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Something is Seriously Wrong with this Picture

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By Kenneth M. Young
Riverside County Superintendent of Schools

On Monday, Governor Brown released his much anticipated 2011-12 state budget proposal. The proposal, which includes closing a roughly $6 billion hole in the current year budget, contains a combination of cuts, extensions of existing taxes set to expire soon, and a complex restructuring plan he hopes will substantially reduce California’s estimated $19 billion state budget deficit in 2011-2012.

However, the proposal would require bipartisan support from California’s deeply divided legislature and success at the polls before it could become a reality—certainly a challenging feat given the state’s economic and political environment.

In unveiling his proposal, the governor noted that “public education has borne a disproportionate share of budget cuts in recent years”. After roughly $18 billion in cuts to education over the past three years this statement seemed to indicate our K-12 public schools might be spared from further loss of funding. But, the “devil is in the details” as they say, and since schools make up roughly 40% of the state budget, the implications of the governor’s comments are tempered by reality. His proposed budget includes over $2 billion in additional funding delays (this comes on top of the roughly $8 billion in school funding that is already being postponed) and requires schools to adopt their budgets by June 30th with complete uncertainty over a highly risky ballot measure. In the unlikely event the measure makes it to the polls, and then in the likely event the voters reject it, further cuts to schools would most likely range between $330 to $615 per student without suspending Proposition 98 — depending where in the overall state budget the governor and legislature ultimately agree they can legally and politically make the cuts needed to adopt a balanced budget.

California’s overall economy, and especially that of the Inland Empire, continues to languish in a deep recession. Since California’s schools are largely funded out of the state budget, the negative impact of the economy has had a disproportionate effect on the financial stability and educational ability of our public school system.

By law, our schools have become overly dependent on funding from a state budget that is subject to increasing demands from diverse sectors of society, extremes in economic cycles and polarized political positions. This is no way to run a modern state or a high-quality education system. We must remove the restraints on local cities and communities that currently prevent them from choosing to make public education among their top priorities. They can legally do so when it comes to building their local schools, but they cannot do so when it comes to the operation of those schools they helped build. Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

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