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Education: "Trust Me" and "Trust the People"

By Sheila Kuehl

K-12 education is taking a pounding from the Governor this year, although he has maintained the opposite. Generally, the budget does not reflect the last year's agreement between the Gov. and the education community. Consequently, the word "trust" has become central to the discussion.

The Governor is fond of the word "Trust". From the day he was sworn in, he has repeatedly asked us to "trust" him on a number of issues: changing workers' compensation benefits, the need for a spending cap in the budget, getting rid of the influence of "special interests", for example.

Last year, in the first two of these areas, closer analysis showed that his original proposals were extremely one-sided and the Legislature convinced him to ameliorate them. In the area of "special interests", the Governor seems to reserve the label only for those who are not supportive of him. Those who contribute to his committees or who form independent committees to carry out his directives are not, apparently, so special.

The Governor has also strongly urged us to "trust the people" in his State of the State Address, and told the Legislature that, if we don't enact his directives, he will ask the people to do it for us. On closer view, however, his idea of direct democracy looks more like directed democracy. That is, trust the people only when they do what the Governor tells them to do. Do not, however, according to the Governor, trust the people, when he doesn't agree with them.

One example of problems created by the "trust me" and "trust the people" conflict areas is manifested in the way the Governor is treating K-12 education this year.

The Education "Deal" of 2004:

In an agreement with teachers and school boards last year, the Governor suspended the minimum funding requirements of Prop 98 and underfunded schools by two billion dollars, on what was supposed to be a one-time basis, in order to help balance the budget. He agreed to restore the funding in the 2005-6 budget. During the current budget year (2004-5), new revenues would have added another 1.1 billion dollars to the schools under the Prop 98 minimum. That, also, was not paid.

Now, in his proposal for 2005-6, the Governor neither restores the 2 billion nor the 1.1 billion extra, which should go to the schools. It is clear he has no intention of keeping his promise to the school communities. Instead, surprisingly, he has decided to attack Prop 98 itself, an initiative overwhelmingly adopted in a statewide vote of the people, and proposes amending it to reduce the guarantee of monies for the schools even further. So much both for "trust me" and "trust the people".

Across The Board Cuts

Instead of the minimum guarantee, the Governor proposes a Constitutional amendment to change the state's budget process by requiring an automatic across the board reduction in every area, including education, when state revenues are less than state expenditures. The Governor's Director of Finance would be the person to declare when that happens, without regard to other factors of timing and revenue.

The Governor also wants to completely eliminate the maintenance factor built into Prop 98. Maintenance monies already owed to the schools, almost 4 billion dollars to date, would be paid off over a 15 year time period, but there would be no new money. This means billions of dollars in lost opportunities in investment in our schools (and community colleges-see my next essay).

The Phantom "Increase"

The Governor has also maintained that his budget for K-12 is more than last year. That fudges the truth because it ignores what the budget should have been with the two billion dollars given up by the education community and the 1.1 billion that should have been added as the economy improved this year. Taken this way, if you look at what the minimum guarantee of Prop 98 would have required, the funding is actually a decrease.

The Good News-Growth and Categoricals:

The budget does propose to adequately fund proposed growth in numbers of students and increases funding for categorical (special, targeted) programs by almost 4%, while giving school boards more flexibility in spending that money. But: Districts Must Pick Up State Teacher Retirement

Everything the budget gives to education, as indicated above, it takes away in spades. It reduces non Prop-98 state general fund contributions to the California State Teacher's Retirement System (CalSTRS) by $560 million. This eliminates all general fund support for CalSTRS and shifts all the costs to the school districts and to teachers. (to pay how?) The Gov. also projects an additional "savings" of $100 million because not giving general fund money to CalSTRS saves administrative costs (no contributions, no paperwork).

Next: Higher Ed

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