Public Comment

Commentary: Why the Governor’s Budget Matters — And What You Can Do About It

By Cathy Campbell
Tuesday April 08, 2008

When figures like $16 billion and $8 billion and $5 billion are tossed about on a regular basis it’s fair for a person to wonder how Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal for next year affects the average citizen. What can I do, one might ask, about a gaping deficit of billions of dollars, and why should I care? 

In fact, there’s a tremendous amount the average citizen can do, and nothing less than whether our state will be a place people can live, work, be healthy and raise a family is at stake. It’s critical that we all act in the face of this threat to our future. 

Our governor has proposed balancing next year’s budget on the backs of children, students and poor people. He proposes to cut nearly $5 billion dollars from the education budget alone. 

The governor is proposing to spend $800 less per pupil in 2008-2009. Given that we currently rank 46th in the nation in per pupil spending this is nothing short of criminal. His proposal is the equivalent of cutting more than $24,000 per classroom. California currently spends about $25,000 less than the national average per classroom. Imagine that figure doubled. 

In California only 3 percent all of K-12 pupils attend schools in district with per pupil spending at or above the U.S. average. In the United States as a whole that number is 46 percent. Our governor says we have a spending problem; clearly this is not the case. We have a revenue problem. 

In Berkeley the governor’s proposed cuts could mean the loss of all of our elementary and middle school literacy and math coaching positions, many of our secondary counselors, four of our art teachers, and all of the release time provided to the department, program and small school “teacher leaders” at our high school. In addition it may mean reductions in the number of Instructional Assistants that provide vital one-to-one support to students with special needs and to whole classes, and the loss of a vice principal position at our largest middle school, not to mention the employment specialist at our continuation high school. Nearly 40 teachers and counselors in our district will head into layoff hearings next week because of the position our governor has taken on addressing the budget deficit. While the superintendent will bring budget recommendations to the board in June that try to avoid impacts to student performance and safety, no one can say these cuts will not affect achievement and the environment in which our students learn. 

Other nearby districts will be affected as well. In Alameda families could be faced with K-3 classrooms that go from 20 students to 32 students, and two elementary schools may be closed. Of the 18 districts in Alameda County as many as 15 may go into “qualified” or “negative” budget status meaning that the district may not, or will not, be able to meet its financial obligations for the current year and the two forthcoming years. Given California’s tremendous achievement gap, and the high standards for our students we have set but are still failing to meet, addressing our budget deficit through cuts is simply unacceptable. 

So what is the solution to this problem if not devastating cuts to public education and human services? The answer is increasing state revenue through fair tax policies. We are the richest state in the richest country in the world, and yet we are severely under funding education. We need our legislative leaders to push for progressive taxes that do not harm the average Californian; we need to make the investments in education and human services that will move our state forward and address the achievement and equity gap in our state. We need to increase revenue rather than cutting programs that serve students, the elderly and the ill. 

If this is to happen each and every one of us must act. Your legislator needs to hear from you. Do not believe for a moment that you will be “preaching to the choir” if you communicate with your local representatives. This is going to be a fight and they need to hear from voters in their district. It is going to take political power to refuse to pass a budget balanced by cuts, and as the pressure builds to approve a budget it is going to be critical that they know they have their constituents’ support. Go to today and write your assemblymember and senator. Send them a letter a week until a progressive budget is passed. Contact people in your professional organizations, especially people in the more conservative areas of our state, and urge them to write their representatives. A statewide effort is critical. 

You can also make a difference by attending a mass event meant to communicate clearly with our governor and our legislators. On April 24 Berkeley parents and community members, as well as parents and guardians across the state, will board buses to Sacramento to add our voice to calls for support of public education. If you are interested in joining the contingent please contact BUSD Public Information Officer Mark Coplan at 

And tomorrow, April 9, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers is holding a Community Rally to protest the governor’s proposals and to call for increased revenues at 5:00 p.m. at the BUSD administration building at 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. We urge you to join teachers, classified employees, parents, students and community members in saying no to these cuts and yes to investments in our children and our future as a state. 

Whatever you do, do something. We need a budget that is not balanced on the backs of poor people, our students and our schools. It matters, and we can make a difference. 


Cathy Campbell is the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, a long-time middle school teacher and the parent of a 9th-grader at Berkeley High. You can contact the BFT at