|Mayor Anthony Villagairosa and family, sans his mistress.|
Remarks as Prepared for Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa - PPIC "California's Future" Conference - Education Keynote, December 7, 2010
Thank you for that kind introduction. It is a true honor to address such an esteemed audience. I would like to thank the Public Policy Institute of California for organizing this conference and bringing us together. And I would like to congratulate Mark Baldassre and the entire staff at PPIC for the thoughtful and influential work they continue to produce every year.
It is more than fitting that we begin the day on the topic of education reform, because there are few issues more pressing than ensuring that all Californians have equal access to a world-class education. When most of us went to school in the 1950s and 1960s, we were blessed that California public schools were synonymous with excellence. We were the gold standard, a national model that complemented our State's image as a land of opportunity.
But somewhere along the way, the schools in which we invested so much time, thought, and capital, slowly began to crumble - figuratively and literally - and we were left with what we have today:
Schools that consistently rank in the bottom third among all states. Schools that spend, on average, $2,400 less per pupil than most other states. Schools that are, in too many instances, more segregated than they were in the 1950s. And schools that are viewed as so ineffective and irrelevant, that one in every four students drops out, believing their time would be better spent elsewhere.
Education may be the most important issue of our time. It is an economic issue, it is a civil rights issue, and it is the foundation for the common values that bind us as Americans: the belief in a democratic and free society. A quality education should not hinge on your ZIP code, or your parents' tax bracket, or the color of your skin. Our public schools should be the true embodiment of the American Dream, a place where people are judged on achievement and rewarded on merit.
But when you consider that California's so-called "drop-out factories" are comprised of predominately Latino and African American students, one has to ask whether we are actively creating a second class of citizens among a demographic that now represents the majority of our students.
Even within our storied UC and Cal State systems, long heralded for their excellence and diversity, we have made few gains and in some cases, lost ground over the past 25 years. In 1989, African-American students represented over 5% of the student body at our UC schools. Today, they are just 3%. And even though Latinos represent nearly 40% of the population of California, and over 50% of our public school population, they make up just 20% of our UC students. This is the stark reality.
Sadly, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know to be true. The question isn't whether we have reached a crisis point or arrived at a critical crossroads, the question we must ask ourselves today is:
What is stopping us from changing direction?
Why, for so long, have we allowed denial and indifference to defeat action? I do not raise this question lightly, and I do not come to my conclusion from a lack of experience. I was a legislative advocate for the California Teachers Association, and I was a union organizer for United Teachers of Los Angeles. From the time I entered the California State Assembly and became Speaker, to my tenure as Mayor of Los Angeles, I have fought to fund and reform California's public schools.
Over the past five years, while partnering with students, parents and non-profits, business groups, higher education, charter organizations, school district leadership, elected board members and teachers, there has been one, unwavering roadblock to reform: UTLA union leadership.
While not the biggest problem facing our schools, they have consistently been the most powerful defenders of the status quo. I do not say this because of any animus towards unions. I deeply believe that teachers' unions can and must be part of our efforts to transform our schools. Regrettably, they have yet to join us as we have forged ahead with a reform agenda.
By partnering with the Los Angeles School Board, we created the Public School Choice program that is now allowing non-profits, charters, teacher groups - anyone with a proven track record of success - to compete to run new or failing schools. By 2012, over 50 low-performing schools will be under new leadership, with a new chance for success.
UTLA leadership fought against this reform.