Getting by on less: Report says economy has put some schools even further behind

July 22, 2011, 2:19 p.m.

Jefferson High School

Before the recession, California schools were already underfunded. According to a new report from UCLA, the situation has only gotten worse.

“Students are coming to school with greater challenges than ever before, challenges that are created by economic crisis,” said John Rogers, director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. “Clearly in California as a whole and in areas like South Los Angeles, there's been deep economic problems for some time.”

Students in California are getting less than they were three years ago: less time with teachers and counselors, fewer materials like calculators and lab equipment, fewer art or music classes, and less safe and welcoming schools.

The economy and other factors are starting to wear on students and their families as well as schools, Rogers said. With less public funding, schools are having to do more with less. Cutbacks to the number of teachers, counselors, assistant principals and other staff leave remaining staff with more to do, Rogers said.

“There are fewer adults in schools for fewer hours,” Rogers said.

However, at Jefferson High School, principal Michael Taft said the school is able to deal with most of these problems.

School materials are provided for: art and music teachers who received pink slips are being retained except for one art teacher; and, although there are fewer custodial and clerical staff than five years ago, the school grounds and safety are being maintained.

A recent Jefferson High graduate, Karen Ramirez, mostly agrees.

“I think that Jefferson is a great school that has great teachers,” Ramirez said. She graduated in 2010.

However, she did see a problem with class sizes. While attending Jefferson, she saw general education classes with 35 to 40 students.

“The class was too crowded, and we spent more time trying to move around the class then actually learning,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez also saw safety as a concern — not as a problem in the school, but outside of it. Fights and other tensions were commonly seen on the streets outside the school.

She explained how some students had to get home by going through the nearby park. Bad people hung out there, she said.

“There's kids who come here because this is where it is safe — they feel safe here rather than the outside,” said Elizabeth Gidon, bridge coordinator at Jefferson High.

Taft said while the school can try to address some issues, like fights, there are overwhelming community-wide problems it cannot solve alone.

“That's one of the major things that we have at an under-performing inner-city school, is that we have to deal with the community issues when they come into the classroom,” Taft said.

Outside of the high rate of crime and homelessness, some students have to constantly move because of lost jobs, foreclosed homes or eviction notices. Hunger is also a growing problem.

According to the report from UCLA, 56 percent of the principals reported increased food insecurity among students. Taft and Gidon said they believe this is true for Jefferson High students.

“When you're in an economically depressed area, you never know if a child has eaten breakfast when they come to school,” Taft said. “Are they eating or are they waiting for the next morning?”

All these growing problems mean more students are not going to college. Families cannot afford to send their kids to four-year colleges, so students are putting it off or are going to local community colleges instead, Rogers said.

For Jefferson graduate Ramirez, despite all the challenges mentioned in the report, she is continuing her education. She is going to East Los Angeles College and wants to be a playwright or a psychologist.

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