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Published in Print: February 6, 2002, as Revenue Shortfall Prompts Big School Cuts in California

Revenue Shortfall Prompts Big School Cuts in California

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The California legislature adopted $857 million in education budget cuts last week, meeting the governor's goal for reining in state spending in the face of a significant budget shortfall.

The legislature voted Jan. 30 in a special session to adopt large portions of Gov. Gray Davis' package of rescissions to the 2001-02 budget, which contained $45.4 billion for K-12 education. Lawmakers did, however, swap some recommendations for changes more to their liking.

The cuts were part of a $2.16 billion package of overall cuts based on the governor's recommendations.

The plan adopted last week eliminates funding for the governor's performance awards for teachers, a controversial program that gives teachers cash awards for increased academic achievement in their classes. ("Smaller-Than-Expected Bonuses Anger Some L.A. Teachers," Nov. 7, 2001.) It also cut site-based awards for schools by $12.7 million, to $144.3 million, and slashed all $50 million set aside to expand professional-development programs for mathematics and reading teachers.

In addition, lawmakers repealed $98 million for Teaching as a Priority grants, which allow low-performing schools to offer bonuses to recruit and retain certified teachers.

The legislators agreed as well to delay funding for one year of a $197 million program that would provide planning grants and assistance to low-performing schools. The legislature did, however, provide $18 million to help those schools draft improvement plans and promised another $20 million in the next year's budget. But legislators tweaked the governor's reductions to restore funding for a popular $67.8 million block grant for schools to use as discretionary spending, and reduced to $87 million a one- time, $250 million installment to help schools pay for increased energy costs.

The Senate approved the plan unanimously, while the Assembly approved it by a 66-6 vote.

Gov. Davis, a Democrat, praised the legislature for its swift action. As of late last week, he was still reviewing details of the plan, but was expected to sign it.

"This is the first time in history that we have made expenditure reductions of this magnitude in the current budget year," he said in a statement. "With this action, legislative leaders have taken an important first step towards restoring California to fiscal health."

The move likely will incite protests, particularly over the reading and math professional-development cuts and the cuts to the low-performing-schools program.

Some education groups, however, applauded the legislature's decisions. "We were able to make sure the reductions work," said Kevin Gordon, the executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials. "Clearly [the governor's office] worked very hard to work with the education community and the legislature."

Vol. 21, Issue 21, Page 19

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