• Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Attempting to repair his relationship with California’s education community—damaged last year after teacher and school activists fought and defeated three of his ballot measures—Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed several education initiatives last week during his State of the State Address.
Facilities: Calling the package part of his “strategic growth plan,” the governor proposed $26.3 billion in school construction projects—including 2,000 small schools and 40,000 new classrooms—to make room for the 250,000 more students that will enroll in the state’s schools over the next 10 years.
The governor plans to pay for the construction plan through a bond issue that would go before voters, and with existing funds that he said are available because of fiscal restraint exercised over the past two years.
“We cannot spend more than we have,” he said during his Jan. 5 speech to the legislature. “But at the same time we cannot afford costly delay in investing in critical infrastructure. Things will be tight, but funding our future is the fiscally responsible thing to do.”
Finance: He is also proposing to immediately pay back $1.7 billion in Proposition 98 funds from a loan he negotiated in 2004 to help balance the state’s budget. The loan was for $2 billion, and education groups argue that schools are owed more than $3 billion.
The governor said he’s also calling for a $2.3 billion increase in K-12 education spending, with some of that money going to rebuild art, music, and physical education programs. And he’s proposing $428 million to fully fund the state’s Proposition 49 after-school program in elementary and middle schools. California’s fiscal 2006 budget for precollegiate education is $36.6 billion.
“This will be good for both the children and the parents,” he said.
Reaction: In comments regarding the repayment of Proposition 98 money following the governor’s speech, state schools Superintendent Jack O’Connell said in a written statement: “If the proposal announced by the Governor is just the beginning of a negotiation that would guarantee full repayment of what is owed to schools over time, it should be viewed as a positive step. However, if this proposal constitutes the total commitment to fulfilling the governor’s promise, it would be shortchanging our kids. I remain optimistic that the former is true.”