It’s no surprise that the budget outlook for schools, and the state as a whole, continues to be grim. At the “State of the State” closing session at this year’s annual conference of the California School Boards Association, several education lobbyists and policy experts gave their assessments for 2010-11 — trying to give local school board members some sense of a silver lining — but with limited success.
First, CSBA lobbyist Rick Pratt surveyed the wreckage of the past 12 months — three budgets, none of which were balanced, and an ever-increasing state budget deficit which legislators continue to try to close with gimmickry. According to the legislative analyst, the state’s budget gap going into the 2010-11 budget year is almost $21 billion, and climbing. Worse, the minimum funding guarantee for schools under Proposition 98 is down $9 billion to $49 billion for next year — all in, a cut that equals $2,000 per student statewide.
Then, Janelle Kubinek, an executive with School Services of California, offered a more philosophical overview of schools’ predicament. Prison officials, she said, were told to find a way to cut $1 billion out of their budgets last year — so in response, they told legislators they’d be forced to release 30,000 prisoners. “It’s as if [schools] had said ‘we’re not going to be able to educate third graders next year. Where would you like us to drop them off?’ ” said Kubinek. The state education code and funding mechanisms have been restructured to allow schools to “do less with less,” Kubinek said, but what schools should do is think about “doing different with less.”
Echoing the other advocates, Kevin Gordon of School Innovations & Advocacy said that schools have taken a disproportionate share of cuts in the state budget — education spending represents 40% of the state budget, and yet education has taken 50% of total state budget cuts.
The silver lining? Schools are actually owed $1 billion in Prop. 98 money for 2009-10 (the reasons for this are complex), which gives us a chip in 2010-11 negotiations. The Governor has three options: pay us the money, defer the payments to future years, or suspend Proposition 98 entirely. In addition, the state accepted stimulus funds, and those funds carried with them a requirement that states maintain current funding levels for schools rather than cutting back and using Federal funds to backfill. This is another chip we can use in negotiations — providing that the Obama Administration does not waive this “maintenance of effort” requirement for California (there is political pressure for the White House to do just that).
The advocates at the final session didn’t talk about the coming adequacy lawsuit, but that is a part of the silver lining, too. The Education Legal Alliance, a group made up of school districts, teachers, PTA and other education advocacy groups, is just weeks away from filing an adequacy lawsuit charging that there is a disconnect between our state’s education policies and our funding mechanism. In the words of one of the attorneys involved in the case, “successful schools in California are the anomalies, and not easily replicable . . . The point is that [most schools] can’t get there with this level of funding.”
I came away with a sense that there are advocacy opportunities: we can voice support for the adequacy lawsuit, pressure the Obama Administration not to let California out of its obligation to maintain its education funding efforts, or simply make sure our local legislators (Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano, and Senators Mark Leno and Leland Yee) remember that voting for any further cuts in education, even those recommended by the Democratic leadership, is not acceptable.