By Len Feldman
CTA President David A. Sanchez and Vice President Dean Vogel join internationally recognized educational policy analyst and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, the keynote speaker at the Nov. 3 kickoff event for the San Diego Community Schools Reform initiative.
California’s governor-elect and new Legislature have already begun taking the first steps aimed at addressing California’s budget deficit, which is now expected to hit $28.5 billion in 2011-2012.
Even before taking office on Jan. 3, Jerry Brown brought legislative leaders, fiscal experts, and other concerned Californians together for two town hall meetings. The first, held Dec. 7 in Sacramento, focused on assessing the scope, breadth, and causes of California’s perennial budget shortfalls.
The second forum, which took place in Los Angeles on Dec. 14, gave Brown the opportunity to convene a meeting of public officials, educators and education supporters to plumb the unmet fiscal and other needs of California’s public schools.
At the first meeting in Sacramento, budget experts sketched out how the state’s unprecedented economic downturn was exacerbated by elected officials’ inopportune decisions. These decisions include outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first action in office, the slashing of the vehicle license fee, something experts had warned would cost the state billions over a few short years.
Fiscal experts in recent weeks have increased by more than $2 billion their estimates of the size of the state's shortfall. That increase is tied to decisions by Congress to allow the estates of wealthy taxpayers to pass along higher amounts of funds to their beneficiaries without taxation.
During the December budget forum, legislative leaders — Assembly Speaker John A. Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg — noted that state voters and elected officials will have to decide what kind of state they want and how they are willing to pay for it.
Fiscal experts projected that the state’s deficit — pegged at $20 billion annually — will likely continue into the foreseeable future without significant action by the governor and legislators to mitigate it. Solutions could include boosts in revenue or closures of corporate loopholes that are costing the state billions of dollars every year.
As virtually his last action before leaving office, Gov. Schwarzenegger in December called the Legislature into a special session to deal with the budget shortfall. The new Legislature, which was installed on Dec. 6, met for a single day, choosing instead to await the inauguration of a more education-friendly governor before they wrestled with the problem.
For his part, Brown called on the Legislature to have a new budget in place within 60 days of his budget proposal in January, ahead of the official June deadline.
CTA President David A. Sanchez attended the Dec. 14 education forum and pledged that CTA and its Education Coalition allies will continue to fight to protect students, educators and public schools, which have already suffered cuts of more than $21 billion over the past three years.
“Public education has suffered cuts that are unconscionable,” said Sanchez. “We will press the governor and legislators to protect public schools from further cuts and to take the necessary steps to provide schools with the funding they need to provide every student with the high quality education they deserve.”
Brown is expected to release his preliminary budget proposal around Jan. 10. Lawmakers have until June 15 under provisions of the state constitution to send the governor a final budget plan for his review. The constitution requires the governor to sign the measure into law by June 30, the day before the start of the new fiscal year.