This past week, the state Capitol was flooded with teachers from all over the state who are concerned about the future of public education in California. They’re worried because California’s persistent budget crisis has led to boom-bust budgeting for schools, which rely in large part on state funds to keep teachers in the classroom. And the recent economic downturn means more and more teachers are receiving pink slips come March 15.
I can’t blame these teachers for their concern. In fact, I couldn’t agree more about the importance of our state’s public-education system.
I attended public high school, community college and UC, so I know firsthand the value of a quality public education system. And I believe firmly that, if California is going to continue to lead the nation and the world, then we must invest in the next generation of leaders – and that means prioritizing our state’s students and schools.
That’s the reason I was willing to work with Governor Brown to chart a path forward for our state. Whether we’re talking about school districts or nursing homes or families, the uncertainty caused by the state’s nonstop budget rollercoaster hurts Californians all over the state. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, there’s no denying that we must act now to get Sacramento’s fiscal house in order.
To do that, my colleagues and I proposed a hard cap on state spending that protects education funding. With this spending cap in place, not only would our state’s schools be fully funded, but also, any additional revenue the state took in would go toward paying back the debt we owe schools from years past.
Under our plan, public schools would get the entire allotment mandated by the state Constitution under Proposition 98, which guarantees schools get about 40 percent of the state’s General Fund budget. In fact, this state spending limit would guarantee education gets more funding than under the other plans previously proposed by Governor Brown and legislative Democrats.
This rigid cap would stay in place until the state could prove its fiscal sobriety by paying down its education deferrals and other debts, then transition into a permanent, more flexible cap that would grow our state’s rainy day fund. Having a rainy day fund would allow California to save during flush years so we can weather the inevitable economic downturns that come our way, while still protecting education and other vital state programs and services.
Furthermore, the state took in about $2.5 billion more in taxes this year than Governor Brown had anticipated in his original budget proposal. And with the economy slowly recovering, predictions suggest there will be at least another $2.5 billion in unexpected revenue next year, for a total of $5 billion more in our state coffers than predicted in January. This money should without a doubt go first to our schools.
In conjunction with reforms to spur California’s economy and fix our public-employee pension systems, this additional funding and a strict spending cap will help prioritize education so schools will experience more stable funding, reduced cuts and fewer teacher layoffs.
Given the heated political rhetoric in Sacramento, it may seem hard to believe that a Republican would be fighting for education funding. But it’s true. And in the weeks and months ahead, I’ll continue fighting to ensure that our state’s schools have the resources necessary to provide our students access to the world-class education they deserve.
— State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) represents the Senate District 12, including part of Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, San Benito and Monterey Counties. A small-business owner and a licensed civil engineer, Cannella was most recently the mayor of Ceres.