Fate of education budget lies in predicted revenue

June 28, 2011 6:35:58 PM PDT
California's K-12 students and teachers appear to be protected from any further state budget cuts. Lawmakers are banking on more than $4 billion from existing taxes, but there is a chance all of that money may not come through.

Take the month of May as an example. The state collected $450 million extra dollars it did not expect to get. So they are predicting that this trend -- this extra flow of revenue -- will continue.

Extra income taxes coming in to the state will mean no further cuts in the classroom. It's what lawmakers in Sacramento are betting on. But these are only predictions and nothing is guaranteed. That makes educators nervous.

"This is literally asking you to take the train and run it right up to the edge and see if the bridge was constructed in time and if you are going to make it to the other side," said Dennis Kelly with United Educators of San Francisco.

In the past two months, the state has seen more money from existing taxes -- money it was not counting on. The optimistic revenue predictions are expected to add $4 billion to next year's budget. But if the economy takes another downturn, the state may not ever see that extra money. In that case, more cuts to education are almost certain and lawmakers will look to suspend Proposition 98. That's the law that guarantees that at least 39 percent of the budget goes to education.

"If they don't have revenue then they will have to take the vote of the Legislature to suspend Prop 98, and once they suspend Prop 98, it means they would lower the level of funding for the schools," explained Kelly.

If Prop 98 is suspended, the state plans to cut the school year by seven days.

It would be worse for some schools districts like San Francisco Unified. Teachers will already have four furlough days next school year.

"Elimination, even of a week, even of a couple days of the school year sets back the kids, especially [those] that are having a tough time catching up to reach grade level," said former school border member and parent Eric Mar.

What educators clearly wanted was to extend the existing taxes. That idea was proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown but it failed to get the support from Republicans. This would have been guaranteed revenue, unlike what we are talking about now, which is predicted revenue based on assumptions that may or may not prove to be true.

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