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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cuts to Education: Is This Really What We Want Our Legacy To Be?

Across the state, local school districts are feeling the pinch of the state budget impasse. Go anywhere and you will see articles about massive layoffs, budget cuts, and most of all uncertainty.

We do not even have a budget yet and everyone knows what is coming down the pike and it is going to be extremely ugly and counterproductive.

The Governor has proposed that one way to save money is by cutting the school year from 180 days to 175 days. That is a proposal that the Superintendent of Instruction Jack O'Connell strongly opposes, arguing that most of the country has 180 or more days.

“Most other industrialized countries are in excess of 200 days a year, and today we go 180 days. This proposal would whack that to 175 days.”
O'Connell further argued that it would place the burden on low income schools that could not afford to pay to extend the school year like more affluent schools could.

He called the proposal "devastating."
"It would particularly hurt our low-income students and students of color. The result would be a further widening of the achievement gap."
With a 175-day school year, California would join Kentucky, North Dakota and a few other states that require the least number of school days. Is that really what we want for our legacy?

The Davis school district currently seems to be alright for the next two years primarily because of the budget crisis we went through last year and the passage of Measure Q and Measure W.

However, one thing the district is hoping for probably is not going to happen. The district wants flexibility in categorical funding. That is a position that the Governor has taken. But most of the Democratic state legislators except for our own Senator Lois Wolk, are opposed to the idea. That is largely out of fear that district would use the opportunity to gut vital programs. That would not happen in Davis, but it is enough of a concern that the district is not going to get that kind of flexibility.

Immediate problems caused by the budget impasse are also devastating. Because the state is running out of cash, money to school district already budgeted for the 2008-09 school year may end up being deferred.

“The Governor’s proposal to reduce current year funding to public education by over $6 billion will be extremely difficult for school districts to absorb. I am particularly concerned about the proposal to defer $2.8 billion in payments due early in 2009 to the next fiscal year. This will create a cash flow crisis for school districts."
California's budget process is now locked up in a three-war of wills. The Democrats at least temporarily tried to make it a two-player game by trying to create a simple-majority solution, but the Governor and the Democrats could never come to agreement on a stimulus package despite agreeing in principle on the budget.

The Republican legislators have not even come that close. They have argued from the beginning against any tax increase. They argue that tax increases during economic downtime will harm the economy.

I don't disagree. The problem is so will spending cuts that will inevitably result in the loss of jobs across the state. California does not happen to have the option of going into debt, so the legislator has little choice to do things that harm the economy.

I believe we need to do both spending cuts and tax increases and try to spread the pain as wide and as thinly as possible.

However, there is a further consideration--where do you make the cuts? And that is a big question when you understand California is not at the top in per pupil spending to begin with. California is not at the top in academic performance. Cuts to education, means losses of teachers, closed schools, increased class size, all the things we have worked so hard over the last nearly 20 years to accomplish.

There is no doubt that we face tough times and tough sacrifices. But educational cuts hurt our future not just the present. I ask again if this what we want our legacy to be or if we should find a different way through this.

---David M. Greenwald