News


Palo Alto lawyer takes aim at California's 'broken' education-funding system

Stunned by art, library cuts at son's school, mother is galvanized into action

Nancy Krop had built a notable career as a civil rights lawyer when her child reached school age and she stumbled upon a disaster — and a new mission.

Attending her son's first-grade orientation meeting in 2009, Krop was stunned to learn that the public school — in a nearby district she declines to name — had cut its music and art program. Its library was closing, and the school was laying off teachers.

Krop, the product of California public education all the way through law school at the University of California at Davis, wondered how she'd managed to miss the financial crisis.

"I thought, 'I'm an educated, well-read person — how did I not know that our schools have dropped from the top five to the bottom five (in per-pupil funding and performance), and how can we fix it if it's not known?"

She felt galvanized to act, signing up to help raise funds for the school, researching education finance and, within a year, moving to Palo Alto so her son could attend Barron Park Elementary School.

"Eventually it got to the point where I realized I needed to move — because I could — but what about all the families who couldn't?"

When Krop graduated from Gunn High School in 1980, California schools were well-funded and high-performing.

"The idea was that if you invested in Californians through college, California would get a huge return on the investment. My law degree cost $3,600 — $1,200 a year.

"California invested in me and my generation and in return receives our property taxes, our income taxes."

Her son's first-grade orientation, with news of canceled programs and teacher layoffs, had been an eye-opener.

Krop, who in her law practice had just won a record $78.5 million settlement in a federal False Claims Act case, decided to turn her advocacy skills to fixing public education funding in California.

She settled on working through the PTA, reasoning that its 800,000 members, if mobilized, could be a powerful force for change. Now, as the PTA's legislative advocate for Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, she's making the rounds with her message about the state of education funding.

While passage of Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's 2012 temporary tax initiative, "stopped the bleeding" in California education funding — which had been cut 20 percent since 2008 — it did nothing to help the state's ranking in per-pupil spending, Krop said.

Average per-pupil spending in California was $8,341 in 2010-11 — 30 percent below the national average of $11,864, according to Education Week's "Quality Counts" index.

Even Palo Alto's $13,000 per student — luxurious by California standards — pales in comparison to top-funded states such as Maine, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont, which spend as much as $16,000 to $22,000 per student, according to Krop's presentation, titled "The Dire State of School Funding."

"In some sense there's a complacency even in Palo Alto that we're a wealthy school district without realizing that, no, we're seriously underfunded compared to where we were a generation ago and compared to top-performing states," she said.

Krop interviewed education veterans ranging from former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin to Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond to a superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"We don't have to guess what works because we have good models that have been used (to improve schools) in other states, like New Jersey," she said.

Her presentation is full of charts on California's soaring high school dropout rates and the long-term cost of not investing in early education.

"High school dropouts earn less, pay fewer taxes, are more likely to collect welfare and turn to crime," she said.

Krop insists a child's educational opportunity should not depend on his or her ZIP code.

"Californians need to understand that if you don't spend that money (on universal preschool), you're spending seven times more later on to catch those children up. And if you don't have to spend it later on, that frees up a lot of money for our school system."

On the "schools-to-prison pipeline," she notes, "For the first time in California history, corrections funding now exceeds higher education funding, with 19 prisons and one university built in the state since 1980."

Krop advocates investing in teachers to stabilize the workforce, which now suffers from a dropout rate of 25 to 30 percent within the first five years. Better mentoring and professional development could reduce that to 10 percent, saving on hiring and retraining costs.

On the revenue side, she advocates reducing California's heavy reliance (more than 60 percent) on the volatile personal income tax and greater reliance on property tax, which should include reform of the commercial property tax, she said.

In Santa Clara County, the property tax burden has shifted from 50-50 between residential and commercial taxpayers to two-thirds on homeowners and one-third on commercial property since 1978, she noted.

"No great economy ever grew by dis-investing in education," Krop is fond of saying, borrowing a quote from Eastin. "We need to turn this ship around."

Comments

Posted by Ben, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2014 at 1:40 pm

[Portion removed.] California public school funding has been an issue since passgae of Prop 13 in 1978. Do people in Palo Alto really live in that much of a bubble? Better late than never I guess. Welcome to the fight.


Posted by Robin, a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Well, Ben, people usually perceive matters through their own experience, and this is Nancy's honest experience. Kudos to her for wanting to help, as so many don't when see they see a problem. How about showing a little more appreciation towards someone who cares to do something about the situation?

I see that you're in East Palo Alto. If you wish to say anything about the state of schools there, I think that could be helpful for this conversation, as all districts deserve better.


Posted by Jennifer Bestor, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 25, 2014 at 4:45 pm

The fascinating thing is the extent that all of California lives in a bubble regarding school funding. Bravo to Nancy for having the guts to try to understand it! Most of us take one look at the sausage factory and run.

A small example: did you know that the state takes $7B a year of school property taxes to fund its own obligations? It does. But from districts like Palo Alto? Menlo Park? Carmel? Beverly Hills? Nope.

East Palo Alto, Redwood City, East San Jose, Soledad, Compton ... The places than can least afford unstable funding have reliable property taxes taken away, to be replaced by volatile state income tax, and then only when it's available. This year 'a mere' $6.1 billion won't be repaid -- $1,000 for every schoolchild in the state -- down from $10 billion two years ago.

The harder one looks, the more it seems that our elected officials talk a great game about education, but moral inertia is the rule of the day. Let's just hope Nancy can win this battle!


Posted by GC, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:05 am

Thank you Nancy!


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:17 am

Reading thru this article is like walking down a hallway of memories of every other social engineer over the past century hasn't said—and all only partially researched, and more-often-than-not only partially understood.

> Krop, the product of California public education all the way through
> law school at the University of California at Davis, wondered how
> she'd managed to miss the financial crisis.

What financial crisis? The PAUSD's budget has doubled almost every ten years, over the past couple of decades—so where's the money? Salaries and benefits—since every school district in the US pays about 85% of its budget into salaries and benefits. Doesn't the Counsellor know that fact? Or is she going to invent some new data in order to wow the jury here?

One can only wonder if this lawyer has any idea just how much of the US GDP is expended on public education every year? Anyone have an idea? It's about the same as we spent on Defense before the 9/11 attack on the US by Muslim terrorists, by the way—somewhere in the area of about 4% of the US GDP.


[Portion removed.

Moreover, given the Internet and the marvelous opportunities for transmitting education via the World Wide Web (WWW)—there is no reason to be hiring teachers are $100+K (plus pension) to be teaching art and music, or any number of other topics, for that matter. We should be looking at reducing our public sector spending by shifting these services to the Internet. It's hard to believe that Ms. Krop has any concept of the power of information technology—but luckily the world is catching on.


Posted by Gary Gechlik, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:26 am

I live on Skyline Boulevard in Palo Alto. I met my wife at Stanford Law School. My children attend school in Saratoga. Why is that? Because Palo Alto discriminated against families in rural settings. That is just the facts. Saratoga Schools are terrific. The parents show up to events, they are focused on their children and the local community and not the "whole world". How can Palo Alto hope to improve their school system if they are committed to their exclusionary vision of the world, even for their own citizens?

The second issue I raise all the time. If you want your kids to do well in school, pick a great after school program and pay for it. The public school system was never developed to teach students foreign language or math after school. In New Jersey, I attended after school programs regularly through the 7th grade. As a result, I can read Hebrew. My children attend Growing Tree in Saratoga, it is fantastic, reasonably priced, an "A plus" after school program, and my children speak Mandarin fluently. They also attend Let's Play in Spanish in Campbell, another "A plus" program.

The reality, is that a quality education is not simply about public funding. It is about commitment. I work to teach science day at our school. That is a great deal of fun for me. Other parents volunteer for art, that is fun for them. A third group of parents volunteer through the PTA, that is great for them. Another group volunteers through Project Cornerstone, that is great for them.

From what I can see, the next 2 years is about the Common Core measures, like it or not. There are no "battles to win" in terms of school funding. Most of the funds are allocated through collective bargaining agreements which occur in closed sessions as part of California law. Art and library services are important, but in an age of digital innovation, this is not felt to be the priority. The priority right now is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. That requires the commitment of students, parents, and educators. In many regards, STEM is outside the interest of the PTA and requires highly specialized parents and educators. From what I can see, the model has changed. What we need are cloud based systems to automatically facilitate the teachers in the classroom. The teacher is really the solution to education. They are the service providers. They need to be credentialed and they need tenure. The focus at the public school needs to be on core academics. There are now countless private forums to learn art, music, soccer, and foreign language. This is simply a reality. As we focus on the reality, we will realize that two people in the public education system are "priceless", your mother and father, and they are the people that can often make the real difference. We need them in the classroom as well.


Posted by Misplaced effort , a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:34 am

Nothing about advocating tenure reform or taking on the teachers unions. Attacking the finding side is futile in the meantime. Throwing more money at a system in which nobody is held accountable is putting good money after bad.


Posted by Misplaced effort, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:36 am

Typo: funding side


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:42 am

For those of you who might be interested in this topic (outside of the Krop article), the following link offers some insight into some of the difficulties of comparing school spending:

Comparison of Per Pupil Spending Calculations:
Web Link


Posted by Gary Gechlik, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:51 am

I might as well share with the readers the actual cost of a good private after school programs, it is not that much.

Cost of Growing Tree per year, the regions best Montessori School, which provides After School Programs and Summer School in Saratoga:

180 x 3 = 540 hours
25 x 9 = 225 hours
Total = 765 hours
$5.88 per hour

Growing Tree was a bargain. I have told everyone about it. I like to spread the good word about people who do an "A plus" job. For the year, it cost us $4,500 for Kitty, a little less for Jacob. That was 180 days, plus 5 weeks of summer school."

The entire school year at Foothill assuming all our property taxes go to education.

45 minimum days x 4 = 180 hours
135 full days x 6 = 810 hours
Total = 990 hours
We donate about $1,000 to the school per child and we paid 11K in property taxes and have two children, so $6,500 for Kitty.
$6.56 per hour

The point is to be honest and practical. If you want your kids to do well, invest in a 529 college savings plan early, find yourself a solid after school program, work with the School District through the School Board that you have been assigned, and focus on your children.

Personally, I am very lucky. My children are both healthy and intelligent. My wife works hard, 7 days a week to educate our children, and teaches at Stanford Law School, while I focus on the California Jewish Father Model (CJFM) (Work hard, exercise daily, don't raise your voice at home, be thankful to God for what you have in life).

The advice I would give each and every parent in Palo Alto: If you want your child to do well, focus on your roles. Mom should be a paragon of extra-curricular virtue, dad should show up and smile. As per those public school challenges, let it go. My kids can't even attend school in my own city, Palo Alto. They are practically the only children in the entire city that are discriminated against like this. What has been the result of years of neglect by the city of Palo Alto? Faithful people showed grace upon us, and invited us into their community, Saratoga. For this reason, my children have great teachers, great friends, and a great community, that is what matters.


Posted by Domadiful, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2014 at 12:06 pm

@Gary I really hope you're being sarcastic with comments like, "Mom should be a paragon of extra-curricular virtue, dad should show up and smile. "

What is it, 1920? As a father I plan on doing much more than showing up and smiling when it comes to my child's education.


Posted by My Take, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Gary, You sound very fortunate. Fortunately, Nancy Krop has devoted her effort toward funding for all students in California. This includes many thousands who do not have parents able to show up at events, or pay for extra instruction. For you information, there are plenty of these in Palo Alto, where parent involvement and private tutoring are essential for most students to succeed.

And 'Bob', you have missed the point. PAUSD is a bubble surrounded by a big state, which includes many failing schools. PAUSD schools are largely propped up by PIE, along with an army of parent volunteers and hundreds of expensive tutors. As the result, people flock here from all over the world to get their kids a good education. But it is not because our schools are rolling in dough.

Nancy Krop might have started with the realization that arts and pe were falling by the wayside, but she has spent years researching the problems and is actually quite informed. And no, children can not be educated entirely by a computer. And no, science and math are not the only essentials of a good education.


Posted by More Money to Protect our Super, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Go Ms. Krop, and get more $$$ so our district officials waist them on bringing parents of special education students to court, and so they can hire more people and lawyers to clean up their mess. The moneys will not be going to our students education. There are plenty of money, but they are expending it on giving raises to our super, and to hire as many people they need to save the superintendent's a.. I know that I will not be giving a penny till he leaves, and takes his cabinet with him.


Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2014 at 4:56 pm

@moderator - May I, respectfully, suggest to link this thread also to the Schools and Kids category? While the lawyer aims way "beyond Palo alto", it may be of interest to those who check the "schools & Kid".

Ms. Krop - Good Luck!

On a different, yet connected note -
I think it may be worthwhile to check how the $ currently available education is being spent.
On 2009 Santa Clara Grand Jury looked into this issue, and published a report titled:

WHO REALLY BENEFITS FROM EDUCATION DOLLARS? (Hint: It's Not the Students).

(the report also checked the issue of Health benefits for school board members Web Link).


Posted by Gary Gechlik, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 26, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Domadiful,

Thanks for commenting back. I am not being sarcastic at all. I will live by the statement, "Mom should be a paragon of extra-curricular virtue, dad should show up and smile."

If you go to any really nice district of elementary school students, that is what the room looks like. Moms are very engaged, they love it. Dads take second seat. My wife believes in 7 day per week education and she is right. She finally decided that Chinese School on Friday nights was too much. My two cents, well, they are just my two cents. My wife does a great job in what she does.

But realistically, try taking a 5 and 6 year old child to visit the Supreme Court in Washington. It is a blast. My daughter decided she would bring a "stick" into the building. It was a "great stick" she found near the Capitol. How could anyone not appreciate such a "great stick"? Well, I made her leave the stick outside. Afterwards, we went back outside, the stick was gone. Kitty remembered that, they took her stick. Those are the great stories childhood is about.

My wife recognizes my value. A father should be an easy going, adventure driven person. That is my Sephardic Jewish nature. There is a great deal to learn from my approach:

1) I think parents need to get to know the system
2) Engagement and participation at what you do best is really where it is at
3) Try not to want to save the world, it does not need saving
4) Do what you want, what makes America great is liberty, not just our government, our schools, or our corporations
5) Don't judge other parents, they have their approaches to learn from, adapted to their children

I could send you the picture of Kitty singing the University of Pennsylvania song with the choir singers, we crashed their freshman weekend admission party, and that was a blast, they loved it. That little girl looked like she knew all the words, waving her hands, really, what did she need me for, she was already half way there? How about my son at the Georgetown School of Law. I had to pull him out of the building. Well, right in front of the criminal law clinic, he yells, "I can't breath, are you attempting to murder me". Five years old, the entire office stands up and laughs to take a look.

What do I do? Well, you can join me on May 7th at the Vernier conference on Science through Data Collection.

"Hello Gary,

Thank you for registering. Your seat is reserved for the workshop. For further inquiries, please email us at registration@vernier.com.

Data-Collection Workshop in San Jose, CA

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
4:00 - 8:00 PM
Doubletree Hotel San Jose
San Jose, CA 95110
View Map"

This is a free conference, just sign up and show up.

As per how the Sephardic raise their children, very different from what some people feel is their path in modern America. We make our prayers early in life, by the time we have children, our prayers have been spoken. Once those prayers are answered very little work on our part has to be done. As fathers, we just have to continue with our roles, stay healthy and happy, and lightly discipline our children. When the time comes, and our children are ready, we make another set of prayers, prayers that our sons and daughters are happily married, have healthy children of their own, and live moral and educated lives.

I never thought of myself as relating to the 1920's. Generally I relate to the 1930's, a time of community and family values. I don't have the solution to divorce or single parent families. I can only suggest, as a person who has been discriminated against under the law by the community, that there is more to our education system than funding. More over, I have reviewed the data. If you want your child to get a great education, put your first foot forward as a parent:

1) The teacher is generally always right
2) The district is bound by reasonable constraints
3) A child is best raised by their own parents not the government
4) Teenage substance abuse, not just a lack of finances, directly impacts our public educational systems

What do I do with my children to educate them? Well, I regularly discuss the AP curriculum. That's it. He can recognize a monocot from a dicot. My daughter can recognize the cell and the moons of Jupiter. When we discuss God, which we do from time to time, I advise them, whatever decision they make, that is their decision. Of all my faults, hypocrisy as a parent is not one of them. I don't send my children to top quality after school programs to tell them what to believe. I send them to these programs, so they can learn to think for themselves, despite what I believe. The public school teachers have their role, and it is a great role, but they cannot do it all. Parents need to reach out and take personal responsibility.

If they cannot afford to send their children to after school programs, they can afford to sit down with their children, read to them the bible, and watch bible cartoons on youtube, and ask them, what they think. I do this regularly. It is not because I am religious, just the opposite. A religious education is a natural part of a well rounded education, just as important as math and science, but under the law, the public education system cannot provide a religious education.


Posted by Cordoba, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2014 at 6:17 pm

"Teach thy tongue to say 'I do not know,' and thou shalt progress." - Maimonides


Posted by Sean, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Provide educational vouchers to every parent in California, then get out of the way.


Posted by George Orwell, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2014 at 9:48 pm

George Orwell is a registered user.

Bravo! Lock the thread, silence the discussion!


Posted by Eva_PA, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 28, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Eva_PA is a registered user.

Thank you Nancy for your efforts in bringing this information to the public. I did not grow up in California although I remember it being top ranked in the 1970s; it is very disturbing to see California ranked near the bottom in basic education. Granted this is not true in Palo Alto, but that doesn't mean that it isn't going to affect us all in the future (basic services, prisons, crime, at a basic level).

While funding may not be the sole reason for the decline of the state of education in California, it absolutely is a key indicator. Before Prop 13 California fully funded education, including arts, music, PE, classroom supplies, sports uniforms for kids, music, art, PE, etc, etc. Those costs are now being paid for by parents, educational foundations or fundraising efforts at a school level.

Plus technology is so key to education in our modern world. We are blessed in Palo Alto to have a wealth of resources to help kids achieve higher results at every level. This simply is not possible without funding.

Finally the average annual cost to incarcerate a prisoner in California is $47,000
Average Student funding is $8,300.

Priorities?


Posted by revdreileen, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2014 at 1:00 pm

revdreileen is a registered user.

I am grateful for Ms. Krop's advocacy. The inequities in education funding in California are massive. Most of those living in the PAUSD have little knowledge of how inadequate the resources are for poorer districts. The privatizing initiatives are not doing anything to address these fundamental problems. When an accountable and adequate public education system is under siege in wealthier districts and parents and taxpayers begin to realize what a threat it is to democracy, perhaps they will then understand why letting our public education system slowly deteriorate is a disaster in the making.


Posted by P.A. Tax Payer, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 28, 2014 at 3:23 pm

P.A. Tax Payer is a registered user.

I believe there are two valid issues and I'm worried that there seems to be no valid dialog between the two sides.

On the one side, it is clear that better funding will improve education. On the other side, it has been proven that all humans work better when their work performance is measured and they are held responsible for the result of their work.

I believe these two problems have to be solved together. We should be investing more, and the educational system should be held accountable - which means objective measurement of student improvement and no more tenure.


Posted by Chris_long, a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2014 at 12:14 am

Chris_long is a registered user.

Definitely, raising funds and researching education finance for the school is a great initiative. But schools nowadays need thorough investing. Investors prefer investing in growth stocks with high price earnings ratios and high expectations for growth. Unfortunately, school is a non-profit organization and only parents can understand that they are investing into future. So, services like Web Link might appear useful and timely. It is becoming the most efficient way to influence the situation by the means of money.


Posted by Edturlti, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 19, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Edturlti is a registered user.

The funding of public schools should be a major concern for everybody. As funding decreases so does the standard of education for our kids. It's a great thing to raise awareness of this issue. The government should be allocating more public funds into education, and also private lenders such as Web Link can do their part.


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