K-12 to dodge budget tornado

The Sacramento Bee is reporting and sources are confirming to me that Gov. Jerry Brown will spare K-12 schools and community colleges further cuts when he presents the state budget on Monday – but only if voters continue the $8 billion in temporary taxes that are set to expire this year.

That scenario would be a big victory for schools in a year in which other parts of state government are expected to get whacked to wipe out an anticipated $28 billion state budget deficit over the next year and a half.

That’s not to say K-12 schools won’t face further problems; federal stimulus money that has protected districts somewhat the past two years will dry up this year, and many districts already have greatly expanded class sizes and shortened the school year by five days.

Proposition 98 funding is directly tied to state revenue. The expiration of the temporary taxes would lower the state’s minimum obligation by $2.2 billion, from $49.7 billion to $47.5 billion – a cut of 4.4 percent, according to LAO projections.

In real dollars, K-12 schools have faced a 12 percent cut in state funding – $6.8 billion – since 2007-08. Other state programs on average have not been reduced as much, either because cuts never happened, as with prisons, or additional federal funding never materialized, as with Medi-Cal, leaving programs in the red. So it makes sense not to apply future cuts across the board – and further deteriorate schools.

It also makes political sense to make full funding under Prop 98 contingent on voters’ approval of temporary taxes, since education is the one area that constantly draws the most support in polls on additional state spending.

Approval of tax extensions would technically be a new source of revenue. Under Prop 98 rules, K-12 schools and community colleges should be entitled to 50 percent of the $8 billion, with part of the money going toward repayment for past cuts to education. But it’s unclear whether Brown will go for that. The Bee reports that revenue from continuing the .25 percent temporary surcharge on the income tax would go to the schools, while the other temporary tax extensions – 0.5 percent on the vehicle license fee and 1 percent additional sales tax – would go to cities and counties in exchange for transferring state responsibilities to them.

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (www.TOPed.org), one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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