The State Is Cutting My Kids’ Schools

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The email from the school superintendent dropped like an anvil in small school district (just one high school and middle school, and three elementary schools) where I live.

Under Gov. Brown’s January budget proposal, our schools would get $900,000 less from the state than they did in 2016-17 budget.

The superintendent admitted to surprise. This news came after the passage of the Prop 55 tax rates on income, it came at a time of low unemployment and economic growth. How could the schools be cut?

Because this is California, and school funding makes no sense.

The Prop 98 formula isn’t going up by much. The Local Control Funding Formula doesn’t add money to the pot—it takes money from districts with better-off families, like the one where I live, and gives it to places with high concentrations of poverty and English-language learners. Our superintendent also pointed out that state-mandated increases in contributions for retirement and health benefits are cutting into the money.

The result: our district “will be challenged to maintain current programs under the Governor’s plan.”

Yes, I know it’s still early, and such warnings are part of the budget dance. But this is how the broken state governance and budget systems fuel cynicism. We just agreed to pay more (and not just with Prop 55—local school bond issues and parcel taxes have passed overwhelmingly in my community). And yet we’re getting less.

The superintendent’s statement concluded: “In light of the state funding proposal, we need to start thinking less about establishing new programs and more about maintaining, operating and creating success within existing initiatives, and unfortunately, reducing or modifying programs and services to balance the budget.”

I’ve been warning about school funding and the madness of California budgeting for a decade. Now my frustration is personal.

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