What is the Governor thinking?

On Monday, I went up to Sacramento for a three-hour briefing on the state of the California education budget. I meant to blog about it earlier than this but it’s been quite a week.  Anyway, luckily, I was accompanied by two senior members of the staff, otherwise I would have run screaming from the room. The news is awful to unthinkable if the Governor’s budget proposal actually goes through unchanged.

Some highlights:

  • For the current year–2008-09, the one that is already half over–the Governor would impose almost $2 billion in outright cuts to expected revenue, and additionally would apply over $1 billion in funds allocated for the current year to funds owed under Prop. 98 for prior years. Huh?
  • Applying current year funds to prior year’s Prop. 98 obligations allows (in the Governor’s view) the state to “re-set” it’s Prop. 98 minimum obligations to a much lower base amount than has been used up to now. It means that, in the three-year budgets school districts are required to make each year, the projected Prop. 98 revenues for coming years would now be overstated. So all of us would need to revise our three-year budgets taking into account MUCH lower revenues than were previously promised. It’s a nice trick, since it amplifies a $1 billion cut into a cut of many billions more going forward. But it doesn’t comply with the voters’ intent when they passed the minimum education funding law back in 1988, and it leaves many, many California school districts in desperate straits.
  • So what does this mean for San Francisco? Possibly as much as $20 million in cuts this year and next year. That is pretty inconceivable, since there just isn’t much left to cut that doesn’t cause major, major pain. However, my companions on the trip to Sacramento this week assure me that we’ve definitely prepared and saved and stored resources away for a rainy day. These resources will protect us this year, but next year and the year after are an open question.  What’s really sobering is that we are in a much stronger financial position than many other districts, because of the foresight of San Francisco voters in passing Prop. H, the Rainy Day Fund and the parcel tax for teacher salaries. I predict that in the next year we are going to see many more school districts either teeter towards or fall into state takeover. It’s just inevitable if these proposals go through.

The true irony is contained in a study of education spending among the states also published this week. The Chronicle says:

California ranks 47th in per-pupil spending, according to “Quality Counts,” a report issued Tuesday from Education Week, a national newspaper specializing in public schools. It showed that while the national average is $9,963 per pupil, California spends $7,571, according to the report. Vermont spends the most, with $15,139. Utah spends the least, with just $5,964 per pupil.

So, what to do? Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep on top of the budget issues as much as possible. I’ll post as much as I can here; UESF and the district web site will also be good sources for updates.
  • Contact friends and family members who live in other parts of California. Our local elected representatives here in the Bay Area are sympathetic to our concerns, and while it is always good to contact your own representatives, what we really need is for a few Republicans in the legislature to start feeling the pressure so they reconsider their hard-line stands.
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