By Len Feldman
Gov. Brown meets with representatives of the Burbank Teachers Association.
Already reeling from more than $20 billion in cuts, California’s public schools could suffer another $4.8 billion in “triggered cuts” if voters reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s planned November initiative to raise income taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens and temporarily boost sales and use taxes by one-half cent.
The governor unveiled his proposed 2012-13 budget at the state Capitol Jan. 5 and warned that the spending levels in the fiscal plan would be much lower without the income from the November initiative.
With the new revenues, schools would avoid the additional cuts, and the state’s chronic budget deficit of $9.2 billion would be completely eliminated by June 2013. That deficit had reached more than $33 billion when Gov. Brown came into office.
The governor’s ballot measure was cleared for signature gathering by Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Jan. 18.
“Our schools and colleges have already been cut more than $20 billion in the last four years, and that doesn’t include the latest round of millions in midyear cuts to colleges, universities, and home-to-school transportation,” says CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “We already rank 46th in per-pupil funding —additional cuts will not help us move in the right direction. This is another stark reminder that a state with the ninth-largest economy in the world has lost its way.
“California can do better, and CTA members are committed to working with parents, our communities, the governor and Legislature on a state budget that guarantees a better future for all of us.”
The governor told reporters that he regretted the fact that schools would suffer still more cuts should the ballot measure fail, and the cuts would fall heavily on schools because education is such a large part of the state budget.
While CTA is vitally concerned about the funding shortfalls that have harmed students and educators, it is also pointing to elements of the governor’s budget that could exacerbate the problem. “CTA is gravely concerned about the governor’s proposed new school funding formula, which eliminates the state’s successful class size reduction program,” says Vogel. “This change allows districts to increase class sizes even further. Squeezing more and more students into California’s already overcrowded classrooms will not improve student learning.”
The governor’s unveiling of his budget proposal is the first step in the state’s effort to craft a new spending plan prior to the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. Lawmakers will study and make changes to the draft budget through mid-May, when the governor will release an updated budget proposal built on newer revenue and expenditure estimates. Following the release of that May Revision, lawmakers will have until June 15 to send the governor a budget bill. He has until June 30 to sign it into law.
All during that period, CTA and Education Coalition groups will be pressing lawmakers to increase funding for schools and to eliminate provisions of the draft spending plan that would be counterproductive.
Key elements of the governor’s proposal
The governor’s budget would:
- Keep $4.8 billion in the plan for schools for 2012-13 if voters approve the tax initiative. Should education lose the funding, it would represent an equivalent of closing schools for three weeks, the governor’s staff told reporters.
- Fully fund the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA).
- Consolidate most categorical funding by employing a questionable “weighted pupil funding formula” that would have the effect of eliminating the class size reduction program, among other things.
- Decimate child care funding by requiring families to meet federal welfare-to-work participation requirements. It would also implement other child care cuts.
Provide no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) or student growth funding for community colleges.
At press time, a CTA-backed bill that would restore $248 million in home-to-school transportation funds was awaiting the governor’s signature. The funding had been cut because of triggers in the state budget. Senate Bill 81 cleared both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan support. The bill would restore the entire remnant of this year’s funding for the program, which underwrites busing that is particularly vital to rural school districts, where students travel many miles to school. CTA will press for passage of the governor’s tax initiative to prevent further cuts from occurring in future years.