Budget & Finance

UPDATED: Brown’s Budget Brings Massive Cuts, but Spares K-12 Education

By Sean Cavanagh — January 10, 2011 2 min read
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California Gov. Jerry Brown, whose state has struggled under the weight of budget deficits for years, proposed massive cuts that will reorganize and reduce the size of government in the nation’s most populous state—but is expected to spare K-12 from the most severe pain.

The newly elected Democrat’s plan would cut spending by $12.5 billion through reductions he described as “vast and historic” in terms of their reach across state government.

[UPDATE (January 14): A number of prominent voices on education have weighed in on Brown’s plans—mostly to praise him for not touching K-12. The Association of California School Administrators, for instance, credited him with protecting education, while noting the importance of voters approving future tax measures to support schools. The president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, which endorsed Brown in his campaign, commended him for taking a “balanced approach” in his spending plan that spares schools. Meanwhile, new State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who has said that schools are desperate for more funding after years of cuts, said the governor “made good on his word to make tough decisions. Unfortunately, this budget extends the financial emergency facing California’s schools.”]

Brown has been warning Californians for weeks to expect drastic cuts, once his spending plans were announced. On Monday he showed he wasn’t kidding. In announcing the budget, the governor, who led the state for two terms from 1976 to 1983, combined tough talk with messages of shared sacrifice, in tones not unlike those sounded by British officials in announcing their massive cuts designed to bring down potentially crushing budget deficits.

“These cuts will be painful, requiring sacrifice from every sector of the state, but we have no choice,” Brown said in a statement. “For 10 years, we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt. We must now return California to fiscal responsiblity and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth.”

How deep would the governor’s budget scapel dig into California’s agencies?

Most state employees would receive an eight to 10 percent cut in take-home pay. Welfare programs, transportation, services for residents who are poor and have special needs, and the state’s famed university system would absorb major reductions. To put the $12 billion-reduction in perspective, the state’s overall, proposed general fund would be $84.6 billion, under Brown’s plan.

And it will take more than just budget-cutting to straighten out California’s books. Brown’s spending plan also calls for a continuation of several state taxes on a temporary basis. In June, for instance, the state’s voters will be asked to extend current personal income and sales taxes, Brown said.

Why was K-12 education spared? Brown seemed to agree with California school advocates—new state schools chief Torlakson is one of them—who have argued that the education system has suffered enough from the state’s continued budget woes.

“Schools have borne the brunt of spending reductions in recent years,” the governor said, “so this budget maintains funding at the same level as the current year.”

Other states are facing similiar budget shortfalls, though most of them aren’t on the scale of California’s. The question that’s undoutedly on the minds of Ed Week readers is whether K-12 schools will find safe harbor in the fiscal storm.

Photo: Jerry Brown meets the media storm last week in Sacramento, by Rich Pedroncelli/AP.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.