The future of public education funding, and the content students will learn, were the topics of discussion at a Tuolumne County Board of Education meeting Monday.
The board heard an update from county Deputy Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin on major changes to teaching standards coming next year. Later, with some reluctance, the board passed a resolution in support of two proposed state tax increases to help fund education.
Public schools in Tuolumne County have begun planning for the shift to national Common Core State Standards for teaching, Bulkin said. The new standards put a greater emphasis on independent thinking, the reading and writing of nonfiction, and common themes across grade levels.
"This is not a regimented way of teaching," Bulkin said. "It's much more global and asking for critical thinking."
Bulkin said some local superintendents have observed teachers become "overwhelmed" by the new standards, but they believe students benefit greatly.
Math classes will see the biggest changes, with courses like algebra and geometry being blended together and some lessons shifted between grade levels.
For example, students will be introduced to probability in seventh grade rather than third because it fits with the other math lessons given in seventh grade.
And students will see fewer assignments asking them to summarize their vacations or favorite memories, thanks to a transition away from narrative writing toward explanatory and argumentative essays.
Change is necessary because most students don't feel well-served by public education, Bulkin said.
"It's not producing the results that we once had, years ago," she said. "Students aren't engaged in the current system."
Last year, Bulkin's office gave Tuolumne County teachers an introduction to the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by most states. Advisory committees from each school district have been meeting since then, planning the transition.
Within the past week, groups from each district have also been getting intensive Common Core training sessions.
Along with the new teaching standards will come the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which differ from the currently used STAR tests in the style of their questions and their use of technology. School districts will have until 2017 to get their technology up to date for the tests.
The future of funding for public education is much more uncertain. The Tuolumne County Board of Education has debated whether to express support for Gov. Brown's Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act, or Proposition 30.
The measure, up for a vote on Nov. 6, would raise sales taxes by a quarter of a cent and increase income taxes for wealthy individuals.
Not all of the money raised would go to schools, but the passage of the initiative would prevent additional "trigger cuts" to cash-strapped school districts.
The competing Proposition 38, backed by Pasadena attorney Molly Munger, is titled "Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment and Bond Debt Reduction Act."
Proposition 38 would raise income taxes for most Californians. Proponents say it would generate at least $10 billion a year in new funding for schools, for a period of 12 years starting next July.
Within the past few weeks, several school districts have passed resolutions in favor of the tax measures or placed them on their board meeting agendas.
The Tuolumne County Board of Education's resolution was on the agenda for its August board meeting, but board members hesitated to approve it.
The version of the resolution approved at Monday's meeting incorporated the following text: "The Tuolumne County Board of Education feels pressured into supporting both funding measures for fear of what will happen to public education funding should neither measure pass."
Although it was approved, a few board members expressed their dissatisfaction with the resolution and the idea of tax increases.
"I think it stinks," said board member Chucker Twining, who represents the area that includes Twain Harte-Long Barn Union School District. "The whole concept does."
But worries about more budget cuts are well-founded, according to Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva. If Proposition 30 is voted down, the resulting "trigger cuts" will slash about $460 in funding per student.
Silva said funding levels for California students are already low when compared to other states. A recent report by Education Week found that California spends about $8,660 per student, while the national average is $3,000 more.
Silva is traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to speak with senators and argue against more cuts to public education funding. More specifically, he will argue that special education should receive full funding.
His trip is part of his work on the executive council for the Association of Educational Service Agencies, which is paying his travel costs.
In other local education news, Golden Lakes Charter School has submitted its charter petition for renewal by the Tuolumne County Office of Education. The office must hold a public hearing to review the petition and make a decision within 60 days, Silva said.
Located in Don Pedro, Golden Lakes Charter School is the subject of debate among Tuolumne County school board members and administrators - some of whom question its financial sustainability.
A date for the public hearing to review the charter petition has not yet been set.