On Friday, March 14, I joined the thousands of teachers, educators, students, and other citizens in the statewide rally “Pink Friday” to protest the California budget cuts that are adversely affecting education. While the new Obama Administration has committed billions in education funding increases as part of the national economic stimulus package, the State of California has committed to undoing any good that may come from these stimulus funds. Tens of thousands of teachers across California have received pink slips, ending their employment in public schools, perhaps permanently, or at least leaving them in limbo for a few months before they find out if they will be hired back for the coming school year.
The reasons for the cuts to education are far from simple. While blame of the minority party in the State Legislature is in order,conservative politics are hardly the only force at work that is bleeding education. California’s system for funding education and other public services, its mechanism for levying taxes, and its process for modifying the state laws governing taxation and expenditures are all contributing factors in this budget crisis. It is a great irony that one of the strongest economies in the world has chained itself to funding mechanisms that sink rapidly in the economic downturn, through over-reliance on real estate appreciation and capital gains taxes.
So, the money’s gone now, but when we did have the cash, we didn’t invest in schools anyway. Modest improvements and increases occurred during the early class-size reduction period and the early NCLB period, and some districts benefitted from State modernization and new construction funds, but schools were hardly high on the hog during the last several periods of economic growth or stability.
California’s per pupil spending is somewhere near the bottom of all the states in the union, in spite of the high cost of living and high costs for providing services such as transportation. I believe the debate now is whether we are in the bottom 5. The U.S. Census data clearly shows California spending far less than many other states, as a tradition, in good times and bad. This spending looks even smaller when compared to the capacity of California’s economy; it’s ability to pay, so to speak.
I’m committed to learning more about the intricacies of this funding and expenditure snafu. The old “third rail” of California’s politics, Proposition 13, has to be looked at as part of this problem. Perhaps touching the charged rail won’t be as hazardous as people believe, a long as we’re careful. In addition, we’ll have to reassess the value of the 2/3 vote in the State legislature on issues of taxation and spending that maintains the tyranny of the minority over California’s resource allocations.
We can’t continue a political system which works against the will of the majority of the state’s citizens, it’s time to return to a democracy.