Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Something to Remember the Next Time California Democrats Claim to Care About Schools

During the negotiations over California's budget in the winter and spring, one of the things we heard ad nauseum was that higher taxes were essential to avoid cuts to public schools. After a first round of budget cuts went through in March, these grumblings turned into protests at the Capitol in Sacramento and at the offices of Republican lawmakers in southern California. So, when it came down to crafting a majority budget with the fiscal year winding down, Jerry Brown and the Legislature's Democrats were left with a serious conundrum: how to continue playing Santa Claus for unionized school teachers while including the schools in a broader attack on public services to bolster future demands for tax hikes?

Insofar as Sacramento seldom lacks creativity in screwing over the public, a way forward was indeed found. In the eleventh hour of the budget talks, an education trailer bill, AB 114, was rammed through without discussion and not even made public until the day after it was passed. Through this bill, the Legislature and Brown essentially figured out three ways of giving teachers' unions an early Christmas present at the expense of the school districts. One provision prohibits cash-strapped districts from laying off teachers in advance of the upcoming school year. A second requires districts to ignore the possibility of "trigger cuts" should Brown's fantasy of $4 billion in extra tax revenues not materialize; in other words, they're not allowed to plan for having their funding suddenly reduced by the triggers. And finally, the bill removes the three-year oversight of district budgets by counties, thus reducing the pressure on unions to offer concessions to financially troubled districts.

But it doesn't end there. Voice of San Diego is reporting that someone has finally remembered that $2.8 billion of the budget's savings came from pushing off payments to K-12 schools and community colleges. The details of this budget gimmick (which could be called, less charitably, a partial default on payments) are starting to trickle down, and San Diego Unified is finding that as much as half of its day-to-day funds from Sacramento may come in late, potentially leaving the district $7 million in the red by next spring. So, while the budget initially promised funds to the schools that led many districts to rehire their laid-off teachers, now the budget will taketh away, and many of the same districts will be forced to borrow money or lay off non-teaching staff.

So yeah, Brown and the Legislature will be pounding the drum for more taxes soon enough. When they tell you that the funds are needed to avoid short-changing schools, remember that this is what they're talking about.

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