Leaders call for increased funding and K-14 partnerships to promote equity in schools

A recent Public Policy Institute of California event brought together two of the state’s education heavyweights, State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond and California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, for a discussion on improving opportunities and enhancing outcomes for all students, and how partnerships between K-12 and community colleges can prepare those students for the future.

To accomplish these goals, Darling-Hammond said policymakers must begin thinking of systemic solutions to the challenges both schools and students face.

“I think we can do more in the K-12 system to build that capacity for kids to begin to think in high school about what they want to do, and work with community colleges to build that seamlessness on-ramp,” Darling-Hammond said. “I’ve looked at countries and states that have dramatically improved achievement and closed achievement gaps by closing opportunity gaps — because that’s what we’re really talking about here — and they typically do five things.

“They create equitable, adequate funding systems so that schools are funded. They invest in high-quality teachers and leaders so that every context allows for good decision making and good teaching. They have thoughtful curriculum and assessment systems pointed at the right kind of standards,” Darling-Hammond continued. “These days that means 21st-century standards that are really about thoughtful critical thinking and problem solving. They have the wraparound supports that provide health and developmental supports for young people, and they design schools in ways that allow for them to be productive. If we want to move forward, we have to really do all those things.”

Lawmakers and school districts have begun work in these areas. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first state budget included a $2.7 billion increase in Proposition 98 funding for K-12 schools and community colleges, and $38.7 million in professional development grants; the State Board is continuing to hammer out changes to statewide curriculum in various subjects and refining the state’s new System of Support and accountability system; and several districts throughout the state now provide children with vision, dental, physical and mental health services on-site.

But to accelerate progress and properly reinvest in the state’s public education system, a statewide coalition led by CSBA and the Association of California School Administrators is moving to place a Full and Fair FundingSM measure on the November 2020 ballot that would generate an additional $15 billion annually for the state’s K-12 public schools and community colleges.

Connecting to community college

To California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, there are equitable ways of providing access to higher education for high school students throughout the state, but policymakers at all levels need to work together to break down silos and remove potential barriers.

Oakley said this is especially important because the days of needing only a high school diploma to enter the work force are long gone, which is why providing dual-enrollment opportunities is so important.

Unlike Advanced Placement courses, which require students to pay to take tests that give college credit to those who score a three or higher, dual-enrollment allows high school students to enroll in college courses while attending high school and earn post-secondary credits as long as they pass their classes. Similarly, many career technical education pathways allow students to graduate from high school with a certification or trade school credits that can put them one step ahead in their chosen field. CTE can lead to high-quality, well-paying careers for students with minimal post-secondary preparation. When that path includes community college, this can also mean significantly less debt than incurred with a degree from a four-year institution.

“We need to see the path through into community college as the required path for everybody to get some sort of post-secondary credential. We should finance it in ways that encourage that, we should look at policy alignment so that we encourage that,” Oakley said. “The more that we can blur the lines between particularly 12th grade and first year of college, I think is a positive.”

By paving the way for high schools and community colleges to work more closely together, Darling-Hammond said policymakers could ensure all students can explore careers for which they are passionate. For example, a student interested in a career in graphic design likely won’t be able to take a class in the subject at their high school but could enroll in a number of related courses at their local or regional community college.

To create such pathways for all students, however, Oakley and Darling-Hammond agreed that California needs to further invest in developing and incentivizing strong partnerships between the K-12 and community college systems statewide.

“We are 37th in the country in the share of our wealth that we devote to education,” Darling-Hammond said. “I think of California as a country. We’re the fifth-largest economy in the world. We should be behaving as Finland and Singapore and other small countries do, and they have built systems where nobody gets left behind, where everybody has a pathway and where kids are able to find their role in society.”

CSBA career technical education resources: