same chances my kids do, just because of where they were born. That’s utterly wrong. All children are God’s children. They all deserve a chance.
My own kids might have lost out just because of where they were born — the former Soviet Union. My partner and I are so grateful we adopted them into our lives. Every achievement — like my oldest son’s graduation last week — is a blessing.
But when I talk to parents about the Governor’s plan, it’s my head speaking. California won’t succeed unless all kids succeed, regardless of where they live. This generation will eventually buy our homes and pay for our retirement. If they fail, our state fails. We can’t just wall off our community and pretend there’s not a bigger world out there.
I sympathize with parents concerned about the plan. Many schools in wealthier neighborhoods believe they’re under-resourced. But funding for 97 percent of students will increase under the plan.
A parent and friend summed it up best: To support the plan you need to agree that we’re all in this together, that others’ destinies are tied to our own.
Education is a great equalizer. In California, too often it’s the great divider. Now’s our chance to change that.
Daniel Zingale is senior vice president at The California Endowment.