Thursday, March 06, 2008

Schwarzenegger and Budget cuts

Speaking Out Against Schwarzenegger's Budget Cuts to Education

By Stephen Cassidy

"The Governor can’t manufacture money" is what one person said after I described how his cutbacks will harm our schools. I replied, "Yes, but he can manufacture leadership."

I serve on a school board in San Leandro, California. All Californians need to speak out against Governor Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts and pressure him and the Legislature to develop solutions to the revenue shortfall that do not harm our children.

My oldest daughter will start Kindergarten in public school in San Leandro next August. I know she will receive excellent instruction from dedicated and caring teachers. Her education, however, will not be shaped solely by my wife and me, her teachers, principal, other involved parents and school board.

The federal government has intruded in education through the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB establishes wholly unrealistic standards of performance for our public schools. When schools do not meet these standards, they are labeled failures, triggering a set of escalating sanctions ending in the conversion of our public schools into charter schools.

Congress is debating whether to reauthorize NCLB. If Congress applied the same performance measurements to itself, Congress would receive an "F." The federal government should offer a helping hand to schools in need, not punitive sanctions.

Decisions made in Sacramento in the coming months will also greatly impact our schools. California has a centralized system for funding public education. The Governor and Legislature, not local school boards, determine the amount of property taxes and state aid each school district receives. This is why even when property tax receipts increase, our schools do not necessarily benefit.

Sacramento deserves an "F" in the category of school finance. According to Education Week, California ranks 47th in the nation in spending per student when accounting for regional cost differences, spending $1,900 less per student than the national average. West Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi all outrank California.

What do these statistics mean? The 6.3 million children in California public schools attend some of the most crowded classrooms and have the fewest counselors and librarians in the nation.

Last August, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a budget that he called responsible, noting it limited "spending growth to less than 1 percent." Since then there has been a meltdown in the housing market. State revenues have dropped precipitously. Nevertheless, Governor Schwarzenegger claims state expenditures are excessive. He proposes cutting billions from K-12 education to balance the budget.

"The Governor can’t manufacture money" is what one person said after I described how his cutbacks will harm our schools. I replied, "Yes, but he can manufacture leadership." Upon taking office, Governor Schwarzenegger reduced the vehicle license fee. That created an annual $4 billion hole in the budget, about the same amount he now seeks to slash from education.

Governor Schwarzenegger once promised voters he would "protect California’s commitment to education funding." Our public schools are the only state-funded agency that depends upon car washes, bake sales and magazine subscription drives to function. Yet, the Governor rules out any tax increases to address the revenue shortfall. His call for 2008 to be the Year of Education has become a cruel joke.

Leadership is ultimately by example. The Schwarzenegger household will be unaffected by the budget cuts. His children attend a private school that charges over $25,000 a year in tuition. In San Leandro, spending per student in 2006 was $6,916.

Our society will not flourish if only the children of the rich attend schools that offer quality teaching in small classrooms, music and arts education, foreign languages, sports, access to technology and well-stocked libraries. California’s future depends on our public schools receiving the resources necessary to succeed.

Please note, I am speaking for myself, not the San Leandro School Board

Stephen Cassidy is Vice-President of the San Leandro Unified School District Board. He is a 1986 graduate of the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University and received his law degree in 1989 from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. He practices law in San Francisco. His wife Amy (Kehret) Cassidy is a former teacher in the San Leandro Unified School District and attended San Leandro’s public schools.

Posted on March 06, 2008
Posted on the California Progress Report.
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