Senator Joe Simitian spoke to 150 educators, administrators and parents in Palo Alto on Saturday in the most recent of his regular Education Updates. In his usual straightforward way, he delivered the news: The welfare of our schools hinge on the June special election.

By the numbers, this is a snapshot of education funding in California:

  • $86.5 billion of the state budget are general fund dollars
  • 40% of the general fund goes to K-14 education
  • The forecast shortfall for the state budget is $25.5 billion – $8 billion in this current year, $17.5 billion in 2011-12
  • Governor’s Brown’s proposed solution is to cut general fund programs by $12.5 billion, raise $12 billion in revenues and account for $2 billion through other adjustments
  • The June special election would put an $8 billion extension of current tax measures before the voters

Under Governor Brown’s budget, with the tax extensions, schools are essentially flat-funded for next year. That we can consider this good news is indicative of the severity of the alternatives.

What’s at stake if the election doesn’t take place or the measures fail?  Schools will lose $2 billion immediately because the Proposition 98 funding guarantee to education will be reduced downward to reflect the loss of revenue due to the sunset of the tax measures.  With a $12 billion hole in the general fund, 40% of which goes to schools, we can also expect to see those cuts rising to as much as $5 billion.

How do these big numbers translate to our schools here in Santa Cruz? Through careful financial oversight, our elected trustees and administrators have made judicious cuts away from the classroom and preserved federal jobs bill funds to see us through the next year, given the Governor’s proposed flat budget for schools.  If the tax measures built into that budget fail, or do not come to the voters, we will be weighing severe cuts to programs and staff.  A reduction of $5 billion means a loss of $800 per student in California, or as much as $3 to $4 million in cuts to Santa Cruz City Schools.To put the issue in perspective, the unfortunate closure of two elementary schools in 2004 was triggered by a shortfall of $800,000.

Wondering what you can do to protect our schools?  You can make a difference, but you must act quickly.  The governor is asking for a March budget (remarkable, given that our legislature has failed to deliver a June budget year after year – last year, the final budget was passed in September).  Putting the tax measures on the ballot requires a 2/3 vote of our legislature. This will have to happen soon in order to meet the requirements for a June special election.

  1. Ask our local legislators and key legislators in other parts of the state to support the June election and give voters the option of extending tax measures.  Contact information and sample letters can be found here.
  2. Campaign between March and June for those measures.  Support from interior California communities will be essential to protect schools throughout the state. Stay tuned for more news about how to get involved.