Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Schools Saved, But At What Cost?

California Gov. Jerry Brown has come up with a new budget plan that not only preserves K-12 education funding, but adds an additional $3 billion, according to the Bay Citizen. The extra cash comes from an unexpected $6 billion increase in tax revenue this year. However, the $3 billion boost in Ed funding is a drop in the bucket compared to the $20 billion that has been cut over the last three years. From that perspective, one could argue that his budget calls for a $17 billion cut, instead of the $25 billion that would come from an “all-cuts” budget ($20 billion over the last 3 years, plus $5 billion more for 2011-2012). According to John Fensterwald - Educated Guess, education spending will be still be $4 billion less than in 2007-2008 (see why below).

Meanwhile, as the CTA celebrates its potential victory (falsely claiming that K-12 funding has been saved, when in reality it has only been saved from further slashing), numerous other state programs will see further gutting, including the elimination of the Departments of Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Programs. The governor also plans on collapsing the Healthy Families Program into Medi-Cal. Healthy Families had provided insurance for 850,000 low-income children. One consequence may be an increase in absenteeism due to untreated medical problems resulting in a further decline in academic achievement, despite the preservation of teaching jobs and class sizes that should come from the preservation of education funding.

The governor’s plan also axes 5,500 state jobs, according to the Bay Citizen article. While it could certainly be argued that many jobs are superfluous or even detrimental to society, without a safety net the consequence will still be 5,500 more unemployed people struggling to feed and house themselves. Furthermore, the plan still requires a regressive tax extension that forces the poor and working class to bail out the state, while letting the wealthy off easy and it still requires the approval of at least four Republicans who are unlikely to budge without further concessions by the public sector unions, including the teachers.

The plan provides no extra funding for higher education, which has already been hit with $1.4 billion in cuts this year. Such a plan only serves to divide teachers and weaken unions in the two branches of education as they fight over the scraps available. However, public sympathy for K-12 education is higher than it is for other public sector workers. Therefore, the plan is politically expedient, like being tough on crime and anti-communist.

What Will It Mean for Schools?
 John Fensterwald - Educated Guess argues that the extra money will be unnoticeable. He says it will take years before most districts can start rehiring staff or restoring programs. Most of the money will be used to cover $2 billion in late payments and to pay down $400 million in previous K-12 deferrals, along with $350 million in community college deferrals. In historical terms, even with the tax extensions, state revenues as a percentage of personal income would still fall to 1972-3 levels (due primarily to the historically low tax rates on corporations and the wealthy.

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