A special election is coming next month, and local school administrators are watching it closely.
After months of wrangling over the state's budget deficit through 2010, estimated at nearly $42 billion, California politicians finally passed a long-overdue budget in February. But even that budget wasn't the final word on the matter: Legislators decided to let California voters make the decision on major aspects of the budget, including cuts to social and educational services, transferring money from special funds and deciding whether to borrow against lottery profits.
Voters get the final say on May 19, when they vote on six measures intended to balance the state budget through the next year and a half.
Only two of these propositions are directly related to education, but all of them could have a major effect on school budgets. Fifty percent of the state budget goes to pubic schools and community colleges; if these measures fail, education would inevitably suffer bigger cuts to compensate for the shortfall, local educators say.
"It is important for public education that these pass," said Mountain View-Los Altos High School District Superintendent Barry Groves.
Both MVLA and the Mountain View Whisman Elementary School District already took hits in February, and administrators are still working to figure out what exactly the cuts means for local schools and how much districts will get from the federal stimulus package.
The high school district faces $2 million in cuts through 2010, most of which is coming out of the Adult School (see story on ESL cuts, page 5). The elementary school district will lose $2.6 million during the next year and a half.
"If money does not come into the state there will be less money for schools," Groves said. "Because it is so late, we would have to look at [dipping into our reserves."
League opposes measures
Each of the six propositions, labeled 1A through 1F, address the budget shortfall in their own ways. All require a simple majority to pass.
Under Proposition 1B, California must repay public elementary, middle and high school districts and community colleges $9.3 billion it owes the schools for not meeting state funding requirements over the last two years. The state would make these payments using a reserve established under Proposition 1A. (If 1A fails, then 1B automatically fails.)
The four remaining propositions ask voters to approve transferring of money, borrowing against the lottery and preventing some elected officials from receiving a raise when the state faces a deficit.
Many educational groups, such as the California Teacher's Association (CTA), publicly support all the measures, saying they're needed to keep social and educational programs running.
"Next year if these two propositions do not pass, we will be looking at a totally different situation," said Gloria Valdez, president of the local chapter of the CTA. "We will be, like the majority of schools in the state, in real difficult times."
But some surprising groups have come out against the propositions. The League of Women Voters, which traditionally supports education and health measures, says these propositions are not a solution, and the League officially opposes most of them (the group is neutral on 1B and 1F).
Sue Graham, president of the Los Altos-Mountain View chapter, said the League does not see these measures as solving the state's budget problems.
"In general the League feels these are stopgap measures," Graham said. "It's just moving money around."
The League recognizes the need for more educational and health funding, she said, but "This isn't the way to do it."
The election, she added, "is putting it out to voters who have limited knowledge."
A LOOK AT THE MEASURES:
Following is an overview of the six measures on the ballot in the May 19 special election. Information is provided by the California League of Women Voters.
Prop 1A: State Budget
If passed, Proposition 1A would extend the length of recent tax increases in an effort to put more money in the state reserve. It would also place stronger restrictions on how this money can be spent.
Proponents say the proposition would help the state prepare for future downturns, while opponents say the proposition is too complex and removes legislative flexibility.
Prop 1B: Public Education Funding. Payment Plan
Under Proposition 1B the state would have to repay public schools and community colleges for not meeting funding obligations during the last two years.
The reserve, set up under Prop 1A, would help fund the $9.3 billion the state owes schools. If Prop 1A doesn't pass, 1B will not pass either.
Proponents say the proposition would allow the schools to receive required funding they may not otherwise see. Opponents say passing 1B means supporting extended tax increases under 1A, which they believe is not the way to address the state deficit or problems in the schools.
Prop 1C: Lottery Modernization Act
All profits from the state lottery currently go toward public education, totaling about 1 percent of schools' funding. Proposition 1C would change this, and under this measure the state could instead borrow $5 billion from future lottery profits to pay back debt. Schools would receive their funding from the state general fund instead of from lottery profits.
Proponents say this will provide funding for schools, while helping to balance the budget and potentially avoiding higher taxes. Opponents say this is only a one-time fix, and the state should not rely on gambling to fix its money woes.
Prop 1D: Protects Children's Services Funding
Proposition 1D would change the way the state funds some social and health programs for children under the age of 5. The group First 5 currently receives taxes from tobacco sales to help address health and educational needs for underrepresented children.
Prop 1D would transfer $340 million in 2009-10 from the First 5 fund and then $286 million each year for the next five years from tobacco taxes to the state general fund to help pay for similar programs for low-income children. First 5 would not be reimbursed.
Proponents say this will help prevent drastic cuts from health services for at-risk children, but opponents argue that children would be affected by cuts to the First 5 programs.
Prop 1E: Mental Health Services Funding
If passed, Proposition 1E would transfer money from a specific fund for mental health services to the state's general fund.
Prop 1E would transfer about $230 million each year for two years to pay for state mental health programs, specifically for Medi-Cal patients under age 21. The money would not be reimbursed.
Proponents say the proposition would allow the state to continue providing essential mental health services. Opponents argue that current programs are working to reduce incarceration and homelessness and should not be altered. These transfers, they say, would hurt a vulnerable population.
Prop 1F: Elected Officials' Salaries
Under Proposition 1F, state officials would not receive pay raises when the state faces a deficit of 1 percent or more. The League of Women Voters estimates that not giving raises of 3 percent to all elected officials would save $420,000.
Proponents argue that many state residents are not getting raises, and state officials shouldn't either, while opponents say withholding these raises will not give legislators an incentive to balance the budget.