Monday, March 03, 2008

Why Must the California Budget Deficit Be Closed on the Backs of Teachers and Students?



Robert-Cruickshank.gifBy Robert Cruickshank  -California Progress Report

March 2, 2008 - If every Californian paid an extra $150 a year in vehicle license fees, $6.1 billion would be raised eliminating the proposed budget cuts to health care, parks, and education. If we closed the tax loopholes that LAO Elizabeth Hill identified - as Arnold kinda sorta agreed we should - we would raise $2.5 billion, over half of the $4.4 billion cuts proposed in Arnold's budget.

Or we could fire thousands of teachers. From today's Orange County Register:

“More than 1,590 teachers could lose their jobs.

“Class sizes in hundreds of classrooms might increase from 20 to 30 students.

“And one district may shutter a campus altogether.

“The county's 28 school districts are deep in efforts to develop plans to cut about $204 million, or 5 percent, from their operating budgets in the face of a mounting state budget crisis.

"They're preparing for the worst because school districts, which receive about 70 percent of their funding from the state, often have to approve staffing and much of their spending for the next school year long before Sacramento lawmakers finish wrangling over the state budget.

"These could be the most devastating cuts our schools have ever seen," county Superintendent William Habermehl said. "I don't know how some of our school districts will be able to survive this and provide the same quality of education."

This being the OC Register we should not be surprised that the piece claims "locked-in teacher pay raises, restricted state and federal funds and other fixed expenditures" are a big part of the problem, but let's look at the bigger picture here.

Restoring the VLF would cost an average of $150 per person per year. But the proposed teacher firings would cost nearly 40,000 Californians around $50,000 a year in income, health care, and other important benefits. That's money that isn't going to pay mortgages or rents. Money that isn't keeping a small business afloat, or a big box store's sales high enough to prevent mass layoffs. As California slides into recession, and with zero job growth to show for 2007, how on earth does it make any sense to deliver such a crippling blow to the state's economy through firing all these teachers?

Surely it is more sensible to ask Californians to pay an extra $150 a year for the privilege of driving, and to keep the state's economy afloat and its schools in session, than to privilege a wasteful and reckless tax cut at the expense of the economy.

Of course, there is also the long-term damage to the state through these crippling education cuts. Larger class sizes and fewer classrooms mean fewer students will learn. Fewer students will attend college, fewer will get good jobs or create new businesses and technologies. The state will be set back even further - California will become Mississippi.

All so that people can save $150 a year on their car registration. All so that a handful of wealthy yacht owners can get a tax break. We are constantly told that tax cuts are necessary to keep the state in business - but as the looming collapse of public education should suggest, this is just not so. California's economy is still living off of the investments made in education in the 1960s and 1970s - but that is beginning to run out.

Even in Republican Orange County, in cities like San Juan Capistrano and Mission Viejo, voters want to ensure that their kids will get a decent education. Parents know full well that firing teachers means their children will not learn. Republicans are talking a hard line, claiming they're not going to compromise an inch on the budget.

But I think we should ask the parents in south Orange County whether they agree with their Republican representatives that their child's future is really worth $150 a year.

Robert Cruickshank is a historian, activist, and teacher living in Monterey. He is a contributing editor at and works for the Courage Campaign, in addition to teaching political science at Monterey Peninsula College. Currently he is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in US history, on progressive politics in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. A native Californian, he was raised in Orange County and educated at UC Berkeley.

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