The Governor has created a political budget to blackmail parents into higher taxes or even worse government schools.
“The proposed budget, which includes revenues from the ballot measure even though it may not pass, essentially maintains funding at its current level. If the ballot measure fails, there is likely to be an additional $4.8 billion (the equivalent of three weeks of school) cut from education. In order to offset this potential cut, schools are forced to plan to issue layoff notices (thus increasing class sizes), to cut programs (including libraries, art, and music, if they still have those programs), and to eliminate or reduce transportation, vice principals, counselors, and other staff. Should they simply hope for the best and risk putting their district in further financial jeopardy if the initiative does not pass?”
How about an honest budget based on quality education and not bankrupting parents for mediocre education?
By Crystal Brown, svef, 2/13/12
Parents from around the state have reviewed the governor’s proposed 2012-13 budget, and we would like to say, loud and clear, we are disappointed. We were hopeful that the Legislature and Gov. Brown would put together a budget that would ensure that schools, at the very minimum, would have funding stable for next year. We are still hopeful.
But the proposed budget doesn’t even come close. The main issues are 1) depending on an initiative passing after the school year has begun, and 2) moving the debt service into the school fund. There is a silver lining, however, in the form of the newly proposed weighted student formula. Such a system would be a huge improvement over the existing convoluted scheme, although there are many specifics as yet unresolved. Nevertheless, regardless of how the money is distributed, there simply isn’t enough, and our children in California lose.
Relying on a ballot initiative in November
Many districts are being advised by School Services of California (consultants who make financial recommendations to school districts) that they should plan on a $370 decrease per student in the event the measure does not pass. By law, staffing decisions and teacher layoff notices need to be made by March 15. School district budgets are required to be balanced and approved by June 30. Our school districts are in a quandary. Do they base their budgets and staffing decisions on the worst-case scenario, or do they base them on a hopeful outcome that depends on the governor’s initiative passing, which could lead them into an even more precarious financial situation such as insolvency?
The proposed budget, which includes revenues from the ballot measure even though it may not pass, essentially maintains funding at its current level. If the ballot measure fails, there is likely to be an additional $4.8 billion (the equivalent of three weeks of school) cut from education. In order to offset this potential cut, schools are forced to plan to issue layoff notices (thus increasing class sizes), to cut programs (including libraries, art, and music, if they still have those programs), and to eliminate or reduce transportation, vice principals, counselors, and other staff. Should they simply hope for the best and risk putting their district in further financial jeopardy if the initiative does not pass?
Now let’s imagine our districts make the financially responsible decision and budget on real numbers – unlike Sacramento’s – eliminating thousands of teachers and programs. Come November – hooray! – the initiative passes! How will those school districts hire back all the teachers who have been laid off? Can they add days to a school year that has already been set, keeping in mind that each of the 1,000-plus districts will have to negotiate with their local unions in order to do so? How will parents adjust their schedules to deal with this uncertainty? Either way, one thing is for certain: This situation is a lose-lose for kids.
Shifting debt-service payments to Prop 98
In the current budget proposal, $2.6 billion in general obligation bond debt-service payments would be shifted to Proposition 98 in the event that the governor’s revenue measure fails. Let me explain in lay terms what this means. More than 20 years ago, in an effort to save education funding, the voters passed “Proposition 98,” a constitutional mandate for a minimum level of funding for our schools, roughly 40% of the General Fund. Because of dwindling resources and other priorities, the last four governors have amassed debt and have tried to work around Prop 98 to keep expenses down. It’s as if the state racked up a lot of charges on its credit card but can’t pay them off. Previously, the general obligation bond debt payments have been paid from the general fund, not the portion that is set aside by Prop 98 for education. However, if the governor’s initiative fails in November, he wants to make the payments for K-14 debt-service out of the Prop 98 funds. This reduces the amount of funds in Prop 98 that can be sent to districts to operate their schools. Not only is this debt-service payment proposal unprecedented, it was not part of the agreement when the bond was issued.
Even the Legislative Analyst’s Office has serious policy concerns with this, and notes that “the proposal would result in notably greater volatility for education programs.” It is unacceptable to burden our children with this debt, and the last thing we need is more volatility in education funding.
Previous generations knew the key to our state’s future was properly educating our future leaders. California was once known for its high-quality public education. However, recent leaders in California have used gimmicks to fund our schools and have allowed education funding per pupil to drop from 27th to 47th in the time since the passage of Proposition 98. Even if the governor’s proposed tax increase passes, we are still funding far less than what the voters demanded when they passed Proposition 98 more than two decades ago. The governor and the Legislature need to support education instead of finding loopholes. They need to be honest with the voters and walk the talk. The proposed budget does not allow our school districts to properly educate our youth and is unacceptable.
Good start on financing reform
Just so we do not leave you completely depressed, let us revisit that silver lining. The governor has proposed a major overhaul of the way money is distributed to schools. He has recommended a system known as a “weighted student formula.” (Click here
for more information.) Rather than the current, convoluted system of more than dozens of education funding streams with restricted purposes, a weighted student formula gives districts money for each student based on his or her needs, and the money follows the student. So, if a student changes districts, the money moves with that student. Implemented properly, this will lead to less red tape and more equity. We thank the governor for recommending this long-overdue change. Empowering local school districts to determine their varying needs is an important step in the right direction. Since there isn’t much information released about his plan, it is hard to stand fully behind it, as it seems to have overlooked high school districts, but we remain pleased with the way it’s headed.
So what do parents want to see in the budget? It’s simple. Enough money and resources for all kids in California to have access to a high-quality education. There is no way to provide an excellent learning environment for kids if each year we are forced to lay off teachers, cut programs and staff, and budget on uncertainty. We are asking the governor, the Legislature, and our fellow citizens to think long and hard about what message this sends to the children of California and what the long-term consequences are of failing to adequately educate this generation.
If children and the future of our state are not our number one priority, what is? What is our request of the governor and the Legislature? Work together to build a budget that reflects our values as parents and as California citizens. We promise to have milk and cookies waiting for you when you get home.