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Opinion: Dark Days for California’s Education Budget

Governor Brown hopes to convince Californians to tax themselves to support schools.

January has become the darkest time of the year for public education in California. Every winter for the last several years we’ve seen the state hand down bad news for public schools as wishful budgets made in the endless summer of wrangling in Sacramento have met the reality of winter’s measly revenue haul.

In December Governor Brown announced that the “trigger cuts” written into last fall’s budget would be activated, slashing $1 billion from this year’s spending, including $248 from state support for school transportation, $38 million of that was cut directly from LAUSD, which is suing the state over the cuts.

The New Year did not bring better news. Now Brown, who couldn’t get intransigent Republicans in the legislature to reach an agreement on raising taxes, is saying that the voters must approve his $6.9 billion tax increase plan on the November ballot, including a higher rate for income over $250,000 and a half-cent sales tax hike.

If the ballot measure fails, Brown says, education will have to be cut by another $4.8 billion, likely shaving three weeks of instruction from the school year. Even if his tax plan passes, Brown’s budget will take another $2.2 billion from schools, using a legally questionable budget maneuver. Now the state Legislative Analyst’s Office is questioning Brown’s math, saying his tax hike could generate as little as $4.8 billion.

Our schools have been cut to the bone already.  According to parents' group, Educate Our StateCalifornia has cut $18 billion from education in the last four years and reduced per student spending by $2,900. The group cites surveys that show California ranked 44th in per pupil spending by the states in 2008-2009, before the recent rounds of cuts. We are doing without nurses, librarians, plant managers, art teachers, math and literacy coaches, assistant principals, classroom supplies. The list goes on and on. We simply can’t sustain this endless yearly cycle of cuts without doing serious harm to California’s future.

The governor is betting that he can make Californians see religion on tax increases if he presents them with these stark choices: either taxes go up or the school year is shortened by three weeks, busing will end, fewer students will go to community college or university, families and students will have to bear the full cost of a higher education.

Brown thinks that he can use this moment to teach voters that government does some things worth paying for, even if it means we--and not just some other guy-- will have to pay for it. Like King Solomon, he hopes we’ll notice we are going to kill the baby by fighting over it will and make the right choice.

Ultimately, I think the real solution is a revision to Proposition 13, one that allows commercial property to be taxed at market rates. While we’re at it, we need to return democracy to our legislature by reestablishing majority rule for passing taxes as we did through a ballot measure last year for passing a budget. Otherwise the state will continue to be held hostage by a minority party wielding undue leverage over our future.

Venice Republician January 13, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Jerry Brown has been able to steer clear of his union buddies who fuel his campaign. No cuts in their budgets. Wake up California pretty soon Brown is going to figure out a way to tax the weather. You people must have sun stroke to let this keep happening.
Sean January 13, 2012 at 06:12 PM
if you get something for free you dont really cherish it as much as if you have to work for it, only then do you understand the value...i feel families that have children attending school should pay for that privilege, a small tax on each student, payed by the parents will ensure a better education by increasing attendance, more parent involvement, etc... if you are paying for something you will make sure you are getting what you pay for
Sean January 13, 2012 at 06:13 PM
no new taxes on homeowners to pay for education

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