When Dr. Roz Collier graduated from the University of Southern California in 1981 with her Ph.D. in education, she only owed $6,000 in student loans.
The president of the Alhambra Teachers Association (ATA) and a former math teacher with the Alhambra Unified School District for over 25 years said she would not be in her current position if today's education conditions existed when she was applying for school. More than 70 percent of college seniors graduated with student loan debt in 2013, with an average of $29,400 per borrower, according to The Project on Student Debt. That number is steadily growing: Debt at graduation increased an average of six percent each year from 2008 to 2012.
Collier believes the rising price of tuition and limited class availability are creating an educational inequity in the United States between those who can afford to go to college and those who cannot. Alhambra Source's Reporter Corps sat down with Collier in February to talk about how changes in the way California funds education might give more Alhambra students an opportunity for academic success and teachers the tools to help their students pursue a higher education.
As president of the Alhambra Teachers Association, what is the driving force that keeps you actively fighting for the betterment of Alhambra students and teachers?
My motivation springs from an innate sense of justice, which comes from my background. I come from a working class family and was brought up in the Bronx projects. My mom raised three children on her own.
My mom died when I was 19. I wanted to go to school, but I also needed money. I went to community college for free. Thirty years ago, California’s education system was a dream: We didn’t have to pay for community college. But that’s not the case now. Now we have exorbitant fees. Students who have all the criteria can’t get into school.
California voters narrowly approved in 2012 Proposition 30, legislation that increased taxes for those earning more than $250,000 to bolster education funding. How was the ATA involved in the election?
Prop. 30 was meant to increase the amount of revenue coming into California – meaning more money for public education. In Prop. 30, the goals were to increase sales and income taxes. Prop. 30 had to pay us to get money coming, and Prop. 32 was a system to break the unions.
What was miraculous was that these millionaires came in from out of state to influence Californian elections, but ATA still got petitions. In 2012, ATA unit members collected over 3,000 signatures in a petition drive to get Prop 30 on the California ballot. It took a lot of mobilizing and organizing to do this. One strategy was to vote five times. You teach your family and friends who don’t vote how to vote. We went bananas with this.
From the ATA’s perspective, what were the educational programs most painful to see cut in Alhambra during recent budget cuts?
We were sad to let go of adult education. I think there were student recovery and recreational programs, as well as parent classes. Watching its impact on the community go to nothing was most painful.
The state should prioritize enhancing career education. I think right now the state is trying to figure out where adult education should happen, whether in high school or community college.
With Prop. 30 and the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) — a new education budget package that will gradually allocate funding to California's schools over eight years and include extra funding for English learners, foster youth, and low-income students — budget cuts are less likely in the coming years. Does the district plan on revitalizing the various programs and services that have been lost?
The district is creating what wasn’t there before. Next year, if our contract is ratified, our teachers’ contract will extend for two extra days for ongoing professional development so we can implement Common Core and share our ideas on the use of technology in the classroom.
Another priority is reconfiguring how technology is being used at school. Technology is now demanded. Parents use online parent portals to check grades and teachers are grading electronically. We have to educate the community on using these systems.
California schools are required to implement the new Common Core standards, which establish a consistent curriculum in English and mathematics throughout the country. How do you think the new curriculum will affect Alhambra's teachers and students?
Since Common Core, which is going to be mandated next year, state standards have made a 180-degree turn. Before, we did California Standards Testing. Now with Common Core, tests will not be done with Scantron fill-in-the-bubble sheets. Instead, we will have in-depth, multi-step questions. Teachers also have to train students how to use technology with the curriculum.
Do you think the LCFF is beneficial for Alhambra students and teachers?
LCFF is absolutely beneficial for students. Having LCFF means that the state addresses the needs of more specific students.
I think teachers are excited about the change. It allows them to get the raise they haven’t gotten in seven years, and because of LCFF, we are seeing technology come into the classroom. The other benefit is that Common Core makes education more applicable. For example, we have more mandated science experiments.
The change coming from LCFF is so massive because it changes the way schools are being funding in California. Structure and demands of accountability are different now. Money has restrictions: there are more steps to go through, and input needs to come from different angles.
I went from community college to a Ph.D. and only paid back $6,000 in loans. I needed that opportunity. If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be president of ATA. Today we don’t have that opportunity. But I think LCFF is starting to go in the direction of creating it again.
This story is part of a Reporter Corps series on the Local Control Funding Formula and its impact on Alhambra students, teachers, parents, and community. Learn more.