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Republicans eye budget plan that won’t decimate schools

After being bashed for weeks for failing to come up with viable budget solutions, GOP lawmakers said last week they are crafting a cuts-only budget plan that won’t decimate public schools.

The proposal, planned for an April release, is expected to detail some general ideas floated by Republicans that include reducing teacher pay instead of instructional minutes, consolidating administrative offices and potentially down-sizing the California Department of Education.

That said, more than 20 GOP legislative offices were asked for details about how they would deal with the education budget and only two lawmakers provided responses – neither of whom outlined how they would cut the estimated $5 billion that schools face in an all-cuts budget scenario.

What they did emphasize, however, is that their target would not be the classroom.

“If we are looking at an all cuts budget, even though the Speaker (John Perez) says we’re not, then we have to be realistic about how we go about doing that without reducing the quality of education to our kids. I think it’s possible,” said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. 

Work on a detailed Republican spending plan has been taken up almost a month after GOP lawmakers successfully stiff-armed Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to put tax extensions before the voters.

It also comes as Brown has turned up the heat in some Republican districts with his recent tour that challenges the all-cuts approach.

To be fair, Republicans have said that big parts of the deficit could be closed outside of the school budget — pension reform, for instance, will be part of the GOP proposal, as well as consolidation of some state agencies. Still, details surrounding education spending – such as the size of the Proposition 98 guarantee and support for categorical programs – at this point are not available.

Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Redlands, said Brown has unfairly told the public they can either support taxes or harm schools. But the solution to solving the $15 billion deficit is in cutting bureaucracy, he said. 

“I just feel like you hear about the student getting cut – the most vulnerable – but yet I don’t see things at this top level being reduced,” he said, referencing state and regional school administration offices. 

Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, recently published a column in the Sacramento Bee entitled, ‘State tax extension is not answer to better schools.’ 

“Only 60 percent of each education dollar makes its way to the classroom where the teachers teach and students learn,” said Gaines in the article.  

“Layer after layer of bureaucracy with thousands of bureaucrats – the state Department of Education, county departments of education, district offices and more – all peel off education dollars and divert them from their best use,” he wrote.

In addition to cutting administrative expenses, Gaines suggested budget solutions could be identified by reforming prisons, pensions, welfare and reducing the tax burden for a faster economic turnaround.

Huff, who is vice-chair of the Senate Education Committee, did acknowledge that an all-cuts budget would have to include a suspension of Proposition 98 – but insisted the cuts could be made to protect academic services.

“Education is one of our highest priorities,” Huff said. “(But) without the federal stimulus to backfill, without some of the one-time solutions we have used to keep funding education in the past – then we have to look at what happens if we do have to cut teacher salaries a little bit. Can we keep the kids in school? That’s my objective.”

Morrell said Assembly Republicans hope to unveil their budget plan before the end of the month.

“We are working on a budget plan to do cuts – all cuts – no tax raises,” he said. “We have a group working on pension reform, we have a group working on some of these agencies as I am, and I would say probably all of us (Assembly Republicans) are contributing,” he said.

(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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