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Lawmakers push schools to show what an all-cuts budget looks like

Without new revenues, public schools can expect to shoulder at least 40 percent of the cuts needed to close the state’s $12 billion deficit, lawmakers have warned school superintendents.

The list of programs that would be targeted for drastic reduction or outright elimination would likely include funding to keep class sizes for kindergarten through third grade at 20 students or fewer, support for school bus services and imposing sooner a new cut-off date for kindergarten.

At a hearing late last week before the Senate budget committee, school officials were admonished for not developing budget plans based on a worst-case scenario even at the risk of upsetting their communities.

“I want to push you to confront these numbers,” Sen. Joe Simitian told a panel of San Joaquin-area superintendents who attended the hearing.

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst estimates that absent new revenues, the state might need to suspend Proposition 98 and cut $5 billion from schools. Most school budget plans were based on the governor’s January proposal that would have provided flat funding of the Proposition 98 guarantee and assumed that tax extensions would also be approved by voters.

With hope fading for any tax plan going to the ballot, lawmakers want schools to be more direct about the challenges they face.

“Just take a minute to revisit this question: What does that mean for your district?” Simitian asked. “I understand you think it is beyond comprehension. It cannot be beyond comprehension.”

At least one Republican favored some of the LAO’s ideas.

“These are the things we ought to be looking at rather than just going after business as usual,” said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

But these considerations will likely hang in limbo until a revenue plan – or lack thereof – is further developed.

And drawing revenue conclusions from current state budget talks remains a nearly impossible exercise. To recap recent developments, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said earlier this week that Assembly Democrats would not provide votes for a zero-revenue budget. Even discussing the matter is an “exercise in futility,” he said. 

But in front of Thursday’s budget committee, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg reintroduced the prospect of a cuts-only budget. 

“There will in fact be the necessity of an all-cuts budget if we don’t get the revenue,” said Steinberg, D-Sacramento. 

“The fact of the matter is this Legislature – both houses – will balance the budget. Because we’ve also learned that there are drastic consequences, economically and otherwise, to leaving the budget imbalanced.”

However, other Democrats disagreed with their leader’s forecast.

“I remain confident that we will find a way to access some additional revenue,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who chairs the budget committee.

“Stay tuned,” he said. 

The budget committee will soon hit the road to draw attention to the budget crisis. The first stop is Ontario in San Bernardino County.

(Ed’s Note: This story appears courtesy of Cabinet Report, a subscription-based education news service published by School Innovations & Advocacy. To learn more visit: http://www.siacabinetreport.com/home.aspx To contact reporter Allen Young use: alleny@sia-us.com)


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