Monday, June 30, 2008



By John W. Bedell - member of the Orange County Board of Education and president of the California County Boards of Education - from the vacavillE reporter

Bay Area teachers and parents last month protested proposed cuts to California's education budget. (Bob Larson/Contra Costa Times)

06/30/2008 — What are we California taxpayers to believe? That our schools are well funded? Children are learning? The state is honoring its Proposition 98 commitments?

Since January, we have heard that we have a $14 billion problem. Or is it $19 billion? Or $21 billion? Or $6 billion? These are all numbers that, at some point, were offered by those "in the know."

Through the years, we have seen Sacramento leaders of both parties play accounting games. They count money that is from next year. They pass on to the schools and other government entities expenses that were once covered by the state. The shell games get more creative each year, and the taxpayer has every reason to be confused, perplexed and even falsely content that "things in Sacramento" are well managed. But are they? I suggest they are not.

The public has voted to support public schools. Proposition 98 was an attempt to protect our children's education. But through "creative financing," the proposed budget for next year is more than $4 billion short of what would be needed just to provide the services provided this year. This, they dare to say, is "protecting 98." What it is, at best, is a deception and, at worst, it is fraud.

Now we hear the governor has a solution: "Offload" the lottery. When voters approved the lottery, it was "sold" partially on helping the schools with revenue. Now he wants to sell it again, this time to Wall Street. If lottery revenues decline, the schools will pay through a loss of revenue.

The governor's lottery "offload" is no more than another gimmick. It is another loan but in a different wrapping. When you put lipstick on a pig, you still have a pig. To sweeten the sale, voters are being told to agree or our sales taxes will be raised. We now have blackmail and/or bribery added to the fraud and insanity.

Research shows students learn more and best if class size is controlled. Current budget proposals will result in an increase in class size. We also know we have an achievement gap in California, where low-income minority students' performance on standardized tests needs our immediate attention. The current budget proposals reduce school resources dedicated to closing this gap. We know that federal regulations from "No Child Left Behind" are looming. Their resultant punishments will hit school districts just at a time when the money needed to bring schools into compliance is being threatened.

Some of our youngest and brightest teachers have been laid off. They are lost to the profession and to our children. The threat of more layoffs is real and morale certainly will not be enhanced for those whose jobs are not eliminated this budget cycle. Unless we have serious budget reform, many of those teachers returning in the fall of 2008 will be absent in fall 2009.

What can citizens do?

Call your local school districts. Find out what the budget cuts mean for your schools in both dollars and programs lost.

Then contact your legislators. Share with them your dismay and discontent about the budget cuts' impacts on your locals schools. Ask your legislators to:

• Commit to budgetary honesty by stopping the annual frauds and gimmicks that now characterize California's Sacramento summer.

• Identify predictable revenue streams so that school districts can plan better and provide services to children that the taxpayers have a right to expect.

• Show the courage to protect California's future by protecting California's children of today.

Don't be shy. Let your city council members, homeowners association and any others who do and/or should value an educated citizenry know that their local schools are clearly threatened.

• Contact the governor and tell him you want California's tomorrow protected by protecting California's children today. Share with him what his budget means to your local schools and tell him that this budget is unacceptable.

Finally, register and vote.

I have seen many budget crises since coming to California in 1969. We are still recovering from them. Unless 2008 represents a major change in how we "do budget" in California, the state will sink below its ranking of 46th in dollars spent on education. Mess with education and you mess with California. Help put an end to this "messing" by getting involved to stop the fraud and insanity.

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