By Shelley Hoss
Published in the Orange County Register April 8, 2013
The challenges facing Orange County’s students can’t be addressed by the local education system alone. Solving the equation will take the whole community, working together.
You don’t have school-aged children, so the cuts to education don’t affect you, right? Or maybe your children attend private school, so the lack of a balanced state budget isn’t urgent? Perhaps your children are in public school, but in a high-performing district, so there is no need to worry?
Yes, there is.
State and Federal budget cuts have chipped away at a public-education system already stretched thin. The resulting effect on Orange County’s next generation affects us all, in both the short and long term.
A poorly educated workforce drives a cycle of poverty that can impact the quality of life in our entire region. Orange County’s size, location and economic base should have us competing at a global level now and in the future. But if a large portion of our workforce lacks basic skills, our competitiveness will be compromised.
This is everybody’s problem.
Here are the realities facing our schools, as cited in the Orange County Community Foundation’s “Our Orange County” report:
More than $1 billion in reduced state funding for Orange County schools since 2007–2008 has resulted in public schools having fewer resources than ever before.
Average per-pupil spending in Orange County is consistently lower than national and even state averages, with an 8-percent drop over the past three school years alone. State aid per Orange County student dropped by 20 percent over the past three years.
In 2010-2011, the average class size in Orange County public schools was 29 students—compared to a statewide average of 24 students per class.
Schools are stretched as far as they can go with current resources. In fact, 11 of the county’s 28 school districts – including the three largest –filed qualified budget reports with the Department of Education in March, indicating they had yet to figure out how they would pay their bills for the next two years. The support, partnership and strategic engagement of both the business and philanthropic communities will be critical to overcome these hurdles to our students’ success.
Fortunately, local nonprofit organizations are rising to the challenge to help support students, teachers and parents. The goal? Prevent vulnerable children from falling through the cracks.
One program helping to close the gap is Advancement Via Individual Determination, offered in 104 Orange County schools to help low-income students reach their potential. In 2010, every high school senior participating in AVID graduated, and 68 percent were accepted to four-year universities. Orange County Community Foundation donors who are passionate about education enthusiastically supported AVID, and last year gave more than $400,000 in grants and scholarships.
THINK Together is another example of an innovative nonprofit working to help at-risk youth achieve academic success. Founded in Costa Mesa in 1994, THINK Together has grown into one of the U.S.’ largest nonprofit providers of extended learning-time programs, serving more than 100,000 youth at over 400 locations in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
Local results show the formula is working. Santa Ana Unified School District increased API scores by 27 percent from 2002-2010, and students in multiple THINK programs demonstrated the greatest gains.
"Students need more time to work with the subject matter content that they are learning in school. We work very closely with the school day to support the good work that they are doing to extend and expand learning for their students,” says THINK Together founder and CEO Randy Barth.
For more information on how to support the educational success of Orange County students, visit ConnectOC.org.
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation in Newport Beach.