As a premedical student and volunteer at MayView Community Health Center, I recently visited the State Capitol with the California Primary Care Association. Our conversations with legislators and their staff members revolved around one issue: the state budget. As announced last month, California’s anticipated budget deficit is $5 billion greater than previous estimates. Governor Brown’s 12-13 budget – which already calls for billions of dollars in cuts to public programs – will be under revision in coming months. All Californians have a stake in these negotiations, most especially California’s youth.
In a few weeks, I will be celebrating my college graduation with the awareness that many of my peers never had the opportunity to attend a university, much less to complete a degree. Successive years of funding cuts have forced California’s public universities to reduce enrollment even though the number of eligible applicants has increased. After sustaining over $1 billion in cuts last year, the University of California and California State University systems may suffer losses of an additional $400 million if voters do not approve proposed tax increases this fall.
Many of the children I see at MayView Community Health Center may never even consider college a possibility. These children, and millions of children like them across the state, contend with challenges to their education from an early age. Some may be learning English as a second language. Others may be at school from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. as they wait for parents to finish work. Too many arrive at school with empty stomachs. These children will not benefit from the governor’s budget – it proposes to eliminate tens of thousands of childcare slots and cut nearly $1 billion from CalWORKS, a program that supports needy families with children. If voters do not approve tax increases, the state budget will also impose cuts of nearly $5 billion on California’s K-12 schools. According to the California Budget Project, that is like cutting three weeks of instruction from the school year.
As a premedical student and aspiring physician for medically-underserved communities, I have every reason to be concerned about California’s budget, especially when it so obviously proposes injury to the state’s most vulnerable children and youth. I have studied child development in my classes, but it doesn’t take a degree in Human Biology to know that our children’s environment and education have a profound impact on their wellbeing. Failure to educate and care for a generation of young people carries a price that compounds with each passing year. That is the deficit that California truly cannot afford.
This is a time of year that many of us – students, graduates, parents, and professors – look to the future. As past, present, and future students, I urge you to join me in educating others about the state budget. Political and fiscal pressures are a reality, but budget cuts that undermine children’s wellbeing are not inevitable. As budget negotiations are reframed in light of new deficit figures, Governor Brown and our state legislators need to hear how the budget will affect lives, not just politics. We ask them to “do no harm” in crafting a budget that preserves the health of our youth and our future.