Cuts are Spread Wide and Deep
by UCLA IDEA
Week of May 14-18, 2012
This week Governor Brown’s revised budget spared K-12 schools but targeted programs and services that directly touch California youth. The proposal, which addresses a state budget shortfall that has increased by $6 billion over last January’s estimates (Thoughts on Public Education), includes cuts in health care and a shortened work week for state workers, while keeping education funds nearly static.
Although education spending would rise from $29.3 billion to $30 billion, schools are unlikely to see much new funding because of accounting sleights of hand. And they may not receive some of the funds for a while because proposed state legislation would defer payments of $3.5 billion in the 2012-2013 fiscal year (SI&A Cabinet Report). Furthermore, schools would lose $5.5 billion if Brown’s hotly contested November ballot measure fails (Thoughts on Public Education, EdSouce).
Even if schools are spared cuts, which is not certain, students stand to lose a lot. The governor’s proposed budget cuts Medi-Cal by $1.2 billion and welfare and child care by $1.3 billion (Los Angeles Times). These safety-net services help the state’s increasing number of poor children and families meet basic needs. Recent census data highlight just how many California children will be affected. More than 2 million California children live in families with income below the poverty line—“$22,314 for a family of four—$1,860 a month, $429 a week, or $60 a day” (Children’s Defense Fund—California). More than 800,000 children lack health insurance.
Furthermore, Brown’s proposal to cut two hours (5%) from state workweeks (Los Angeles Times) means that working parents employed by the state—and whose children often attend public schools—will bear an additional burden on top of existing cuts from furlough days. These and other employment cutbacks affect parents’ capacity to pay rent or meet their mortgage payments, prompting increased residential mobility that in turn undermines student learning.
At a time when school-based services could compensate for state programs that are unable to meet students’ needs, districts have been forced to lay off scores of support staff. Staff losses (nurses down 13.3 percent since 2007, librarians down 27 percent) combine to an overall decrease of 9 percent between the 2006-2007 and 2010-2011 school years (Bay Citizen). These losses are in addition to workforce cuts affecting counselors and teachers (EdSource).
It’s both human nature and good politics to look for some good news in this continuing rash of education budget cuts and increasing poverty. But reports that some schools and many poor students are “able to swim upstream against a current of inequality” cannot justify the continuing lack of support for schools, let alone the poverty and disparity that make school success an exception rather than the norm (Washington Post). A robust system of public education cannot be built on the premise that only the most exceptional should survive.