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New online tool helps parents assess school budget cuts

Posted: May 4, 2011 1:00 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2011 1:00 p.m.
 

San Francisco and Los Angeles -- Parents now have a powerful tool that uses Internet and Web 2.0 technologies to show just how much money will be cut from their public schools if an all-cuts budget goes forward.

Alarmed by the expiration of state revenues on June 30, 2011, two concerned California parents created the map-based database tool to see exactly what each student will lose.

http://www.k12newsnetwork.com/2011/05/ca-school-funding-map-tool/

Click on the California School Funding Map Tool and a dialogue box with funding information by district pops up. Overlaid on the map are State Senate and Assembly districts and names of elected representatives. Supporters of public education now have a way to identify their elected representatives in order to discuss with them dollar amounts of cuts that affect local neighborhood schools.

In consultation with experts in the maze-like rules of education finance, Silicon Valley parent Sreeram Balakrishnan and Southland parent Cynthia Liu spent hours before and after day jobs and on weekends collaborating to help the public understand the impact of $18 billion in cuts in the past three years, and the potential for $4.6 billion more in cuts for '11-'12.

"I met Hoi Poon, head of Parents for Great Education, while visiting Bay area friends," Liu said. "She connected me to Sarah Butler who had experience in education funding and Sree who had the technical expertise to create a tool. We all worked hard to translate the complicated world of state education finance into a form most people could understand."

"I put this tool together to show how effective presentation of publicly available data can help people understand complex issues such as school funding," said Balakrishnan, who works at Google's Fusion Tables, a cutting-edge part of the search engine giant where people can experiment with visualizing and sharing data on maps.

Together they delved into raw data supplied by Ed-data.gov, the state of California's official compiler of K-12 education statistics, and freshly released budget information from the California Budget Project, a non-partisan fiscal policy analysis group.

"It's hard to digest if you hear a huge city school district might lose millions in state funding," Liu said. "The mind reels. But if you know your child will have $764 less in state funds to pay for his schooling, in a class of thirty that works out to $22,290 less spent per class. You realize that no amount of fundraising will make up for what one piece of legislation can do. We're going to have to come together as a state to help all our kids."

In a still wobbly economy, parents are working harder at jobs that in some cases pay much less. There's less time to devote to volunteering at their kid's school and less money to close the gap. Less from the state means potentially bigger class sizes, less individualized instruction, and scarce resources for music, art, or school libraries.

"What we need are for two Republican legislators in the Assembly and two in the State Senate to vote directly for extension of revenue that closes the gap for schools," said Sarah Butler of Parents for Great Education.

"There are real reasons to be worried," Poon said. "But if we act now, we can pull back from the brink. We're the eighth largest economy in the world, yet we're 43rd in per pupil spending in America -- how can this be?"

With the California School Funding Map Tool, information and impact are now just clicks away. Visit http://www.k12newsnetwork.com/2011/05/ca-school-funding-map-tool/ or http://www.parentsforgreateducation.org.

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