You know that the crisis in California's public education system is really severe when even the actress Megan Fox -- not exactly identified with intellectual pursuits -- knows there is a really big problem.
She and her boyfriend, Brian Austin Green, star in a short video for the www.saynotocuts.com website, which tells the tale of massive budget cuts in California that have left many schools without nurses, janitors, librarians and counselors. Sports programs are now considered a luxury, and teachers are being laid off across the state in droves.
The word "crisis" is used with such profligacy today that saying something is in crisis doesn't raise much concern. But it is actually an understatement to describe what is going on in California schools, public education officials say.
From 1929 to 1935, during the Great Depression, per pupil funding in California dropped 20 percent, according to Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Association. Just in the last two years, per pupil funding in the state has gone down 18 percent, and $2.5 billion in more cuts are slated.
California used to be No. 1 in the country in terms of per pupil spending; now it is close to 50th.
"We cannot meet true basic needs of students to be successful at school," Frank Pugh, president of the California School Boards Association, told me during his recent trip to Washington, where he came to ask federal officials for help. He didn't get any, he said.
California teachers are being laid off in droves. Last year, 26,000 teachers were told they might be let go -- and 60 percent of them were. A few weeks ago, nearly 22,000 more teachers got pink slips, meaning they could be without a job next school year if the state government goes through with cuts.
Parents have been protesting, including at Wonderland Avenue Elementary School in Laurel Canyon, according to the Los Angeles Times, where the PTA president came up with the idea, and asked Green, whose son attends Wonderland, to star. He even got his girlfriend, Fox, to help.
The somewhat sardonic video is exaggerated, but it gives a pretty good picture of what's going on. It may be Fox's best role.
First Green is seen with a group of parents protesting the budget cuts while Fox winds up in the school library to wait for him.
There she encounters a bunch of kids sprawled out all over the floor and on the tables. They mistake her for their new teacher; she learns their old one was laid off and two classes were combined.
The wise-cracking kids are amusing; one says, "It's no wonder so many of us end up in prison."
A school official carries in two more kids and leaves them there over her protestations, which he brushes off with stories about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and how tough he is.
It ends with Fox and Green urging viewers to go to www.saynotocuts.com and protest to the governor, until, as Fox says, "he cries for his mommy."
It is unfortunate that in America it takes Hollywood celebrities to draw attention to important issues, but in this case, Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green are doing the California schools a public service.
That is a sentence I never thought I'd write.
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