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Spike in Calif. Deficit Raises New Concerns

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California education groups are increasingly worried that even a proposed state tax increase won't be enough to solve school funding woes, after the state announced that its budget deficit had grown to nearly $16 billion.

When Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, announced a dramatic spike in the deficit this month, he continued to press for protecting K-12 and higher education funding despite the gloomier fiscal numbers.

But education advocacy groups still worry about education spending and expressed concern that even the high-stakes November initiative would not be enough to solve serious fiscal problems for schools.

Gov. Brown's revised budget proposes a 16 percent hike in K-12 spending, on the assumption that the ballot initiative will pass.

In January, he had projected a $9.2 billion budget deficit for the rest of fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013. However, lower-than-expected state tax revenues so far this year resulted in the budget shortfall growing by $6.5 billion to $15.7 billion.

Mr. Brown announced in his revised budget that he would slash state spending by $8.3 billion to help close the deficit. However, he stressed in a May 14 statement that he would continue to push for protecting K-12 spending. "We can't balance the budget with cuts alone; that would just further undermine our public schools," the governor said.

The ballot initiative would raise the income tax by a quarter cent, while taxes would increase on those earning $250,000 or more annually. If it fails, an automatic round of some $6 billion in cuts to public schools will go into effect in January next year.

But in a May 14 statement, Joshua Pechthalt, the president of the California Federation of Teachers, which represents more than 100,000 educators, warned that even a successful ballot initiative should only be part of any funding solution.

He said, "As important as it is to pass a revenue measure in the fall, it doesn't let the legislature off the hook to find more revenue now."

And even Gov. Brown's proposed funding increase would not help districts that have to set their budgets in June, argued Education Trust-West, an education policy research group based in Oakland.

"This strategy will likely lead to additional staff layoffs and cuts in support services. It will also allow districts to slash a total of 15 additional school days, leaving California with the shortest school year in the nation," the group said in a statement.

Vol. 31, Issue 32, Page 4

Published in Print: May 23, 2012, as Spike in Calif. Deficit Raises New Concerns
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