Steven E. Gomes: School funding has gone down, but academic performance goes up

March 16, 2013 

By STEVEN E. GOMES

Education is the cornerstone to any civilized society. Training the next generation to be well-rounded, educated individuals is paramount to our society's success and each generation thereafter.

As county superintendent of schools, I see it as a responsibility to help educate the public on how our schools are doing and the innovative, collaborative efforts each district is making to better equip our future work force.

On Feb. 27 in Merced and Feb. 28 in Los Banos, the Merced County Office of Education hosted the first Report on Our Schools. The events featured student speakers, an explanation of the new Common Core State Standards and a presentation that focused on the data in our second Merced County Schools Annual Education Report. Both events drew an audience of about 400 that included local and state elected officials, more than half of county school district superintendents, nearly all of the police chiefs in the county, chambers of commerce, small business owners and various community members.

I would like to share with you some of the information.

It can be difficult to understand the enormity of the educational system in Merced County.

There are about 70,400 students in preschool to 12th grade (P-12), and to give some perspective to this number, 70,400 is nearly equal to the population of Atwater, Los Banos, and Hilmar combined. To give this a regional context, there are more students in Merced, Stanislaus, Madera and Fresno counties than the number of students in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana combined.

Education is a labor intensive business requiring a teacher in front of every class of students supported by administrators and a variety of support staff ranging from bus drivers and custodians to psychologists and school nurses, to name a few.

In 2012, state, federal and local tax dollars provided P-12 with an input of about $650 million. This figure is inclusive of monies used to operate daily school function along with facility construction and remodeling. According to a Stanford University study, dollars spent by education fuel the local economy by a factor of 1.5 times. This means P-12 contributes about $1 billion to the local economy each year.

Annually, the output of the P-12 system is 4,000 high school graduates. As a group, those graduates, including those earning college degrees, will earn more than $6 billion more in a lifetime of work than those who do not earn a high school diploma. The high school graduation rate hovers around 80 percent depending on how it is measured. This remains a challenge for educators throughout the county, state and nation.

According to figures published by the California Postsecondary Education Commission, 53 percent of Merced County graduates enroll in college, which is far above the state average of 41 percent. Merced County ranks sixth out of California's 58 counties for having the highest percentage of graduates enroll in college. Our challenge as a county is to provide enough high-paying jobs to keep our college graduates here in the Valley rather than seeing them moving to other areas of the state.

I'm happy to report the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced on the California Standards Test continues to increase. The California Department of Education uses the Academic Performance Index (API) to measure the progress that each significant subgroup of students, the school and district are making toward a score of 800. The Merced County school districts API averages 782. This represents a nearly 10 percent increase during the past six years. At the same time, the state reduced funding to school districts by about 20 percent.

These academic gains are a direct reflection of the hard work teachers standing in front of these students perform every day.

I want to thank all of the community members who attended the Report on Our Schools and for showing interest in our educational system. This is my 41st year in education and I am more excited about the future for education than ever before! The instructional process will continue to transform and prepare our children for a global economy and a rapidly changing world. Thanks to the generous sponsorship from Stone & Youngberg, a municipal financial group, Educational Employees Credit Union and Merced School Employees Credit Union, our community has more tools to help our students and their schools succeed.

If you would like a copy of the 2012 Merced County Schools Annual Education Report, visit www.mcoe.org/annualreport or stop by MCOE at 632 W. 13th St. in Merced.

Gomes is Merced County superintendent of schools.

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