Education Coalition decries further cuts to schools

ACSA and the rest of its partners in the Education Coalition have finalized a position paper on the governor’s proposed budget.

While the coalition agrees there is a desperate need for revenues for schools, there is no consensus on the various revenue initiatives now being circulated for signature gathering.

“The main topic of discussion, of course, was the state budget, but it is very difficult to discuss those issues without touching on the relationship to the proposed November initiatives,” said ACSA Executive Director Bob Wells. “Although we don’t have a consensus on those measures, the group agreed to work on items in the governor’s budget proposal on which we have agreement.”

Following is the Ed Coalition’s position:

• 2012-13 state budget. In the last four years, funding for our schools has been cut by more than $20 billion. We recognize the substantial budget problem facing the governor and the Legislature to close the 2012-13 budget deficit, estimated at $9.2 billion.

While we have concerns on the budget proposal, we appreciate the governor and Legislature’s willingness to incorporate changes urged by the Education Coalition, including his recent signing of SB 81, which replaced the current-year school transportation cut with an across-the-board reduction to the revenue limit. We look forward to continued discussions on the coalition’s concerns during budget deliberations.

• Revenues. It is clear that the state has a revenue problem stemming from a major economic recession. The Education Coalition believes that this year marks a key turning point, where Californians must decide whether to continue the devastating cuts to our education system and other vital state programs, or to rebuild the infrastructure that helped us become the eighth largest economy in the world.

We believe some form of revenue enhancement must be passed to re-invest in public schools and to return our economy and schools to national prominence. Without significant new revenues, our schools and students will suffer from a cut that would be equivalent to three weeks of instruction. This is simply unacceptable.

It is important to understand that the Education Coalition, representing parents, teachers, classified staff, administrators and other school employees, is willing to fight for more revenues to prevent any further cuts. Substantial new revenues are essential to begin restoring these cuts to our schools.

In the last four years, funding for schools has been cut by more than $20 billion. California continues to be the eighth largest economy in the world, and our academic standards are among the most rigorous in the country, but our investment in education is among the lowest compared to other states. New revenues are needed to replenish K-14 school funding.

• No further cuts. The budget proposes cuts to K-12 education in 2012-13. It is important that there be no further cuts to the K-12 education budget and programs. This is particularly critical if the tax initiatives pass. Preserving the remaining resources to education will be essential for districts to survive. Consistent with this concern, the reduction in the school transportation program needs to be restored.

• Integrity of Prop. 98. We urge protecting the integrity of the Proposition 98 guarantee. For example, inclusion of $2.4 billion of debt service payments in the Prop. 98 guarantee is both inappropriate and unconstitutional. Debt service payments are made by the state and do not flow through local districts as required by Prop. 98.

• Full policy hearing. There are a number of proposals in the budget that represent major policy changes to how education and programs will operate in the 2012-13 year and beyond, changes that should get a full policy hearing. Such proposals include: a weighted student formula to finance the K-12 system; changing the mandates from a reimbursement to an incentive program; implementation of transitional kindergarten.

These issues require legislative deliberation through the policy-making committees of the Legislature. There should be an opportunity for all concerned interests to both hear and respond to the rationale for the policy changes being proposed.

• Trigger reductions. Trigger reductions are disproportionate to K-14 education. We oppose the disproportionate $4.8 billion in trigger reductions, should the governor’s proposed tax initiative fail. As noted by the legislative analyst, “Proposition 98 funding for schools and community colleges would bear the brunt of such reductions: $4.8 billion (90 percent) of the $5.4 billion in total trigger cuts.” Moreover, the trigger reductions would go back to the pattern of disproportionate cuts to education that have devastated services to schoolchildren since the budget crisis began.

Trigger reductions should not be acceptable practice. In addition, we are concerned that for the second year, there are essentially two budgets for school districts, opening the door for mid-year cuts well into the middle of the fiscal year. This makes it difficult for districts to effectively plan their resource mix for the school year. Specifically, it will force districts to adopt budgets based on the lower funding levels (i.e., when triggers are pulled) rather than on the assumption the governor’s tax initiative passes. Trigger cuts should not be continued as a standard budgeting practice.