Where are Obama and Romney on the Dropout Crisis and School Funding?

Posted by Elias Kamal Jabbe

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When it comes to education, neither President Obama's nor Governor Romney's campaign has started a real dialogue about the failure of America's K-12 schools—or the grassroots initiatives working to combat the crisis. However, a recent panel at the University of Southern California, "No Policy Left Behind? K-12 Education in the 2012 Campaign," tackled two of the biggest issues the candidates should be addressing: the dropout crisis and school funding.

The panelists—which included academics, charter school operators, and artists—noted that the campaigns haven't offered solutions for the root causes that lead to dropout factories—schools where students receive a poor education and, as a result, drop out early.

According to one panelist, filmmaker and social media consultant Jason Pollock, the social ills plaguing America's underserved communities have created "a warzone" that most Americans don’t want to acknowledge. He’s currently visiting six schools across the country, interviewing at-risk students who refuse to drop out despite the adversity they face at home and in their neighborhoods. He’s using the footage to create a documentary called Undroppable.

"I've had the chance to interview hundreds of kids, literally spending eight hours a day listening to student testimonials while embedded in their schools," said Pollock. "The goal of this documentary is putting a face on this (crisis)." Pollock and his team have also created the hashtag #IAmUndroppable for Twitter and "created a curricula so that they can make their own 'Undroppable' videos with their students." He plans to release the documentary nationally during the summer of 2013.

As for school funding, California’s still suffering from Proposition 13, a California law passed in 1978, that has directly led to the current lack of funding for the state’s K-12 schools. "At the beginning of the 20th century, education funding was completely controlled by localities," said USC Rossier School of Education professor Morgan Polikoff.

Polikoff pointed out how these days, depending on the state, roughly 10 percent of the dollars come from the federal government and about 45 percent comes from the state and local government each. However, thanks to Prop. 13, more of California's money for education has to come from the state compared to other states. That's caused California's school spending to drop lower that it has been in decades as the state searches for a way to erase billions of dollars of debt.

If California seems to be suffering the most, the rest of the country may not have time to notice since the governments of other states remain preoccupied with their own problems. But a Republican-controlled White House in 2013 would stop supporting the Common Core learning standards which are already adopted by 47 states, and could potentially reduce funding for Pell Grant scholarships for 10 million college students by around $1,000.

As Gabe Rose, who serves as Deputy Director of a Los Angeles' Parent Revolution, the group that helped create the Parent Trigger law—which allows California parents to take over underperforming schools—noted, "We like to pretend that there are no politics in public education and we like to say 'we should all do the right thing and help the kids'…but in the real world there is a lot of power and money at stake and there are many different interest groups."

The ultimate message of the panel was that everyone in the nation needs to think very carefully about the decisions they make at the polls in November, especially when it comes to education. We need to pay attention to what the campaigns are saying about education policy and ask ourselves, what should they be saying?

Want to watch the whole panel? Click here.

Female student photo via Shutterstock