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State education czar Jack O’Connell (pictured) was in Santa Barbara last Monday to talk about the California high school exit exam, No Child Left Behind, and the ever-precarious funding of the state’s public schools. O’Connell, who as a state senator authored the exit exam legislation, maintained the additional instruction given in preparation for the test benefited all students. Noting that nearly 85 percent of seniors had passed both portions of the exam so far, O’Connell estimated that close to 95 percent of this year’s graduating class would pass the test. He was less forgiving of No Child, which O’Connell faulted for employing an “arbitrary status bar,” meaning 25 percent of a given school’s students must be proficient or the school is considered failing. O’Connell favored concentrating resources on schools that need intensive help rather than adhere to a program that defined roughly half the schools as failing. Asked whether California was spending enough on K-12 education to maintain its status as an economic powerhouse, O’Connell said, “No, we’re not — we need additional funding and more efficient spending.” And while he credited Governor Schwarzenegger for providing increased funding for the Healthy Families program to increase children’s access to healthcare and for greater assistance to special-education students, O’Connell said the governor shortchanged schools to the tune of $5 billion over the past two years. According to O’Connell, if the state honored the funding requirements mandated by Proposition 98, the additional monies could be used for class-size reduction and other initiatives that would improve school performance.

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