Last week at the California State PTA convention, Governor Jerry Brown promised to protect public education even as he works to close a daunting $15 billion budget deficit and negotiate with Republican legislators opposed to any form of tax increases to help close the gap.
According to Business Week, Brown told the audience of teachers and parents that he was the one on their side as the budget battle looms stating:
"It's going to have to be the voice of the parents and teachers and yes, even the school students themselves to awaken the conscience of California to our true path forward, which is to invest in the future and not steal from it. That's really what's at stake here."
The Governor’s plan is to extend for five years the previous increase in personal taxes, the sales tax and vehicle taxes – raising $9.2 billion annually - but negotiations with Republicans have come to a standstill. Originally, the Governor wanted to take the extensions to the California voters in a special June election, but Republicans in the legislature refused to even allow the votes to get on the ballot.
California parents are concerned. In a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), parents whose children attend public schools believe the recent budget cuts have had a negative effect on the quality of their children’s education and are strongly opposed to additional cuts in this year’s budget. Specifically, the PPIC poll found that 74 percent of public school parents believe that additional spending cuts to K-12 would harm the quality of public education as do 68 percent of Californians as a whole. Sixty-one percent are in favor of Governor Brown’s proposal to spare education through other spending cuts and temporary tax increases – that is, except theirs. Only one specific tax increase garnered a majority of support, one that taxes the wealthiest Californians.
As the budget battle continues in Sacramento, school districts continue to make tough choices as funding for public schools continues to shrink. For example, Oakland’s Unified School District expects class sizes to increase 30 percent, from 23 students this year to 30 students next year. The Cupertino Unified School District has already laid-off nearly 120 teachers, counselors and staff, but still plans to increase class sizes next year.
Yet, Governor Brown seems confident that he will be able to reach an agreement with the GOP. Brown told Business Week on April 29 that:
"Some of the Republicans as recently as the night before last said, 'We're going to get there.' I've been speaking with these Republicans frequently, so within the last 48 hours I heard from a couple of them some very positive - but by no means definitive - comments.”
For more on the PPIC poll, go here.