June 17, 2014
Overall, there’s plenty to like in the 2014-2015 state budget passed recently by the California legislature, including funding for early childhood education, career and technical education programs for high schools, additional money for K-12 through the Local Control Funding Formula and more money for higher education.
Putting a limit on K-12 district budget reserves is also a wise decision. Now districts won’t simply hoard reserves, but will put more resources into the classroom to help kids, restore programs, rehire educators and support staff and begin to recoup years of pay cuts and furlough days.
The state’s improved finances this budget cycle, and not coincidentally the higher approval rating for the Governor and state legislators, is largely due to the adoption of Prop 30 and the public’s willingness to tax higher income earners to fund state services.
But in spite of the rosier economic outlook, 30 years of defunding and the recent draconian budget cuts due to the Great Recession have devastated our schools and punished our children and students. California schools rank at or near the national bottom in per pupil spending, class size average and number of librarians, nurses and counselors. As the wealthiest state in the nation and the 8th largest economy in the world, our children have a right to expect better.
These are issues that go beyond just education. As we all know, our schools don't exist in a vacuum. If the communities served by public schools continue to see vital services cut, then our most needy students will continue to suffer. Even the non-partisan California Budget Project agrees. “The budget deal includes no significant new support for many core public services and systems that were hit hard by years of cuts,” says CBP Executive Director Chris Hoene.
The Governor’s and legislature’s concern for creating a stable ongoing state budget that avoids the pitfalls of another economic downturn is certainly understandable. Putting money into a rainy day fund is fiscally responsible, but it must be balanced with the huge needs felt by poor and working families already living on the margins. Planning for the future is prudent, but so is investing in the present, and we need a balanced approach.
There are alternatives such as untapped revenues that could improve the lives of millions of Californians while continuing to expand the economy. Unfortunately, the legislature once again failed to adopt an oil extraction tax that could have generated an additional $2 billion dollars annually in tax revenue.
California is the only oil producing state that doesn’t tax oil coming out of the ground. In these times of brutal public service cuts, that’s unconscionable. It’s time our legislature and the Governor demonstrated firm leadership and stood up to the oil companies. Yes, put some money away for a rainy day, but take care of the health and vitals services so many Californians need now. That would be real leadership.