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Stimulating Education in California

by Indy, published

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.

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