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State Funding for School Transportation Slashed

Brown Announces $1 Billion in Midyear Trigger Cuts – Including Roughly $400 Million in K-12 Reductions

By Jeff Hudson - December 15, 2011

Governor Jerry Brown announced nearly $1 billion in “trigger cuts” to California’s state budget on Tuesday – a figure that was considerably lower than the roughly $2 billion in “trigger cuts” that were forecast in a November estimate by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). Brown opted instead to go with the somewhat less gloomy December forecast by the Department of Finance (DoF). The DoF estimate reflected an additional month of tax revenue, which showed an uptick in November.

Some observers described the Governor’s announced as “bittersweet at best.” On the one hand, K-12 schools did not get hit by the $1.1 billion midyear cut to revenue limit funding (plus cuts in state support for school transportation) that the LAO had discussed, which would have forced some districts to cut their instructional year by as much as seven days.

But the trigger cuts announced by Brown were nonetheless very substantial, totaling around $400 million, and will cause pain and disruption in school districts up and down the state. Specifically, K-12 districts must now contend with:

—A cut of $248 million for school transportation, essentially eliminating state funding in support of school bus service, effective January 1.

—A $79.6 million reduction in state revenue limits, which works out to a cut of about $13 per Average Daily Attendance, effective February 1.

—A $23 million cut in state support for child care programs, which State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said would impact incoming kindergarten and first grade students, since they will now enter school less prepared, and therefore more likely to quickly fall behind other students.

—$100 million in cuts to the University of California system, $100 million in cuts to the California State University system, and $102 million in cuts to the California Community College system. Many current and recent high school graduates will be reassessing their college plans as a result.

The Governor acknowledged that these mid-year trigger cuts are painful - but suggested that he had no other choice at the moment.

"I want to invoke a Latin phrase here: ‘nemo dat non habet,’ ” Brown said. “It means, ‘no man gives what he does not have.’ The state cannot give what it does not have.” (Brown received a classical education at a Jesuit seminary as a young man, and he is fond of working tidbits of Latin into his speeches.)

Brown also advised that there would be more trigger cuts in the state budget that he will propose for 2012-13. “We will have more trigger cuts premised on whether or not people vote for taxes,” he said, alluding to the state ballot proposition he is proposing that would generate additional revenue for education.

“None of this is pleasant, but the alternative is to do what we've done for so many years and that is to just borrow, obfuscate and delay,” Brown told a news conference at the state Capitol, adding “I don't want to do that.”

Shortly after Brown’s announcement regarding trigger cuts, the Los Angeles Unified school board voted to sue the state over its $248 million cut to home-to-school transportation funding. Other school districts may join that lawsuit, and additional legal challenges may follow.

Reaction to the trigger cuts announcement was swift.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson

Torlakson said, “It’s a sad day for California. Taking hundreds of millions of dollars from our schools — on top of the $18 billion in cuts they have already suffered — will only make life harder for students in California’s chronically under-funded schools.”

“Mothballing school bus fleets across the state will mean many rural, disabled, and low-income students literally will have no safe way to get to school. Children will lose child care, students will lose the opportunity for a college education, and our overcrowded classrooms will continue to be jammed with 35 to 40 students.

“That’s not the kind of education or state we want. This is not the California our children deserve.”

Association of California School Administrators and The Education Coalition

“The Education Coalition is disappointed that the Department of Finance today found it necessary to pull the “trigger” on additional cuts to public education.  Cutting $248 million from Home to School Transportation is tantamount to completely eliminating the ability for students to get to and from school to learn.

“This cut will have a devastating impact on school transportation services across the state.  Our poor and neediest students will be hardest hit because they will not have transportation to get to and from school.”

“It will also put at risk the safety and lives of students who will be forced to walk on unsafe roads and through dangerous conditions.”

“On top of the $20 billion in cuts that our schools and colleges have already endured, any mid-year cuts mean our schools and students will continue to have fewer educational programs, more classroom overcrowding and possibly a shorter school year.  Make no mistake, these mid-year cuts will further erode the quality of education provided California’s students.”

“California is already 46th in the nation in the funding it provides to educate our students. These cuts further illustrate the need for additional revenue for schools, which the public supports.  Our students deserve better.  Their future depends on it.”

California Teachers Association

Dean E. Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, said “Educators across California have dreaded this day for months, and for good reason. We know first-hand the damage that new cuts to K-12 and higher education will cause. We were at a crossroads long ago after so many classroom cuts. Now we’re standing on the brink of a slow-moving disaster.”

“The alarming news that the shortfall in revenue means the state must balance its budget by once again cutting from our K-12 schools and higher education is adding insult to years of injury. More than $20 billion has been cut from our schools and colleges in the last three years. California already ranks 46th in per-pupil spending, and we’ve lost about 40,000 educators and support staff in recent years. Class sizes are soaring, many schools can no longer afford librarians or music teachers, and most art classes are a thing of the past. Thousands of students can no longer afford a higher education – or can’t get the university classes they need to graduate.”

“Cutting up to $248 million in home-to-school transportation will force our young, poor and special education students into danger if they can no longer ride a bus to school and have to walk unsafe roads or through dangerous conditions to get to class.”

“Push is coming to shove now in California, and students shouldn’t be the ones shoved to the back. These new cuts show why the state needs new sources of stable revenue and more corporations paying their fair share of taxes if we’re going to provide students with the kind of future they all deserve.”

California State University

“It is disheartening to say the least when your budget is cut by an initial $650 million, but to face an additional $100 million reduction mid-year makes things extremely challenging,” said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed. “We were aware that this was a possibility, and our campuses have been planning accordingly. However, the uncertainty of the overall fiscal outlook for the state is not encouraging, and the CSU has run out of good options.”

California Community Colleges

“Colleges are at a breaking point now,” said Chancellor Jack Scott of the community college system, predicting more crowded classrooms and layoffs of adjunct faculty, who teach on semester-to-semester contracts.

“Colleges will say to many of (their adjunct faculty), 'Sorry, we don't need you anymore,'” Scott said. “And I can't guarantee there won't be layoffs of permanent personnel.”

“Our state must come up with an honest solution to California’s budget problem,” Scott continued. “We can’t keep slashing higher education budgets and raising fees to cover the shortfalls and close the budget gaps. California’s families and students can’t plan for college costs. Fee increases, if necessary, should be moderate, gradual and predictable – that’s the only way we’ll be able to salvage the state’s renowned higher education system and provide a trained workforce to fuel our economy.”

University of California

University of California President Mark Yudof did not immediately release a statement regarding the trigger cuts. However, the UC system is already charging students 17 percent more in tuition and fees than it did a year ago, and the UC system’s Regents are not planning a midyear tuition increase this year.

Instead, UC will offset the $100 million cut with money it over-contributed for health care, an amount that happens to be just above $100 million, UC spokesman Steve Montiel told the San Francisco Chronicle. This will be a short-term, rather than long-term response by the UC system.

The UC system is in talks with the state Department of Finance to try to work out a multiyear agreement in which the state would stop cutting the universities' budgets every year in exchange for a steady, predictable schedule of tuition increases.

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.