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How Many California Parents Care About School Budget Cuts?

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Legislators Fund Prison System Over School System

California legislators are set to cut funding for schools again. At the same time, they propose increased funding for prisons. Some people think schoolkids should just go straight into the prison system.

Californians could stop this, but the lack of action on their part may mean they don't care about what their legislators do, or that they don't know how to take action. A silent and unmotivated electorate is good for Governor Brown and "business as usual."

New Internet Tool Shows Parents Severity of School Budget Cuts

For parents who do care, there is now a powerful tool that uses Internet and Web 2.0 technologies to show just how much money will be cut from their local public schools if an all-cuts budget goes forward.

Alarmed by the expiration of state revenues on June 30, 2011, two concerned California parents created the map-based database tool to see exactly what each student will lose.

When you click on a district in the California School Funding Map Tool, a dialog box with funding information pops up. Overlaid on the map, you see State Senate and Assembly Districts and the names of your elected representatives.

Supporters of public education can now easily identify and contact their elected representatives, to discuss the cuts that affect their neighborhood schools.

The rules of education finance are literally like a maze, but thanks to persistence and some new Google technology, there is now a way to see what is really going on.

Silicon Valley parent Sreeram Balakrishnan and Southland parent Cynthia Liu spent hours before and after day jobs and on weekends collaborating to help Californians understand the impact of $18 billion in cuts in the past three years, and the potential for $4.6 billion more in cuts for '11-'12.

"I met Hoi Poon, head of Parents for Great Education, while visiting Bay area friends. She connected me to Sarah Butler who had experience in education funding and Sree who had the technical expertise to create a tool. We all worked hard to translate the complicated world of state education finance into a form most people could understand."
- Cynthia Liu

Balakrishnan said, "I put this tool together to show how effective presentation of publicly available data can help people understand complex issues such as school funding." He works at Google's Fusion Tables, a cutting edge part of the search engine giant where people can experiment with visualizing and sharing data on maps.

Together they used raw data supplied by Ed-data.gov, the state of California's official compiler of K-12 education statistics, and freshly released budget information from the California Budget Project, a non-partisan fiscal policy analysis group.

"It's hard to digest if you hear a huge city school district might lose millions in state funding. The mind reels. But if you know your child will have $764 less in state funds to pay for his schooling, in a class of thirty that works out to $22,290 less spent per class. You realize that no amount of fundraising will make up for what one piece of legislation can do," said Liu. "We're going to have to come together as a state to help all our kids."

In a still wobbly economy, parents are working harder at jobs that in some cases pay much less. There's less time to devote to volunteering at their kid's school and less money to close the gap. Less from the state means potentially bigger class sizes, less individualized instruction, and scarce resources for music, art, or school libraries.

"What we need are for two Republican legislators in the Assembly and two in the State Senate to vote directly for extension of revenue that closes the gap for schools."
- Sarah Butler of Parents for Great Education

"There are real reasons to be worried," said Poon. "But if we act now, we can pull back from the brink. We're the eighth largest economy in the world, yet we're 43rd in per pupil spending in America - how can this be?"

It remains to be seen whether California parents will take any action to say where their tax dollars are spent, but the California School Funding Map Tool now means information and impact are now just clicks away.

Some Californians are already taking related action, with a move to Recall Gerry Brown, because they say he favors prisons over schools.

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