Friday, February 20, 2009

California Budget and Education

State Superintendent Discusses Impact of Budget on Education

by Jack O’Connell
State Superintendent of Public Instruction

I’m pleased to see the Legislature finally put its differences aside and took action to end this protracted stalemate. While this budget is not ideal to any extent the uncertainty and instability for schools created by the lack of an agreement is over.
This budget will reduce the current year Proposition 98 funding level by $7.4 billion, which includes about $2 billion in reductions to program and revenue limit funding, as well as $4.6 billion in deferrals and the redesignation of funds. While the state budget agreement resolves the massive state shortfall, we must recognize that part of the solution essentially transfers our state cash flow problem to local schools and districts, and these cuts will impact our students.
The budget agreement also provides additional flexibility to transfer funding between about 40 programs which may assist school districts in continuing to provide the educational services their students need. I hope that district leaders will use this flexibility effectively to manage local educational needs while maintaining a focus on raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap.
I am glad that the budget agreement did not include the very successful class size reduction program in the list of categoricals subject to flexibility. Keeping class sizes low benefits students in the critical early grades when they are learning to read and establish a foundation in understanding mathematics.
Other vital programs, including child nutrition, special education, economic impact aid, our apprenticeship programs, and partnership academies also were not included in the new flexibility. These programs serve some of our neediest children and it is appropriate to preserve their effectiveness.
During the next few days, my staff will continue its review of the language in the proposed ballot measure affecting the Proposition 98 maintenance factor, which is intended to provide the $9 billion in repayments owed to public education. 

The painful budget process at our state and local school district level calls out for reform of California’s dysfunctional budgeting process. It is time for a sincere and frank conversation about reform. Central to this conversation is the idea of throwing out the two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget and simply using a majority vote. Nearly every state in the nation and Congress, as well as counties, and cities use majority votes to pass their budgets. California should follow suit.
I understand that the minority party may feel that this would make them irrelevant to the process but, if anything, it would hold their majority party colleagues even more accountable.
Most importantly, a simple majority vote would protect our schools and districts from the instability they are forced to endure anytime the Legislature cannot reach a budget compromise.
It is time to bring about substantive changes to the way we do business in Sacramento – we owe the people of California this much.
Jack O’Connell is the elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the state of California.
Posted on February 20, 2009
And, a candidate for Governor.
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