California Public Education: A State of Emergency

California educators, families, unions, clergy, and community members have been protesting in rallies across the state to demand that lawmakers make public education a priority in the state’s budget. Their position is that jobs and school programs can be saved and class-size increases can be avoided starting with the extension of the temporary increases in sales, personal income and vehicle taxes the Legislature enacted two years ago and that are set to expire June 30, 2011.

On May 16, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown announced his “May Revise”, sharing that surge in tax revenues has helped minimize California’s fiscal deficit, resulting in $3 billion more next year than for education than this year. Governor Brown would still like to hold a special election to renew the tax increases for another five years to help close the remainder of the budget deficit. So far, Brown has been unable to win the GOP votes he needs in each house of the state Legislature to put the tax question before voters, but he seems hopeful. The California Teachers Association and other interest groups are calling on lawmakers to vote on the taxes outright before they expire.

According to the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, in addition to the tax increase extension, there are also bills currently alive in the legislature that can aid school and community programs such as raising the taxes on the “super-rich” (AB 1130) and requiring banks to pay a community reimbursement fee before foreclosing on a home (AB 935). In light of the additional funds, UTLA is demanding that the Los Angeles Unified School District rescind the reduction in force (RIF) notices sent to 7,000 teachers and staff members in March.

Consider these startling facts about how the budget crisis is affecting public education:

· In the past three years, over $18 billion in funding has been cut from K-12 schools (about $1,900 per student).

· California schools are currently facing another $4 billion in cuts if the tax increase is not extended.

· Students are facing increased class sizes, and the reduction or elimination of enrichment programs, career technical programs, and transportation.

· Some school districts have reduced the school year to save money, costing students up to five instructional days per year.

· Over 30,000 educators and 10,000 other schools employees have been laid off over the past three years and another 20,000 may be laid off this year.

· California ranks at the bottom of all 50 states in the ratios of teachers, counselor, librarians, and nurses to students.

· California spends about eight times more per year to house an inmate in prison than it does per pupil on education.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Dr. John Deasy stated, “As we go through this challenging process, I am painfully reminded that California spends on average a little over $7,000 per student a year to educate our youth while we spend on average $58,000 a year to incarcerate a prisoner. There is something fundamentally wrong with this math.” If you agree, click here for information on how contact your lawmakers and urge them to support Gov. Brown’s temporary tax extension.

For information on other issues facing education or demonstrations taking place in other states, click here or visit your local teacher union website.

California Teachers Association
United Teachers Los Angeles
American Federation of Teachers

More from this contributor:
How California’s Budget Crisis May Impact Your Child’s Education
How to Get Your Middle Schooler Ready for College
Keeping Minds Sharp Over Summer Break