Ed funding gets contentious

March 17, 2010


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal for education funding did not sit well with the Assembly education subcommittee. Coming from two vastly different ideological arenas, committee members appeared more open to spending, instead of budget cutting.

Analyzing the governor’s latest budget proposal on California education funding, the Assembly Subcommittee On Education Finance met Tuesday and had the Superintendant of Schools Jack O’Connell as well as the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) give their recommendations for the 2010-11, K-12 education budget.

Superintendant O’Connell compared the U.S. to other countries and was critical California is not addressing the technical needs American CEOs say they must have. According to O’Connell, American CEOs need to hire engineers from other countries because American education is not producing enough technically educated workers. O’Connell also attributed California’s falling to eighth place from fifth in the global economy as the result of California “not investing in education.”

Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, critical of large class sizes, asked committee members, “How can English teachers teach a class of 40 to 50? These are the worst possible conditions.” Brownley offered that legislators do not want to make any more cuts and asked O’Connell for his recommendations for improvement — at a future hearing.

O’Connell stated that he also thinks the state of California should be giving more money directly to the school districts in order for them to locally address their needs.

Assembly member Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, said the Legislature shouldn’t treat education like another line item in the budget and said he “would do the difficult job that no one else wanted to” and push a parcel tax to get more local money for school districts. Swanson brought up creating a parcel tax several times, insisting that the threshold to pass such a bill must be lowered by his colleagues. “Cuts aren’t the only answer,” insisted Swanson. “Raising revenue” and creating a “choice for voters to spend more money on education in order to give people an up or down to raise more money for schools,” was the banner Swanson carried throughout the committee hearing.

Kathryn Radtkey-Gaither appeared on behalf of California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss, and took heavy criticism from Assemblywoman Brownley, who persistently asked Gaither to describe who attended a recent meeting of education leaders. Brownley did not appear happy with Gaither’s information about the meeting and was openly critical of the administration’s budget plan, criticizing cuts and “lack of flexibility.”

Edgar Cabral and Rachel Ehlers, analysts from the LAO, gave their analysis of the governor’s education funding proposals as well as their recommendations. The governor’s plan provides less funding in the current budget as well as cutting the 2010-11 budget, because the administration assumes the state has no outstanding constitutional maintenance factor obligation of the July 2009 legislative agreement.

LAO analysts favor suspending Proposition 98 in order to maximize flexibility for the Legislature, allowing it to fund at whatever level it chooses. This would require a two-thirds vote by both the Assembly and Senate.

The LAO’s Proposition 98 alternative budget plan “cuts child care about $100 million less than the governor; makes approximately $800 million in targeted cuts to K-12 education, with additional K-12 cuts, as needed, coming from general purpose and/or categorical funding.”

The governor’s spending plan reduces non-instructional sending by $1.2 billion, eases up restrictions on school districts’ ability to contract for non-instructional services saving $300 million, and reduces the cost-of-living adjustment by -0.38 percent saving $201 million, totaling $1.7 billion in school district revenue reductions.

Assemblymember Brownley was highly critical of the governor’s proposal saying, “We made an agreement, so the governor has changed his mind?” Brownley derided the governor and said, “I don’t agree to what I agreed to.”

Committee Chairwoman, Wilner Amina Carter, D-Rialto, said there would be more hearings on the subject.

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