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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

California’s Middle Class Determining Public School Futures

Education News
April 27, 2011

As more middle class families choose alternatives to California's private schools, public schools are being affected.

Continuing reductions in education budgets in California are increasingly sending middle class parents to explore alternative arrangements, the Mercury News reports. With the shortening of the school year, increase in class sizes and program cuts at public schools, some private schools are seeing record applications this year. Calvary Christian Academy in San Jose, even plans to reopen this August because of the increased demand after closing its doors several years ago.

After a decade of falling enrollment, in part due to the bursting of the internet bubble and a general economic downturn, interest in private education seems to be on the rise. Some schools are reporting a 25% rise in applications. Harry McKay, head of the School at St. Andrew’s Episcopal in Saratoga, said 40% more people applied or inquired about applying this year than the last. Although this year’s statewide private school enrollment numbers are only 8% compared with 10% in 2001, counties like Santa Clara report that the number of public school students is growing at a slower rate than the population growth since the 2000s.

According to the article, California parents have traditionally preferred public education for their kids while also supporting increased taxes and bonds to fund it. However, if the trend is reversing, this could have a devastating social, economic and political effects on the state, says UCLA professor Gary Orfield.

When middle-class families are the mainstay of public schools, they lend stability, raise standards, pursue accountability and anchor city neighborhoods. “The severe decline in public education will make the entire state less attractive to middle-class families and good teachers in general.”

The experience of San Jose parent Loren Daugherty seems to bear this out. Daugherty enrolled her daughter at Valley Christian private school after a favorite teacher at her public kindergarten had been laid off in the latest rounds of cuts. Daugherty was also afraid that with large class sizes, any kind of personalized attention was no longer possible:

“Teachers are pulled in so many directions, they weren’t being supported enough.”

Last Tuesday, at a public hearing on the teacher furloughs next year, more San Jose United parents threatened to withdraw from public schools if the district increased the class sizes.

That’s not what the district wants to do, spokeswoman Karen Fuqua said. If parents would invest the private tuition they pay — from $5,000 to $30,000 a year — in the district instead, class sizes wouldn’t have to be raised, she said.

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