A promise we need to keep

Scott P. Plotkin is executive director of the California School Boards Association
Last year, to help the state deal with a record-breaking deficit, schools took a $2 billion hit. Working closely with the state’s new governor, the Education Coalition of school advocates like the California School Boards Association and the California Teachers Association, agreed to forgo money to which schools were entitled under terms of Proposition 98.

This temporary suspension of the minimum funding guarantee for schools was just the most recent cut to education funding. In the last four years, schools have taken $9.8 billion worth of reductions.

In return, the governor and Legislature promised that kids would get their fair share when the economy improved. But now that state revenues are up, there’s some talk of breaking that promise. The legislative analyst recommends that the state cut education funding by an additional $1.4 billion next year.

State lawmakers require that every California child meet a long list of “world-class” achievement standards. Federal law mandates that every child in the state be proficient at reading and math by 2014. Clearly, if there was ever a time to protect basic funding for the state’s public schools, it is now.

Just a few weeks ago, districts shared specific examples with us about how they’re coping with ongoing budget reductions. The results were alarming. In district after district, anguished administrators reported laying off teachers, nurses, counselors, reading specialists, groundskeepers, budget analysts, instructional aides, social workers and librarians; eliminating athletics; increasing class sizes; and getting rid of such “extras” as music and art.

Setting aside the state’s compelling legal and moral obligations to its children, let’s just focus on the bottom line: We can’t afford the economic costs of continuing to shortchange a generation of Californians on education.

Once a national leader, California is now 36th in the nation when it comes to per-pupil spending. What kind of message does that send to the boys and girls we’re counting on to carry us and our state’s economy into the 21st century? Schools cannot serve them on the cheap.