This year, legislators face the challenging task of closing a 2-year budget gap of at least $12 billion dollars. This massive shortfall is a direct result of a state budget that has grown a whopping 37% over the past three years.
The current budget crisis will undoubtedly impact California’s schools. State fiscal experts of all parties warn that, given the California’s current economic troubles, a sound and balanced budget with spending reductions is inevitable to prevent sever damage to the state’s outlook in the long term. However, the budget crisis should not give the state license to transfer its budgetary woes onto the backs of students. Efforts to close the gap in the current budget year should not favor statewide spending initiatives, which include programs not yet implemented or evaluated, at the expense of funding critical to our schools, teachers and directly impacting our classrooms.
For example, among the budget reductions proposed by the Governor were significant state funds already committed to local schools. In turn, these schools based their budgets for the current school year upon these state commitments. Now, seven months later, with a substantial portion of these budgeted funds spent or committed, local educators face the bleak prospect of returning revenues to the state. Will doing so directly impact our classrooms? Sadly, the answer is yes.
As a member of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee for Education, I argued during the committee’s deliberations on SB 1XXX, the measure containing the Governor’s budget cut proposals, that it was possible for the Legislature to make responsible budgetary reductions and still minimize the impact to our schoolchildren. I urged my fellow subcommittee members to honor the commitment the state made last July to fully fund low-wealth school districts and restore money for higher energy-related expenses. I advocated instead that we find the necessary budget cuts from other, less proven, programs.
Fortunately, a bipartisan majority of the subcommittee chose to completely restore funding for equalization, retirement offsets and educational categorical spending and to restore 30% of the funding for local schools’ energy-related costs. While a step in the right direction, this latter program has a greater impact on local school budgets than the other three programs. Unfortunately, my Democrat colleagues rejected my proposal on the Assembly Floor to fully restore this program’s funds with money earmarked for the Governor’s Performance Awards.
No one doubts that additional spending reductions must occur for the next fiscal year. However, it is my sincere hope that as the Legislature deliberates on the 2002-03 State Budget in the pending weeks, the classroom instruction needs of our children will be placed well above any other consideration.
Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher, Assembly District 72