February 15, 2008

Editorial:

Cutting education, is that our best option?

We recently talked with a Chula Vista teacher who was dejected, worried, and unsure of the future. This teacher had just left school where the principal had informed the staff they needed to start planning for a 50% reduction in their budget. The budget cut included firing as many as 10 employees. Pink slips were to be sent out in the next few weeks! Across the district this, same speech was being given at each and every school.

This particular school district was looking to eliminate 460 paid employees, some through retirement and the rest through layoffs. This news was particularly hard on the newly hired employees, as they are always the first to be let go!

The school districts do not know for sure what their budgets will look like in the coming year, but after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger presented his budget proposal this past week, where he called for 10% across the board reduction for all state spending, the districts started preparing for a worse case scenario.

It is hard to imagine local schools cutting budgets that already do not meet the present day needs. As it is, schools have to make due with less. We have seen where schools have run out of paper before the end of the school year and can’t afford more. Or schools experience long delays in receiving supplies due to the lack of personnel that can handle the volume of work. Schools encourage parents to sign up for free lunches, you get enough free lunch sign ups and the school qualifies for Title I monies that are desperately needed. At the same time, each individual school goes through a yearly ritual of having to decide if there is enough money in the school budget for a counselor, a computer person, a nurse, or a librarian. Most schools usually share these resources. Now they will have to do with even less money and probably no discretionary money at all, those monies that the schools use for supplies, computers, and teacher training- little things like that!

The Governor intends to ask the legislature to suspend Prop. 98 which guarantees a minimum amount of State funding for education, it will take a 2/3rds vote from the legislatures to accomplish this.

California already ranks near the bottom across the nation, 42nd, when it comes to school spending. At the same time, spending on the Prison system the last four years has grown by 74%. This is not to say that the Prison system won’t be affected by the cuts, the Governor has proposed releasing nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offenders from prison if they have less than 20 months remaining on their sentences in order to free up 22,000 beds and save $400 million.

Health Care will also be impacted by the proposed budget. The Governor is looking to save $1.6 billion dollars. Across the board Medi-Cal services will be cut and some services eliminated. The Governor also wants to close state parks and public beaches, etcetera. Is this a California that we want to live in?

And while the Governor has proposed massive cuts, he has failed to identify any revenue generating sources that could alleviate some of the need for cuts. For example he could restore the vehicle license fee that would add $5 billion to the coffers. Tax the oil that is taken out of the ground in California, and/or impose a surtax on upper incomes.

The Governor has presented his budget plan which appears as if it was crafted to force the legislatures to decide what their priorities will be, what will they cut and what will be spared. More importantly it puts the burden of addressing the need for increased revenue on the shoulders of our elected officials. The question is, are the shoulders of our elected officials broad enough/strong enough to deal with this $14 billion dollar deficit and still maintain adequate funding for the future of our state - the children and their education?

The state legislatures are going to have to decide what kind of California we will live in. The budget in of it self defines the priorities of the state, and one of the questions the legislatures will have to answer is: is education a priority or is it a throw away that can it be manipulated to balance a budget?

In the meantime teacher moral is at an all time low, and for the 1000’s of teachers across the state that will receive a pink slip, their world will be turned upside down as they try to salvage a life and a beginning of a career that is now snatched away from them. What will their future hold?

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