Stimulating Education in California

While Gov. Schwarzenegger is not
the bearer of ecstatic education news for California, a
U.S. stimulus package may very well be. Of the $21.5
billion that the Golden State stands to reap from the $825
billion package–more than any other state — about $9.6 billion would go toward K-12 and
post secondary schools over the next two years. The money would
by no means be a panacea for the current overcrowded, overburdened
K-12 and post-secondary systems, but at least (if managed the right
way) stymie their downhill slide.

As the National Conference
for State Legislatures estimates, the money would be broken down into
13 categories, six of which are related to education. The numbers
are earmarked, in billions, is as follows: $1.6 for Title 1
Schools, $1.4 for Special Education, $1 for Education Technology and
$1.7 for K-12 schools. There’s also $7.8 billion from a ‘fiscal
stabilization’ category, $4.76 billion (or 61 percent) which would go
toward K-12 and post-secondary education. The rest of the fund
would be reserved for highways, Medicare in 2009 and the
separate category of 2010, the state energy program, weatherization,
childcare, drinking water and clean water–all which are also in need
of a cash boost.

Still, it is education that faces the most
immediate threat. Gov. Schwarzenegger held a dangerously sharp
knife to the school systems last December, when
he proposed to slash K-12 education spending by $5.2
billion this year, including postponing $2.8 billion in payments
intended to go to schools from April through July. And
California’s higher education system currently sits between a rock
and a hard place amidst tuition raises–which were about 7
percent this year for the University of California–
enrollment cuts and the state falling $815
million short of its funding commitment to the UC.

This is why a ‘yes’ House vote on
the stimulus bill counted. Still, to guarantee the funds’ usefulness–not
to mention prevent their abuse– they should be provided to
the California government only under the circumstances that it agrees
not to reduce its education funding by the same amount. Doing so
would essentially render the additional money ineffective. The
funds should also come with transparency requirements for its
K-12, community college, California State University and UC
recipients.

Even if its budget breakdown
were inspected under a microscope, some Republicans are opposed
to the scale of the $79 billion that the Senate plan would
allocate toward education on a national level.
Traditionally, federal government spending on education has
centered on financial aid to needy students rather than the local
construction projects proposed under the proposal. The
national amount of money granted
to education in recent years has been about 9 percent to
public schools, and 19 percent to higher education–numbers that the
stimulus package would augment significantly. Point in case: the
Department of Education’s discretionary budget totaled $60 billion in
the 2008 fiscal year, whereas the plan would raise that amount
to about $146 billion this year.

Furthermore, educational experts from
across the political spectrum have questioned how school
districts can spend the money so quickly, and boost student
achievement at the same rate. Also, as many have asked, what
will happen when the money disappears?

However, near-bankrupt
states such as California can no longer operate
effectively under their own dime. As President Obama
said in a Roosevelt Room talk with business CEOs on
Wednesday about the package as a whole, “We don’t have a
moment to spare.” California’s Stimulus Package education
funds may disappear fast. but that’s why they’re part of an
emergency package, not California’s education retirement fund. If the
money can eliminate more than few pink slips, give kids in
smaller classes more individual attention, and broaden the range of
accessibility to a UC education, California’s educational
infrastructure–and the mass populous it supports–will be kept from
crumbling. If educational support can be boosted in a time of crisis,
its recipients will have a stronger foundation when the recession
itself recedes.