Don’t cut classes

Mary Bergen is the president of the California Federation of Teachers

Just as recent reforms have begun to show results, massive school-budget cuts threaten our progress. Student achievement has increased, and test scores continue to improve, but cutting school funds won’t help students achieve the high standards we’ve set. Cuts of $2 billion or more from current school-year funding are on the table as state leaders try to close the gaping budget hole. Such cuts will mean fewer teachers, support staff and resources devoted to student achievement. In order to save the amount of money being discussed, the state would have to shut down our schools for two whole weeks, reduce per-pupil spending by $300 or lay off more than 35,000 teachers.

Districts are reeling from more than $3.1 billion in cuts within the last two budget years. School districts have increased class sizes; deferred new textbook purchases; gutted music, drug-awareness, English language development and other programs; laid off teachers and staff; and reduced school-safety personnel. The proposed cuts will make these school reductions seem mild.

We need fiscal fairness to balance the budget. California’s budget deficit should not be balanced on the backs of public-school students, teachers and staff. There are fair ways to raise new revenues. The state’s leaders should construct a comprehensive, multi-year plan to resolve the state’s fiscal crisis and address the immediate and future needs of our students and schools.

Restoring the top income-tax brackets for the wealthiest of Californians would generate more than $3 billion. Federal tax relief for the wealthiest taxpayers far outweighs the amount the top brackets will recover. Will lawmakers do the right thing?

Republican lawmakers have vowed to oppose any new taxes to address the state’s projected $25 billion budget shortfall—meaning they’ll cut school kids before special interests.

The right to a quality public education is guaranteed to every student, from kindergarten through the university level. The deficit can’t be an excuse for failing to meet that guarantee. By cutting back school funding rather than closing tax loopholes, we sacrifice the progress we’ve made. The solutions exist to fill in the budget hole.

School leaders are willing to help craft a comprehensive package of cuts and new revenues that protects the financial integrity of the state and maintains the momentum for improved student achievement. But let’s make sure the lawmakers do what the people want: protect quality public education.