By Len Feldman
At an education forum in Sacramento in May, experts noted that California’s school funding levels have declined sharply over the past five years. From left: Susannah Cooper, an aide to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg; Erin Gabel, from the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; Rick Simpson, an aide to Assembly Speaker John Perez; and journalist John Fensterwald of The Educated Guess.
California’s revenues appear to be running as much as $3 billion below the estimates used in finalizing the 2011-12 state budget, placing even more importance on voters passing Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative in November.
The CTA-backed initiative would bring in about $9 billion annually in new revenue and protect public education from automatic cuts of $4.9 billion in the 2012-13 budget if the measure doesn’t pass.
Key financial experts, including state Controller John Chiang and Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, issued reports that find the shortfalls running between $1 billion and $3 billion for the state funding year that ends in June.
Schools are already reeling from more than $20 billion in cuts that are driving California to the bottom of the 50 states in per-pupil spending. Thousands of certificated educators lost their jobs last year, and 20,000 more recently received preliminary layoff notices.
As the Educator went to press, CTA advocates in the state capital were gearing up for the release of the May Revision, Gov. Brown’s revised 2012-13 budget proposal. The revision, an annual part of the state budget process, draws on updated information about revenues and expenses. It becomes the basis for the Legislature’s efforts to finalize a budget proposal by the June 15 constitutional deadline. State law gives the governor until June 30 to sign the spending plan into law prior to the start of the new fiscal year July 1.
Key battle to prevent fighting for resources
Ironically, the release of the May Revision is coming on the fifth anniversary of the publication of a 144-page Stanford study that determined California’s schools would need an additional $40 billion annually to be “adequately funded.”
Experts reported that California was actually moving backward on school funding during a recent PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education) forum that reviewed the state’s progress toward meeting the goals identified by the “Getting Down to Facts” study.
Cuts have resulted in widespread teacher layoffs, increases in class sizes, and elimination of a wide array of important educational services. Students have lost access to nurses, librarians and counselors. The ranks of education support professionals have been decimated, and higher education students have been hit by the loss of faculty and courses and increases in their out-of-pocket costs.
The only positive note at the PACE forum was the presence on the November ballot of the governor’s measure that would protect schools against further cuts.
Against this backdrop, CTA and its partners in the 1 million-member statewide Education Coalition are battling a fiscal proposal that, while well-intentioned, threatens to force districts and local education agencies to fight one another for existing funds.
Under terms of the governor’s “weighted student funding formula,” funds would be taken away from some districts and given to others to help underwrite the costs of working with at-risk students. CTA and the Education Coalition have been telling the governor and lawmakers that “reforming” the state’s allocation of resources can come only after all schools are adequately funded.
CTA members from around the state have been urging their lawmakers to protect school funding and to defer any conversations about the “weighted student funding formula.”
Hundreds of CTA leaders from around California will travel to Sacramento May 22 for CTA’s Presidents Lobby Day.
Next article: One bad dismissal bill defeated; two others are amended and moved, but still bad
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