It’s Time to Think Differently About California’s Budget
By: Ella Arnold
Tuesday, Governor Brown called for drastic cuts of vital services in order to close California’s budget deficit, which has increased to a devastating $15.7 billion. California’s K-12 and public higher education systems, in particular, have taken hit after hit during every budget cycle, and unfortunately, this year is no different.
In order to change course and get our state’s economy back on track, we must protect state services, reinvest in public education and find innovative solutions to keep California’s students here in our Golden State.
According to the May Budget revision, projections for state revenue were optimistic for three reasons:
1. Prior Revenue Forecast Was Too High ($4.3 billion)
2. Proposition 98 Spending Increases ($2.4 billion)
3. Federal Government and Courts Blocked Budget Cuts ($1.7 Billion)
In order to balance the budget, cuts to vital public services seems to be the only option. Under the proposal:
- State employees would face a 5% furlough and a 38-hour, 4-day workweek.
- The courts would be cut $544 million.
- Health and Human Service programs, such as Medi-Cal, CalWORKs, IHSS and others, will suffer $1.3 billion in combined cuts.
- Proposition 98 funding will be reduced by $1.5 billion.
- Cal Grant Program for university students will be reduced by $292 million.
Impact on San Francisco’s Public Schools – Fewer School Days and Potential Strikes
Despite the budget’s grim outlook, state budget law will mandate that the requirement for funding our K-12 schools and community colleges will go up next school year.
In anticipation of the drastic cuts to K-12 education if the tax ballot measure fails this November, local school districts are already sending layoff notices and increasing class sizes. However, the Governor proposes to reduce the school year by three weeks over the next two school years rather than laying off teachers.
In the San Francisco Unified School District, the effects of California’s budget crisis are already being felt. In February, layoff notices were sent to 485 full-time employees, 210 of which were teaching positions. Additionally, the SFUSD is proposing four to nine furlough days in each of the next two school years, increasing kindergarten class sizes, and asking teachers for concessions from eliminating sabbaticals to getting rid of an extra planning period for high school advanced placement (AP) teachers.
Last week, San Francisco’s public teachers voted to authorize a strike vote if the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) are unable to produce a new two-year contract by June 30.
Deeper Cuts to Higher Education
The University of California would receive $38 million less – when they really need $125 million more to avoid raising tuition by another 6% next year. If Governor Brown’s tax measure fails in November, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems would each receive $250 million less.
This news comes on the heels of another grim figure from a report recently released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), which is that over the past five years, there has been a 20 percent decline in freshman enrollment rates at the University of California and California State University systems, even though more students are eligible and applying. To make matters worse, the number of out-of-state students being accepted to California’s public universities is increasing while at the same time, only 18% of California’s high school graduates are enrolling in UC or CSU schools, down from 22% in 2007.
A Possible Solution for Higher Education: The Middle Class Scholarship Act
One solution to help ease the impact of the proposed higher education cuts is the Middle Class Scholarship Act recently proposed by California State Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. This legislation would cut college fees by two-thirds for UC and CSU students whose families make less than $150,000 a year. Additionally, the Middle Class Scholarship Act would provide our California Community College System with $150 million and would allow each individual community college district to spend the funds in a manner which best addresses that district’s unique needs.
The Middle Class Scholarship Act would be paid for in full by closing a wasteful, corporate loophole that only benefits out-of-state businesses.
If you haven’t already signed our petition in support of the Middle Class Scholarship Act, you can do so here. Please remember to share the petition online with your friends and family via Facebook and Twitter.
What the Future Holds
Even if Governor Brown’s proposed tax measure, titled “Temporary Taxes to Fund Education. Guaranteed Local Public Safety Funding. Initiative Constitutional Amendment,” passes later this year, there will still be much work do to pull our state out of its current economic decline.
Our state government must decide to be proactive and focus on ideas and solutions to our financial problems rather than continuing to be reactive by relying on program cuts that hurt our students, working families and vulnerable populations every time the budget is due.
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