Get Riehl: Pay Now or Pay Later for Schools

by Richard J. Riehl on November 17, 2012

After comparing their school test scores with statewide results you’d probably agree Carlsbad’s 5th graders, like their Lake Wobegone classmates, are all above average

When No Child Left Behind was signed into law in 2002 it was supposed to produce 100 percent grade level proficiency in English and math for all students by 2014. But to this date only 59 percent of California 5th graders have reached proficiency in English, only 63 percent in math. By comparison, 79 percent of Carlsbad’s 5th graders are proficient in English and 80 percent in math.

But the greater concern about these scores is the lingering achievement gap separating students by family income. Californian’s should care because 59 percent of the state’s 5th graders come from low income families. Only 47 percent of them are proficient in English, 55 percent in math. That doesn’t bode well for the state’s future workforce, which will need higher level skills than today’s workers.Only 23 percent of Carlsbad 5th graders are economically disadvantaged. Although more are grade level proficient at 59 percent in English, 58 percent in math, the test score gap separating them from their more well-to-do classmates is greater than it is statewide. And the city’s abundance of high tech companies will demand an even better trained workforce.

The demand for school reform has amounted mostly to bad-mouthing teacher unions, abandoning our historic commitment to public education, and the rise of charter schools that, with a few notable exceptions, show no better learning results but are preferred by parents searching for socially compatible safe havens for their children.

I spoke last week with Valin Brown, CEO and President of the Board of The Carlsbad Educational Foundation. CEF helps raise private support to contribute about $500k each year for programs that help promote educational excellence for the 11,000 students in the Carlsbad School District. The foundation has a special interest in music education, “hands-on” science education, and educational innovation that takes learning out of the classroom and into the community.

While CEF gets about $350k of its in revenue annually from private donors and corporate grants, its primary source of revenue comes from tuition and fees generated by its Kids Care and Summer Academy programs. Both show potential for enhancing school reform and closing the family-income achievement gap. Unfortunately, neither has the funding to expand its reach to more families who might benefit from them.

Kids Care is a high-quality, licensed child care and educational enrichment program, providing safe, convenient, before and after school care for kindergarten through 5th grade students. It’s available in all 9 elementary schools. Tuition ranges from $120 to $495 per month, which puts it beyond the reach of many low income families.

Brown told me some financial aid is available and that 120 of the 700 currently enrolled students are funded entirely by California’s After School Enrichment and Safety (ASES) grant program. Research has shown before and after school programs can have a substantially positive effect on classroom success. Teachers often speak of their frustration trying to overcome in their limited classroom time the obstacles students face daily outside the classroom.

There are about 2,000 students in Carlsbad schools classified as economically disadvantaged. More access to CEF’s Kids Care could make a big difference in their learning.

The other CEF program that could be expanded to help this student population is the Carlsbad Summer Academy, which enables students in grades 9 through 12 to accelerate their high school progress, allowing them to complete graduation requirements early and prepare for college entrance tests. Brown explained its Summer Academy does not do “catch up” classes because remediation has always been the responsibility of public schools.

Unfortunately, budget cuts hurt low income students most. But I don’t blame CEF for its reluctance to move into remediation and let taxpayers off the hook.

So, where does that leave school reform in a city where all the kids are “above average?” Until we begin to care as much for the ones being left behind as we do for those at the head of the class, I don’t see much hope. Whether its willingness to pay higher taxes or to give to private foundations, that’s where you’ll find our priorities, as well as the future of our economy.

Richard Riehl writes from LaCosta. Contact him at

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