Member Spotlight: Nancy Krop | Congregation Beth Am

Member Spotlight: Nancy Krop

Making a Difference for California’s Schoolchildren

This month’s Member Spotlight shines brightly on Nancy Krop, a Beth Am congregant, civil rights lawyer and passionate education activist who is working hard to improve California’s public school system. Nancy is spreading awareness about the low national rankings of California’s public schools and proposed fixes. And one of the people Nancy credits as having inspired her to become an activist was the late Rabbi Sidney Akselrad (z"l), Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Am.

Nancy grew up in the Beth Am community. Her parents moved to California from Ohio in the 1950’s. As they adjusted to their new life in California, her mother joined a bridge club and her father attended services at Beth Am, speaking very highly of the dynamic Rabbi Akselrad. One evening, Nancy’s mother decided to join her father for services. There she immediately recognized one of her bridge club mates, Marge Akselrad, Rabbi Akselrad’s wife! There were four children of similar ages in the Krop and Akselrad families, and the two families became quick friends.

They shared Passover seders together. To complement Passover’s theme of the ancient Hebrews’ quest for freedom from bondage, they ended each seder with Rabbi Akselrad leading them in singing “We Shall Overcome,” a protest song that served as a key anthem of the African-American civil rights movement.

Nancy recalls, “Rabbi Sidney Akselrad was a close friend of the family. He marched in the South with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and hearing Rabbi Akselrad’s powerful stories really inspired me.” She was inspired to become a civil rights trial lawyer, litigating in state and federal courts throughout the Bay Area.

Now, as the Director of Legislation for the Sixth District PTA (Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties), Nancy is working to get the message out regarding the dire state of education funding and student performance in California. Once the model schools for the nation, California’s public schools are now the lowest funded (cost of living adjusted) and among the country’s lowest in student math, reading and science achievement. In fact, California is ranked in the bottom five states in the U.S. with respect to academic performance in public schools.

California is now spending $8,341 per student per year, one-third less than the national average of approximately $12,000. While top performing states spend $16,000 - $22,000 per student annually (New York spends $19,000), California proposes to increase student funding to just under $9,000 for the 2014-15 school year.

Nancy notes, “What people need to understand is that half of children in California are growing up in poverty. If we do not invest in education, these children, and all children, will not realize their academic dreams and our economy will suffer.” She explains, “Spending at or below the national average is not nearly enough because children growing up in poverty have more than the usual needs to be met in the classroom and after school.”

Some families and individuals in the Palo Alto area may feel that they have no stake in improving the state’s public schools. “What’s in it for my kid?” is a refrain Nancy sometimes hears. In answer to this question, Nancy quotes the Jewish religious leader Hillel, who said, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

To illustrate the difference additional resources can make, Nancy notes that all children from one low-income, poverty-level community in Palo Alto graduate from high school. In Silicon Valley, however, nearly one-third of poor children with similar demographics drop out of high school. Impoverished Palo Alto students are fortunate to have access to the programs and resources they need, and to educated, professionally developed teachers to mentor them. “We need everyone’s children to be educated. We are so interconnected,” says Nancy. “Change needs to happen through a ground level, grassroots movement. We all have gifts and talents and need to use those to better the world.”

What are the two most important areas to invest in for the betterment of the California public school system? “Preschool and teacher development are two of the most important areas to invest in. Twenty-five percent of teachers become burnt out within the first five years,” says Nancy. “States that invest in their teachers reduce that dropout rate to ten percent.”

Investing in preschool benefits all students. “If we have [all] children starting at the same level in kindergarten, it frees the teacher up to teach all students” Nancy explains.

More investment in public school education could result in huge cost savings for the state. Nancy recently told Chris Kenrick of the Palo Alto Weekly, "Californians need to understand that if you don't spend that money [on universal preschool], you're spending seven times more later on to catch those children up. And if you don't have to spend it later on, that frees up a lot of money for our school system."

In his July/August clergy column, Rabbi Jonathan Prosnit writes, “Research shows that every one dollar invested in early childhood education (ECE) yields an eight-dollar return on the investment. Furthermore, there is no doubt about the direct link between quality ECE and later success in school and life. Access to affordable, high-quality ECE is particularly challenging for [low-income] families whose income exceeds the very low threshold of approximately $23,000 for government assistance. Three out of four children in our community who need ECE do not qualify for subsidies.” (Read Rabbi Prosnit’s full column at www.betham.org/clergycolumnsummer2014.)

Nancy urges California to start investing more in our most prized possession — our children, who will become our future workers. “It is possible for every child to realize his or her dreams… A generation ago, California ranked [in the] top five in performance and funding. Why should the children of this generation have to settle for less? Don’t they deserve what we all received?”

How You Can Make a Difference
Here are four easy steps you can take to make a difference (and they take less than 5 minutes):

  1. Sign the petition. Go online to sign the Sixth District PTA Advocacy Petition to restore school funding in California http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/restore-excellence-in.fb40?source=s.icn.fb&r_by=5967357
     
  2. Share the petition with others. Send an invitation with a link by email, post about it on Facebook, “tweet” about it on Twitter, etc.
  1. Sign up to receive action alerts. Join the Sixth District PTA advocacy “Action Alert” email list at http://advocacy.capta6.org/?page_id=289
  1. Join Beth Am’s initiative to improve access to quality Early Childhood Education (ECE). Attend one of the 18 house meetings taking place this summer. At these meetings you will meet new congregants, share your own stories and learn about Beth Am’s strategies with ECE and Beth Am’s justice efforts moving forward. You can even sign up for the meetings online at (link to come).

For more information on other ways that you can help, please contact Nancy Krop at nancypta@kroplaw.com.

Education Update   

  • The 2014 Education Week Quality Counts survey shows California ranks 50th in per pupil expenditures for K-12 education (cost of living adjusted). According to the survey, California’s per-student spending of $8,341 is thirty percent below the national average of $11,864. Not surprising given this low funding level, California students’ performance is in the bottom five states in reading, math and science.  
  • A generation ago, our state ranked in the top five in school spending and student performance. We invested in our students, and we built the 9th largest economy in the world.  
  • Now, by contrast, in the last 30 years, we’ve built 19 prisons and just 1 university. One-half of our prison inmates are high school dropouts.
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We strive to live as a holy community whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to "do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).