thumb_school_bus(1).jpgOver the past two years, funding for public education in California has tanked with the rest of the state’s economy, receiving nearly $17 billion less than anticipated in the last two years, according to state education officials.

Today, the Bay Area Education Coalition publicly denounced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest May budget revision for exacerbating that trend by threatening to severely undercut even the state’s minimum school funding requirement.

“California’s public schools have been subjected to 60 percent of the cuts, even though education funding makes up only 40 percent of the state budget,” San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcma said in a prepared statement.

While denouncing the governor’s proposal, the Bay Area Education Coalition, which represents more than 2.5 million teachers, parents, administrators, and other education advocates in California, endorsed the state Assembly proposal as a viable alternative.

“I support the Speaker’s budget plan because it finally creates solutions to the budget shortfall instead of making our students bear the brunt of the cuts,” Garcma said.

State officials are currently deciding between three budget proposals: the governor’s May revision, a Senate proposal and an Assembly proposal.

In his current revision of the state budget, Schwarzenegger threatened to suspend minimum funding required by Proposition 98, according to a report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Passed by California voters in 1988, the proposition guarantees minimum funding for schools based on a calculation that takes into account the overall economy of the state.

Overriding the proposition would require a two-thirds vote of the state legislature.

Proposition 98 ensures schools a minimum of $53 billion this year, and the governor’s proposal undercuts that by $4.8 billion.

The Assembly proposal would give schools $1.8 billion dollars in excess of the minimum required, and the Senate’s budget proposal undercuts Proposition 98 funding by $1.8 billion.

But Debbie Look, director of legislation for the California State PTA, said that the Senate and the Assembly are purportedly talking behind closed doors about formulating a compromise between the two legislative proposals.

Both the Senate and Assembly proposals make changes to previously approved corporate tax reductions to lessen the burden on schools.

The Assembly proposal relies on borrowing funds from various sources, which Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office has warned might violate the requirements of Proposition 58, which disallows financing a budget deficit with borrowing.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, has countered that he is confident his proposal will hold up against Proposition 58.

“They haven’t issued a legal opinion or an official opinion,” on the proposal, Perez spokeswoman Shannon Murphy said of the attorney general’s office. “They’ve just said, ‘We don’t know.’ We believe our proposition will absolutely pass.”

At today’s news conference, education advocates from around the Bay Area admonished the governor’s administration for refusing to raise taxes in lieu of cutting education funding.
“We can choose to invest in our children now, or pay later,” Look, of the PTA, said.

A report released in January by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Institute for Democracy, Education and Access said 67 percent of principals in California reported that class sizes had increased, with 74 percent of elementary school principals reporting larger classes.

In the Bay Area, those statistics are playing out in the schools, according to Patricia Sanders, president of the Alameda Education Association. Today, Sanders described in detail how cuts have already affected her school district with increased class sizes, a shorter school year and school closures.

“Public education is an endangered species,” she said.

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  • rich mckone

    The educators need to support efforts by Democratic State Senators to acheive some real savings. If they succeed, further education budgets cuts will probably not be needed. Senate Democrats are considering a proposal to shift parole to the counties. It is a very big deal. Anyone concerned about the deficit and more budget cuts should support their efforts.

    Shifting parole to counties would cut billions from prison system costs. With the courts dealing with technical violations, the technical parole violation rate would return from 35% to the national average of 20%, reducing annual prison operating costs by over $500 million. Housing technical parole violators in correctional contract beds would reduce prison costs by well over $400 million annually. Contract beds cost $30,000 less annually than a prison bed and nothing for construction. California has less than 3% of its inmates in contract beds compared to 12% in Texas. These changes would eliminate the need to build almost 20,000 prison beds at a cost of $2 billion to $3 billion. The bulk of the $6.5 billion in AB 900 construction funds could be applied to the deficit.