UPDATED: California Approves Deep Budget Cuts

By Sean Cavanagh — June 29, 2011 2 min read
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[UPDATED: In the final wrangling over their state’s budget, California lawmakers approved a provision that would appear to hand a major victory to the state’s teachers. Legislators forbade school districts from laying off educators over the coming year.

Some local school district officials are worried about the job-protection measure. They say that while they want to avoid handing out pink slips, forbidding them from doing so limits their options, particularly if they end up having to cut more money from their budgets.]

Having failed to convince Republicans to go along with a series of tax extensions to bring in more revenue, California Democrats yesterday followed through with what they said was the next necessary step, approving a state budget with potentially deep cuts to K-12.

The spending plan reportedly makes deep reductions to the state’s university system, its parks, programs for the poor, and many other areas of government.

As far as K-12 goes, part of the story has yet to be written. Lawmakers say that if the state receives an additional $4 billion in revenue from improving economic conditions, a portion of that money will flow to schools.

But if the revenue flow does not live up to forecasts, schools in the nation’s most populous state will be expected to absorb deep cuts, which would be the equivalent to shortening the school year by seven days.

The spending plan left many lawmakers unsatisfied, partly because they said it relies on stopgap measures that will require other tough budget decisions, going forward. School advocates weren’t happy either.

“The potential budget deal is based on Wizard of Oz assumptions that there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” said Arun Ramanathan, the executive director of the Education Trust/West.

“If that pot of gold does not materialize, our poorest students and most vulnerable communities will once again take the brunt of state budget cuts through inequitable approaches such as shortening the school year. It is long past time to develop a real budget solution that solves the boom and bust cycles of California’s state budget.”

Said John Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers: “This budget continues to protect the wealthiest 1 percent and the corporations at the expense of the vast majority of Californians.”

Much of the budget debate this year in California has hinged on a proposition put forward by the state’s newly elected governor, Jerry Brown.

Brown has spent months trying to convince a few Republicans to allow state residents to vote on a series of tax extensions and increases. If that didn’t happen, the governor warned that he and Democratic lawmakers, who have a majority in legislature, would have to make deep cuts, particularly to K-12, because it takes up such a large share of the state’s budget. Because no deal was worked out, and a series of temporary taxes expired, Democrats were forced to follow through with cuts.

“Democrats in the California state legislature made tough choices and delivered an honest, balanced and on-time budget that contains painful cuts and brings government closer to the people through an historic realignment,” the governor said. “Putting our state on a sound and sustainable fiscal footing still requires much work, but we have now taken a huge step forward.”

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