By Len Feldman
During intense budget battles in July, CTA and its allies in the Education Coalition fought hard in the state Capitol to protect the state's minimum funding guarantee — Proposition 98 — and the "maintenance factor," a provision that requires the state to repay schools in good economic times the money cut from education in hard times.
When lawmakers adopted a final budget revision in mid-July that closed a $26.3 billion revenue gap, they sided with CTA and public education by refusing to suspend Proposition 98's protections and agreeing to restore more than $11 billion to schools over the coming years.
By blocking the Proposition 98 suspension, CTA and the education community were able to keep school funding from being pushed into a future free fall that would have allowed the governor and lawmakers to make unlimited further reductions to school funding. Nevertheless, the final state spending compromise contained additional devastating cuts to public education funding, totaling the largest cut to California schools since the Great Depression.
"As the traditional school year begins this fall, students are returning to their campuses to find fewer teachers, fewer course offerings and fewer resources," says CTA President David A. Sanchez. "All told, school funding was cut more than $17 billion in two years. Class sizes will be painfully larger, and many art, music, career technical education and other vital programs are gone. More than 20,000 teachers, nurses, school librarians and counselors lost their jobs. Community colleges and universities will turn away thousands of students."
The final budget measures also contained technical changes or relaxations of current state law that will allow districts to spend more of their reserve funds without triggering fiscal red flags. These changes will allow districts to utilize more funds to support programs and avoid cutting positions just to shore up their rainy day accounts.
All during the budget debate, CTA and its allies warned lawmakers that additional cuts to public schools would drive California's ranking in terms of education funding even further down. They pointed out that even without the new cuts, California had already fallen to 47th nationally in per-student spending. Local educators throughout the state have been communicating that message to their lawmakers and the public.
"These cuts are unconscionable, and they mortgage our state's future," says Sanchez. "Quality public schools build stronger communities. Educators stand with all Californians who were hurt by this budget brinkmanship in saying that we must find a better way. We owe it to our students, and we all owe it to the future of our state."