By Wayne Lusvardi - from CalWatchdog.com
If you listen to anyone up and down the food chain of public school financing in California, Gov. Brown’s failure to negotiate a budget deal with Republicans will result in the sky is falling on revenues for public schools. This groupthink rhetoric is so unanimous at nearly every level of education and the unquestioning media that it has become a fact, even if it is a half-truth. Without a fully financed state budget school revenues will fall by about $5 billion.
But that is a half-truth that ignores $7.437 billion in potential cost savings on the expenditure side of the school financing ledger, which, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, could be deregulated under ABX-4-2-6 (Evans, 2009) without any layoffs to core teachers.
Chicken Little – California Version
Many grade school children can tell you the story of Chicken Little who concocts a story that the sky is falling when an acorn falls on his head. Little runs off to get other animals to join him on his journey to eventually tell the King. The Fox then lures them into his lair to eat them all. But Cocky Lockey warns them in time and they escape.
Only in the California version it is the King who fabricates the story and his foxy bureaucratic apparatchicks (misspelling and pun intended) who want to lure everyone into believing their story. In either version the moral of the story is not to believe everything you are told.
The Sky is Falling….
On the website “Thoughts on Public Education” funded by the Hewlett Foundation and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, it is estimated that the breakdown of a political consensus on the budget could portend from $2 billion to $5 billion in school budget cuts.
If, however, K-12 public schools were cut by 40% as other state departments, the cut would equate to $4.8 billion or $900 per student.
Bob Blattner, a public school financing consultant, says that schools should plan on a cut from $800 to $1,300 per student.
…..But So Are Mandated Earmarks
It is hard to deny the sky is falling on the revenue side of the public school financing system if the proposed 2012 budget can not be passed. What taxpayers and voters are not told is that the Legislature deregulated the expenditure side of K-12 schools under Assembly Bill ABX-4-2- (2009) resulting in $4.529 billion in potential cost savings, equating to $731 per student. This was mainly accomplished by eliminating funding for “categorical” jobs programs as recommended by the State Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), which are politically protected job categories unrelated to core teaching.
To clarify, this is not a funding reduction that would have been spent on core teachers. It avoided a $731 per student increase in local school property or parcel taxes. Ending “earmarks” have thus far saved California’s K-12 school system from doomsday.
The State Legislative Analyst recommended another round of deregulation for 2011-12 of “categorical” school funding to save $7.437 billion in ancillary costs, reflecting $1,201 per student in potential costs savings for the 2011-12 school year.
Unclear if any net cuts to schools
So if you are following the above numbers, the Chicken Little’s in California are warning of budget cuts from $800 to $1,300 per student. But the Cockey Lockey’s are putting this warning in the context of $1,201 in potential cost reductions that could be authorized if the Legislature further deregulated categorical school funding formulas in accordance with the LAO’s recommendations. And these reductions would entail no core teacher layoffs. In other words, it isn’t clear that there will be any net budget cuts to K-12 public schools if the Legislature further reduces mandated earmarks.
Falling Sky or Wind Fall?
Put differently, there is no need for local school districts to create a panic and put school parcel taxes on the ballot to “save public schools.” Panicked parents, PTA’s, teachers unions, and local educational foundations that are lured into the fox’s den to raise property or parcel taxes for public schools could end up duped. If local school districts pass a parcel tax equivalent to, say, $800 per student and the Legislature deregulates program earmarks up to $1,201 per student, a local school district could reap a $2,001 per student windfall while crying that the “sky is falling.”
Water rate hikes are already reportedly crowding out the possibility of raising taxes for public schools. This is not even considering the expected electricity rate hikes starting in 2012 due to mandated green power, cap and trade programs, and banning 19 coastal power plants from using ocean water to cool their generators.
Ending Earmarks Suspends Gravity of Cuts
Local school districts efforts would be better spent putting pressure on the Legislature to further deregulate mandated earmarks than in wasting resources on parcel tax campaigns. Public school funding advocates need to educate themselves that ABX-4-2 is a way to suspend the law of gravity so that acorns don’t fall on the heads of school children resulting in hysterical stories about falling skies.
According to the LAO Report, the items where additional cost savings could be achieved under AB-4-X-2 are as follows:
1. Relaxing the cap on the number of students in grades K-3.
2. Shifting transportation funding for the Hard to Serve program from “restricted” to “unrestricted” because it is based on a “use-it or lose-it” rule that discourages cost-effectiveness. Last year, the HTS transportation program was provided for by special funds (federal stimulus funds?) and could not be converted into discretionary funding. The state LAO “sees no reason to continue” this program as “restricted.”
3. Amending Prop 49 for After School Education and Safety (ASES) programs by a ballot measure so that school districts are not forced to increase class sizes and decrease instructional days (furloughs) “while supplemental after school activities remain untouched.”
4. Consolidate the five “fractured” Career Technical Education (CTE) programs comprising $427 million by “eliminating” most program requirements (again serving special interests?).
5. Removing contracting-out restrictions. Under existing rules (quote): “contracting for services cannot be done solely for achieving savings … and cannot result in the lay off or demotion of existing district employees.” (i.e., more special interests and vote buying).
6. Remove restrictions that force school districts to pay former teachers their pre-layoff salary rate if they serve as a substitute teacher for 20 days in a 60-day period. School districts that use revolving door temp teachers while core teachers are sent out of the classroom undergoing “professional development” are ripe for this abuse.
7. Reduce the “programmatic overlap, confusion, and administrative hassles” between the state Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA, SB1133, 2006) and Federal School Improvement Program (saving more than $700 million over 3 years).
8. Eliminate 40 mandates imposed on K-12 “restricted” funding programs, “many of which do almost nothing to benefit students and educators.”
So the sky is falling on state revenues for public schools without a fully funded state budget, but mandated earmarks could also be deregulated that could potentially fully offset any revenue losses. This is the side of the story not told in the mainstream media. What passes for news is mainly bureaucratic hysteria. Sometimes it takes a children’s story to explain the whole truth.