By Lend Feldman and Sandra Jackson
The dreaded moment that California schools had been anticipating finally arrived in mid-December when the Department of Finance and Gov. Jerry Brown announced that state revenue was $2.2 billion lower than projected in the 2011-12 State Budget Act, and the trigger would be pulled on cuts to public education and other essential services.
While K-12 schools were spared the billions in cuts they were expecting, home-to-school transportation was cut $248 million, which could spell disaster for the poor and neediest students who depend on school transportation to get to and from school. Proposition 98 was also cut nearly $80 million, the equivalent of a half day cut from the school year.
“Educators across California have dreaded this day for months, and for good reason. We know firsthand the damage that new cuts to K-12 and higher education will cause. We were at a crossroads long ago after so many classroom cuts. Now we’re standing on the brink of a slow-moving disaster,” said CTA President Dean Vogel.
“Cutting up to $248 million in home-to-school transportation will force our young, poor and neediest students into danger if they can no longer ride a bus to school and have to walk unsafe roads or through dangerous conditions to get to class,” Vogel said.
Districts will have to determine how best to deal with the midyear cuts as they try to keep them as far away from students as possible. These new reductions will hurt schools already reeling from more than billions in cuts over the past three years. The cuts have ballooned class sizes and eliminated art and music classes, limited other instructional opportunities, and forced more than 40,000 layoffs of certificated educators — including nurses, counselors, and librarians — and education support professionals.
It is not expected that any districts will have to implement a shorter school year. But thanks to legislation spearheaded by CTA, chapters and districts will be able to negotiate over the major method of adapting to the reduced state financial support — whether to cut up to seven days from the 2011-12 school year. At the same time, CTA is pushing legislation that will ensure that educators, education support professionals, and other school workers will receive full-year credit with their retirement systems for pension purposes, even if the school year is shortened.
California community colleges were cut $30 million, which means a $10 fee increase for students. The University of California and California State University systems were each hit with another $100 million cut, while child care, health care and other crucial services were also cut.
All of these cuts point out the need for additional revenue for our schools and other essential services. CTA’s policy-making body, the State Council of Education, has authorized working toward putting on the November 2012 ballot an initiative that would promote tax fairness and provide up to $10 billion to restore cut programs and positions.
First and second tier cuts expected
Instead of cutting school funding last June, lawmakers and the governor put into the 2011-12 state budget triggers that would be activated if state revenues fell substantially below the estimates used in the state spending plan.
Despite hopes for a faster economic recovery, state revenue projections have fallen $2.2 billion below earlier estimates.
In November, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) projected that the revenue shortfall would not only trigger the first level of cuts (Tier 1), but would be large enough to trigger additional midyear school cuts (Tier 2). A second state agency, the Department of Finance, determined that the shortfall, though not as bad as had been forecast by the LAO, was significant enough to implement all the cuts in Tier 1 and some of those in Tier 2. The budget documents require the state to use the more optimistic of the revenue estimates offered up by the LAO or the Department of Finance. In effect, the Department of Finance’s estimates were higher and not as grim as the LAO’s projections, avoiding the need to fully implement all the cuts in Tier 2.
Governor and others aim to boost school funding
At this writing, at least three other entities are working on initiatives aimed to increase state revenues and boost funding for public education.
- Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed an initiative that would raise $6.5 billion annually. It would provide Pre-K–14 with $3.5 billion and free up another $3 billion for higher education and other services.
- The Think Long Group, funded by billionaire investors, is seeking to raise $10 billion by revising the state tax code. The group is proposing to use some of the revenues for education, but only in exchange for implementing specific “education reforms,” including those proposed by Eli Broad, one of the investors. It also seeks to wipe out the billions already owed to Proposition 98 and to abolish the maintenance factor that is guaranteed to be repaid to schools.
- A group funded by attorney Molly Munger is aiming to qualify an initiative that would raise $10 billion for Pre-K–12. The proposal would increase personal income taxes on nearly everyone. The taxes would expire in 12 years, and schools would be limited in how they could use the new funds.
- The Restoring California Funding Act, sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers, would raise $6 billion. Sixty percent would go to K-12 and higher education.
Foes of public schools seek to cap spending
While a number of organizations are looking at raising new state revenues to preserve vital state services, at least one group is proposing a measure to impose a new spending cap on the state. The California Taxpayers Association, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the Small Business Action Committee would “reset” the state’s Gann spending limit to the levels of the current recession-driven spending plan.