Friday, May 29, 2009

California and the schools budget problem: Prop.13

Harold Meyerson: Prop. 13 opened state's road to insolvency
By Harold Meyerson
Published: Friday, May. 29, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
To understand why the woes of California's economy threaten the nation's economy, we must understand the state's road to insolvency. The Age of Reagan did not commence with the Great Communicator's inauguration in 1981. For its real beginning, we need to go back to June 1978, when Californians went to the polls and enacted Proposition 13.
By passing Howard Jarvis' malign initiative, California voters reduced the Golden State to baser metal. Under Republican Gov. Earl Warren and Democratic Gov. Pat Brown, California epitomized the postwar American dream. Its public schools, from kindergarten through Berkeley and UCLA, were the nation's finest; its roads and aqueducts the most efficient at moving cars and water – the state's lifeblood – to their destinations. All this was funded by some of the nation's highest taxes, which fell in good measure on the state's flourishing banks and corporations.

Amid the inflation of the late 1970s, however, the California model began to crumple. As incomes and property values rose, Sacramento's tax revenue soared – but the parsimonious Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, neither spent those funds nor rebated them. With the state sitting on a $5 billion surplus, frustrated Californians grumped to the polls and passed Proposition 13, which rolled back and limited property taxes – effectively destroying the funding base of local governments and school districts, which thereafter depended largely on Sacramento for their revenue. Ranked fifth among the states in per-pupil spending during the 1950s and '60s, California sank to Mississippi-like levels – the mid-40s in rank – by the 1990s.

Since 1978, state and local government in California has been funded more by taxes on personal income and sales. Bank and corporation taxes have been steadily reduced. In the current recession, with state unemployment at 11 percent, tax revenue has fallen off a cliff.

But the problem with Proposition 13 wasn't merely that it reduced revenue. It also made it very difficult to increase revenue.

Raising taxes now requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, though in 47 other states, a simple majority suffices. California has become overwhelmingly Democratic in the past two decades, but Republicans have managed to retain footholds – representing just over one-third of the districts – in both houses of the Legislature.
The conservative backlash of 1978 also swept into the Legislature a proto-Reaganistic generation of Republicans, later dubbed "the Cavemen." Compared with today's GOP state legislators, though, the Cavemen look like Diderot's Encyclopedists. The current Republican crop has refused in good times as well as bad to raise business or other taxes. (Increasing the tobacco tax, for instance, has failed each of the past 14 times it has come up for a vote.)

Abetted by little local Limbaughs who inflame Republican brains, they protest that the state already has the nation's highest taxes. In fact, California ranks 18th among the states in percentage of personal income paid to state government, and its presumably beleaguered wealthiest 1 percent, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, pay just 7.4 percent of their income to the state while the poorest pay 10.2 percent.

But the myth of soak-the-rich high taxation persists among Republicans – so much so that the GOP front-runner to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger in next year's gubernatorial election, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, is calling for cuts in business tax rates, even though the state is staring at a $24.3 billion deficit that it somehow has to close. In short order, unless the federal government steps in with a bridge loan, the state will throw 940,000 poor children off its health-care rolls and lay off tens of thousands of teachers.

Because California is so much larger than any other state, and its unemployment rate is among the nation's highest, the collapse of its capacity to spend will counteract some of the effect of the federal stimulus and retard the nation's recovery – much as its aerospace slump retarded the recovery of the mid-1990s. The Obama administration ignores California's plight at its own – and the nation's – peril.

The nation's banks are stuck with so much bad paper from California mortgages gone awry that a huge contraction in state spending would make their assets even more toxic. In the short term, the only way to avoid a further downturn may be a federal loan to the state.

A more permanent, homegrown solution to California's woes (and it may take a state constitutional convention to get it) would require the state to eliminate the two-thirds threshold for enacting taxes, to repeal Proposition 13's freeze on the value of commercial properties (some of which are still assessed at their 1978 levels) and to end the process of ballot-box budgeting through the initiative process, which is now more dominated by monied interests than the Legislature ever was.

In Washington, the Age of Reagan may have shuddered to an inglorious end, but we also need action from state governments – and Sacramento in particular – to move us toward a more sustainable economic future.

Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of American Prospect and the L.A. Weekly. This article originally appeared in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

School budget cuts

I may have too simply of a response here, but if so, I am confident readers will explain it to me.
We know that we have a major state budget crisis and a major school funding crisis. That is explored in detail on prior posts. What should be done?
I think the best response is to cut the number of school days by 7-10 days as the Legislative Analyst’s office describes. The voters, the taxpayers, and the legislature has decided to fund less education.
Such a reduction would leave in place the many valuable programs that would otherwise be eliminated. With over 36 years of teaching experience I am confident that number of days of instruction is not the key variable, it is the quality of the relationships between teachers and students. Certainly if a district chooses to cut the days of instruction, they should make parallel reductions in the administrative and support services. Less than 54% of school budgets actually get into the classroom. The other 46% is spent on auxiliary items, special education and administration. These too should be reduced in a comparable manner.
Duane Campbell, Sacramento

Sunday, May 17, 2009

CSU Fee increases; $378 - $6,300

CSU Trustees Increase Student Fees for 2009-10 as State Funding Declines

Fees increase $306 per year for undergraduates. Up to $6,300 for some MBA grad students

(May 13, 2009) – Facing serious reductions in state funding, the California State University Board of Trustees today increased undergraduate, credential and graduate student fees for the 2009-10 academic year.

Effective in fall 2009, full-time annual fees will increase by $306 for undergraduate students, $354 for teacher credential students and $378 for graduate students. The undergraduate State University Fee will go up from the current $3,048 to $3,354 per year. Including the current average campus fee of $801, CSU undergraduate students will pay approximately $4,155 for one academic year, which is the lowest fee among comparable public institutions.

“It is never an easy choice to raise fees, but we are faced with a dire state budget, and today’s increase is necessary to maintain and operate our university campuses,” said CSU Board Chair Jeffrey Bleich. “It is critical that students get their financial aid requests in. This year, benefits for programs such as the Pell Grant are more generous than ever.

The student fee increase, which represents $127 million in revenue, was included as part of the 2009-10 budget adopted by the legislature.The university will set aside one-third of the revenue from the fee increase ($42 million) to augment financial aid to cover the fee increase for financially needy students.

The CSU Trustees voted 17 to 2 in favor of the fee increase with Lt. Governor John Garamendi and student trustee Curtis Grima casting dissenting votes.

New Professional MBA Fee Also Adopted

Trustees also adopted a professional fee for state-supported Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) programs and similar business graduate degrees. The fee adds $210 per semester unit and $140 per quarter unit for an annual cost of $9,174. The CSU’s MBA programs remain well below the price for comparable institutions.

Up to one-third of the new fee revenue will be set aside for financial aid with the remainder used to recruit highly skilled faculty to make accreditation of the MBA programs more secure. The proposed fee would apply to professional business master’s programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB).

The trustees voted 18 to 1 in favor of the professional MBA fee increase with Lt. Governor Garamendi casting the lone dissenting vote.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Economic Crisis and schools

Last year California had a serious budget crisis, over 34 billion in missing revenue. The legislature and the governor passed some temporary tax increases and made harsh budget cuts to get us through this year. Propositions 1 A- 1E, would continue this budget “solution” for a total of 4 years. However, the state, like other states continues to fall further behind. We will soon receive an estimate from the Legislative Analyst’s office, but it appears that California is at least $21.3 billion behind at this time even with the increased taxes and budget cuts.
California, and most other states, have a budget crisis as a result of the national economic crisis – significantly a banking crisis. The robber barons of finance capital have stolen the money, they have looted the treasury and our pensions and now they want to return to business as usual without any significant reform of the economic system. Just give them more tax payer money to bail out the banks.

It is past time for us to say- NO. It is time to restore Glass -Steagal, gain ownership of some major banks, and to get a national health care system along with bailing out the states to avoid draconian cuts in schools and other human services.

The severity of the national and international economic collapse has created budget shortfalls for state and local governments. Dean Baker, CEPR Co-Director and an author of a report says "Since many states are required by their charters or constitutions to balance their budgets, states will end up using federal stimulus dollars to offset these shortfalls." It currently looks as if much of the stimulus package will be used to back fill state budget shortages which sharply limits the potential success of the stimulus.
California will receive a great deal of money for education. The proposals have been approved. Most of the money will go to hire teachers who have been scheduled to be laid off.
As we debate the ballot issues, it is important to keep in mind that the economic crisis was not created in Sacramento, it was not created by schools and teachers. There is a great deal of misplaced anger being posted and shouted.

No on Prop. 1 A.
Since 2002 the CSU has lost almost $1 billion in state funding. Students have been charged more fees to make up the losses. Prop. 1A places a spending cap on the state budget that will make these cuts permanent. The CSU budget will not be restored to the levels of 2002 and your tuition will continue to rise. The Board of Regents is voting this week to increase tuition for the Fall by 10%.

[Prop 1A] would actually make it more difficult for future governors and legislatures to enact budgets that meet California's needs and address state priorities. It would amend the state Constitution to dictate restrictions on the use of funds put into the reserve and limit how "unanticipated" revenues can be used in good years. It could lock in a reduced level of public services, including university education, by not taking proper account of the state's changing demographics and actual growth in costs.

Yes on 1 B.
California's k-12 education system is in crisis because it is underfunded. Contrary to the wishes of the voters, politicians continue to fail to adequately fund our schools. When comparisons include cost of living- California ranks 47th. out of the 50 states in per pupil expenditures. Our schools are suffering. This is unacceptable.

Prop. 1 B would begin to repay the schools some $9 Billion taken by the Legislature from school funding this year in response to the economic crisis. The money would be repayed beginning in 2011, when we hope this economic crisis will have passed. Prop 1 B would return California to the minimum guarantee of funding for schools that exists in current law.
Note in the post below, the public votes with the teachers and does not have confidence in the legislature.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

NCLB : listening tour

White House seeks input on education law

By LIBBY QUAID The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 5, 2009; 12:57 PM
BUNKER HILL, W.Va. -- Embarking on a "listening tour," Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked teachers, parents and students Tuesday how they would improve No Child Left Behind, the controversial education law championed by former President George W. Bush.

Duncan visited West Virginia, the first stop on a 15-state tour as the Obama administration prepares to try to overhaul the program.

"What do we need to do to get better?" Duncan asked about a dozen teachers and parents at Bunker Hill Elementary, a high-achieving school in West Virginia's eastern panhandle.

President Barack Obama has pledged to rewrite the law, but he has been vague about how far he would go, or whether he would scrap it altogether.

"I don't know if 'scrap' is the word," Duncan told reporters last week. "Where things make sense, we're going to keep them. Where things didn't make sense, we're going to change them."

Traveling through the rural terrain was a new experience for Duncan, a former big-city school superintendent in Chicago, where he was born and raised. In addition to holding forums where teachers, parents and administrators could vent, he visited a first-grade class to read the book, "Doggie Dreams" at Bunker Hill and ate lunch with fourth graders at Eagle Intermediate School in Martinsburg.
"Who's the president now?" Duncan asked the first graders, one of whom correctly identified Obama. "Barack Obama, that's important," he said.

Duncan said little about the law Tuesday, preferring to listen to the concerns of teachers.

Special education teacher Lynn Reichard told him she works all year long to boost the self-esteem of mentally impaired students at Bunker Hill, only to see them fall apart over standardized tests.

"They feel so good about themselves, and then they look at a two-paragraph reading passage, and they know six words," Reichard said. "I have one child here that's a non-reader, and she's going to have to take the test, and she's going to cry.

"There's just got to be another answer for that," Reichard said.

The law does make allowances for different tests for severely impaired kids, but many don't fall into that category.

Whatever the administration decides to do, it needs the approval of Congress, which passed the law with broad bipartisan support in 2001 but deadlocked over a rewrite in 2007.

Duncan gives the law credit for shining a spotlight on kids who need the most help. No Child Left Behind pushes schools to boost the performance of low-achieving students, a group that typically includes minority kids, English-language learners and kids with disabilities.

"Forevermore in our country, we can't sweep those huge disparities with outcomes between white children and Latino children and African-American children, we can't sweep those under the rug ever again," Duncan said last week.

Yet Duncan has many criticisms of No Child Left Behind, and he has plenty of company. Opponents insist the law's annual reading and math tests have squeezed subjects like music and art out of the classroom and that schools were promised billions of dollars they never received.

Critics also say the law is too punitive: More than a third of schools failed to meet yearly progress goals last year, according to the Education Week newspaper.

That means millions of children are a long way from reaching the law's ambitious goals. The law pushes schools to improve test scores each year, so that every student can read and do math on grade level by the year 2014.

"What No Child Left Behind did is, they were absolutely loose on the goals," Duncan told the Education Writers Association meeting in Washington. "But they were very tight, very prescriptive on how you get there.

"I think that was fundamentally backwards," he said.

Duncan said the federal government should be "tight" on the goals, insisting on more rigorous academic standards that are uniform across the states. And he said it should be "much looser" in terms of how states meet the goals.

The education community is watching closely to see just what Duncan means by "tight" and "loose." So far, the administration has offered few clues.

Since the law's passage, students have made modest gains, at least in elementary and middle school, the grades that are the focus of No Child Left Behind. The biggest gains have come among lower-achieving students, the kids who now are getting unprecedented attention.

The story is different in high school, where progress seems stalled and where the dropout rate, a dismal one in four children, has not budged.
If anyone sees the schedule, please post it.

May Day : International Unions Statement

Check out the excellent statement on May Day, and a post on the California initiatives at