Wednesday, February 11, 2009

RALLYING FOR SCHOOL FUNDS: Educators, parents protest proposed budget cuts, citing kids as custodians of future economy.


Demonstrators rally Tuesday at Glenoaks Elementary School. Reducing school funding would “put an entire generation of children at risk,” which “threatens the future workforce and economy,” said California PTA President Pam Brady. (Alex Collins/News-Press)

By Zain Shauk | Glendale news Press

Feb 11 - NORTH GLENDALE — State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell rallied with parents and educators at Glenoaks Elementary School on Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to make education a priority and to prevent midyear budget cuts to schools.

Speakers at the rally, which included California PTA President Pam Brady and Glendale Unified School District officials, urged parents, students and teachers to implore their local representatives to help keep California from worsening its current ranking in per-pupil funding for education, they said.

“We cannot afford to move backward in education funding,” Brady said. “If we do, we put an entire generation of children at risk, and that threatens our future workforce and economy.”

California, now ranked 47th, could become the worst of all 50 states in per-pupil funding if the cuts included in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most recent budget proposal are made, O’Connell said.

Schwarzenegger’s proposal would reduce the funding guaranteed to schools in accordance with the state’s falling revenues, said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the State Department of Finance.

About 40% of California’s general fund is constitutionally guaranteed for education, but because of the state’s budget shortfall, it has far fewer resources than originally projected, prompting the department to adjust the minimum guarantee from the originally estimated $58.1 billion for this academic year to $51.5 billion, Palmer said.

But Schwarzenegger’s plan would still give schools the full $58.1 billion for the current year by reallocating funds from other state programs and through flexibility measures that would allow educators to use money currently restricted for textbooks or maintenance programs to help pay for any cash shortages, Palmer said.

Although the minimum amount guaranteed to schools could grow in the future, because of increases in state revenue, an adjusted guarantee this year would result in reductions that could force educators to make difficult decisions, like reallocating money from supplemental programs or laying off workers to cover deficits, O’Connell said.

The cuts could be devastating for California schools, including the Glendale Unified School District’s, which could face up to $20 million in cuts over the next two years, Supt. Michael Escalante told the crowd.

If lawmakers make education a priority, O’Connell said, steady funding would help produce Californians who are better educated and more able to compete in the global economy.

“It’s really very simple,” he said. “If you want to invest in the future, then you have to invest in education. If you want to short-change the future, then you short-change education.”

A crowd of about 50 parents and educators gathered to hear the addresses on the front lawn of Glenoaks Elementary, holding signs that read “Invest in Children” and “$timulate our Schools.”

Donna Cunningham, PTA president at Edison Elementary School in Burbank, was one of the parents cheering on as speakers criticized proposals for cuts to schools.

“With the resources we have in the state, it’s appalling that we put such little emphasis on education,” she said.

O’Connell stressed the need for quick action by the Legislature to prevent the state’s deficit from growing and potentially having a further impact on educational funding.

“California is in crisis, plain and simple,” he said. “And each day that goes by without a budget agreement makes our state’s fiscal crisis worse.”

Schwarzenegger and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Assembly and State Senate are continuing to deliberate over a plan to solve the state’s fiscal emergency, said Shannon Murphy, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

A finalized plan has been delayed as representatives have attempted to craft a focused plan, said Murphy, who accused Republicans of slowing the process by bringing up issues that were not related to the budget crisis.

Democrats have placed a priority on education and have succeeded in influencing the governor into a “more reasonable position,” Democratic Assemblyman Paul Krekorian said.

“We’ve had an impact in reducing the worst aspects of the governor’s proposed education cuts,” he said.

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