Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Education Cuts for California Despite Prop 30 Victory

Image from Flickr, by Double-M

The California Teachers Association (CTA) lobbied heavily for passage of Proposition 30, mobilizing thousands of teachers to phone bank and canvas neighborhoods. Together with other state unions, they spent $50 million to get the initiative passed. They claimed it would save public education and restore funding to the schools. However, with more than $18 billion slashed from K-12 education since the recession began, the $6.6 billion in projected revenues from Prop 30 won’t even come close to restoring public education funding to pre-recession levels, especially considering the state budget deficit is now estimated at more than $15 billion. It will do nothing to bring back the 80,000 teaching jobs lost since the recession began nor reopen any schools that were shut down, the WSWS reports.

What Proposition 30 will do is prevent $6 billion in trigger cuts that had been built into the last state budget as a way to blackmail California voters into approving the tax hikes. Rather than restoring public education, Prop 30 simply maintains the status quo of an $18 billion hole in the state’s K-12 funding and one of the very lowest per pupil funding rates in the nation. While it does raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 per year, the increase is only a nominal 1-3% increase on their payroll taxes (i.e., the taxes withheld from their salaries) and it leaves the tax rate on their capital gains (which makes up the majority of their income) unaffected. At the same time, Prop 30 raises the state sales tax from 9.25% to 9.75%—a regressive tax increase that disproportionately affects poor and working class people.

While the California State University (CSU), University of California (UC) and state community college systems are all planning to increase course offerings and some, like CSU, are planning modest tuition refunds ($249 per semester, according to the Los Angeles Times), they are also planning other fee increases and service cuts. CSU, for example, is still planning to implement fee increases for students taking more classes than they need to graduate, and the UC system is planning on increasing fees for graduate and professional programs by 1.5% to 35%. UC, which threatened 20% tuition hikes if Prop 30 failed (and promised no new fees this year if it passed), is leaving open the possibility of raising undergraduate tuition again next year.

In response to the proposed cuts and the unwillingness of UC to go beyond a tuition freeze and actually lower tuition, UC students have been protesting at UC campuses and at meetings of the university’s regents. Students staged a sleep-out in Berkeley on Wednesday night. Hundreds of students were joined by faculty and unionized workers on Thursday to protest budget cuts that have resulted in slashed course offerings, layoffs and large tuition hikes. They blocked roads leading to the meetings and then disrupted the meeting so effectively that the regents had to call a temporary recess.

Students do not simply want a reduction in tuition—many want a completely subsidized higher education system. Last Friday, KPFA’s “Up Front” news program broadcast protesters chanting, “No cuts! No fees! Education must be free!” Until recently, California did subsidize both the UC and CSU systems to the point that neither charged tuition and both charged fees that were relatively affordable for middle income families. Back in the early- to mid-1980s, for example, it only cost $1,000-1,200 per year to attend UC. By 1995, it was over $4,000. By 2010, it has risen to more than $11,000. Last year, tuition at UC was $13,218. (Click here for more on the history of UC tuition).

With the passage of Prop 30, Los Angeles Unified (LAUSD) is planning on restoring the five school days that had been cut from the school year the Los Angeles Times reports, as well as restoring teacher pay for the 10 days which they had lost to furloughs. However, Superintendent Deasy warned of a new round of cuts (implying the furloughs and pay cuts could return) if Congress and President Obama cannot resolve the “fiscal cliff” crisis, as this would leave LAUSD with a new $60 million budget shortfall.

Of course, if this happens, many districts in the state could suddenly find themselves with large deficits, too. This is because Prop 30 is only a bandage over a gaping wound. Education at all levels, from pre-K to graduate school, has been eviscerated over the past decade and Prop 30 does nothing to restore the cuts. Prop 30 does little to close California’s current budget deficit and it does nothing to stabilize California’s revenue stream or prevent future deficits and education cuts.

There is a glimmer of hope for education funding in the future. One of the reasons California has had so much difficulty in balancing its budget for the past decade is that voters approved a law requiring a two-thirds supermajority in the legislature before any new tax increases can be approved. The most recent election, however, gave the Democrats just such a supermajority in both houses of the state legislature for the first time in nearly 80 years. This will not only allow lawmakers to pass tax increases, but it also gives them the power to override the Governor’s veto.

Whether or not they will use their power in this way remains to be seen, but seems unlikely considering that every one of them would be negatively affected by a serious tax increase on the wealthy. This is not only because they are all wealthy themselves, but because they would be biting the corporate hand that feeds them, keeps them in office, and provides them jobs when they get termed out.

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