In the wake of his State of the State address, Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed 2015-2016 budget on Friday which places education at the forefront amongst other familiar issues like paying down debt and water projects.
“We have come far in the last four years. Then, the state was deeply in debt — $26 billion and our unemployment rate was 12.1 percent. Now, the state budget, after a decade of fiscal turbulence, is finally balanced —more precariously than I would like — but balanced,” said Brown in his opening statement of the budget.
While Brown touted the more than 1.3 million new jobs created in the past four years and a decline in unemployment by 7.2 percent, Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen (R- Modesto) still feels there is more to be done in terms of economic recovery.
“I was pleased to see the Governor focus on paying down costly debt and building a strong Rainy Day Fund reserve. However, I am disappointed that his budget does not include a plan for economic growth,” said Olsen. “Jobs and the economy must be a budget priority to generate the revenue needed to fund great schools and incest in infrastructure – now and in the future.”
The proposed budget states that: “Over the past four years, the state has overhauled virtually every area of government,” with a major focus on “providing core public services in the most efficient manner possible.” This includes education.
There has been a focus on assisting underprivileged or underrepresented student groups at all levels of education, something most clearly evident through the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula, a K-12 initiative that allocates funds in proportion to the amount of students in need in each community.
Noting that California’s higher education systems are one of the state’s greatest strengths, there is an emphasis on reducing the time it takes students to complete their degrees which in turn would ensure that the universities remain fiscally feasible in the long term.
“Increased funding must be tied to getting students their degrees in a timely manner, not just admitting more students,” said Brown in the proposal.
Senator Anthony Cannella (R- Ceres) released a statement in support of the Governor’s priorities stating that: “It is promising to see Governor Brown continuing his commitment to California’s long-term fiscal health by paying down debt, building our Rainy Day Fund and investing in education – all critical pieces to ensure our state remains viable, vibrant and competitive.”
Aware that university tuition almost doubled during the recession, the proposed budget commits $762 million to both the California State University and University of California systems which is attributable to Proposition 30, a temporary tax measure approved by voters in 2012. However, the increased funding is contingent upon tuition remaining flat as “All cost containment strategies must be explored before asking California families to pay even more for tuition.”
Steve Relyea, CSU executive vice chancellor and chief financial officer, said that the proposal is indicative of the governor’s investment in the CSU system “and acknowledges the university’s vital role as a leading economic driver in the state and nation, providing quality degree programs that support the success and social mobility of the university’s highly diverse student population.”
The CSU system provides undergraduate and graduate instruction to approximately 448,000 students, and primarily awards baccalaureate and master’s degrees. With 23 campuses, CSU is the largest and most diverse university system in the country and awarded 103,637 degrees in 201314.
While President of the CSU Employees Union Pat Gantt commended the governor for his increased funding which recognizes the need for investment in California’s education system, ultimately he said it is not enough.
“This type of shortfall has been the case year after year, despite the governor’s current four-year plan to gradually increase CSU funding. That plan simply doesn’t go far enough.”
Olsen stated that more money is not the solution though and structural changes are essential to educational reform in the long run.
“While I fully support prioritizing education in the state budget, increased funding should be tied to serious reforms that will provide each and every one of our kids a high-quality education. We need to dedicate resources toward fixing the problems that continue to place us at the bottom of education outcomes nationwide.”
Overall, the state’s General Fund will be elevated by roughly 5 percent, a testament to California’s post-recession progress.