Education leaders react to Davis budget-cutting proposals

By Alexa Haussler Associated Press Writer
Monday November 19, 2001

SACRAMENTO – California education leaders say they expected schools would come under the ax in an attempt to stem an expected $12.4 billion budget shortfall. 

So they swallowed the bitter news of Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to halt $2.24 billion in state spending – including $844 million for school programs – as inevitable. 

“We are not pleased but we are also not surprised,” said Mary Bergen, president of the California Federation of Teachers. 

Claiming he has increased California’s overall education spending nearly 40 percent since he first took office, Davis said last week the state will still spend more for grades K-12 this budget year than last under his plan. 

But the rapid drop in state revenues forced him to make cuts to nearly every area of the budget, he said. 

“These are tough times that require tough decisions,” Davis said Thursday. “My responsibilities are to make sure that we have a balanced budget and we live within our means.” 

A day earlier, Davis froze spending in more than 80 programs until the Legislature holds an emergency session in January to act on $2.24 billion in proposed cuts. The largest piece of the cuts would come from education under his plan. 

The cuts would come from the state’s $79 million general fund – essentially the operating portion of the total $100 billion budget that includes special funds and bond money. 

Among his proposals, Davis would scrap a one-time package to help schools offset rising energy costs and delay $197 million in new grants to help low-performing schools that were approved this year. 

He also proposes cutting in half a performance award program for employees in schools with improved test scores; and cutting a $30 million planned expansion of after-and before-school programs. 

“There is no question that this is going to be a painful, difficult process for school districts,” said Kevin Gordon, executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials. 

The education cuts amount to a small, inevitable fraction of the $33.4 billion in state K-12 funds, officials said. 

Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Association, said schools with poor performance on test scores won’t receive a crucial boost this year. But he said, “it’s out of anybody’s control.” 

Davis’ announcement Wednesday of deeper immediate cuts came hours after Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill said California is facing its steepest decline in revenues since World War II. 

In her yearly report on the state’s fiscal outlook, Hill forecast a $12.4 billion budget shortfall during the two-year period covering this budget year and next. 

State revenues already were sagging before Sept. 11, and analysts have said California’s fiscal health has suffered since because of terrorism-related layoffs and tourism declines. 

Also this week, state tax officials confirmed that a quarter-cent state sales tax increase will kick in Jan. 1. The increase is automatically triggered when the state’s emergency reserves dip too low. 

The hike will translate to about $50 more in sales tax on a $20,000 car and about 5 cents on a compact disc. Government officials estimate it will cost a family of four an average of $120 per year.