June 10, 2011 > Supporting our education system
Supporting our education system
Last month I took a group of eighty residents to Sacramento to discuss school funding concerns with our legislators. This trip was co-sponsored by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. We happened to be there on the same day Governor Brown released his May Revised Budget. You can imagine how happy the group was to get good news: extra money was recommended to be put in the budget for education this year by the Governor!
The extra $3 billion is only a small payback for all that has been diverted over the past few years. It was very for us to demand that education be a priority in the budget. Not surprising, all of the legislators we spoke to agreed that education is important. One must wonder, then, why are schools in such financial crisis as class sizes rise, our counselors, and other levels of support staff shrink and cuts are common in art, music, and sports programs?
During the day, a number of reasons were given to explain the budget problems. State Controller John Chiang spoke of the difficult financial position the state has been in over the past few years. Senator Alquist reminded us that school funding is based on property taxes so the funding level rises and falls with the economy. She believes, though, that the supermajority (2/3 of legislators) needed to raise revenue is a problem. It is more difficult to get enough votes to raise revenue from more stable sources.
According to some, other sources of revenue would help the state to support our schools. Assemblymember Beall stated that California simply needs more revenue over the next few years to fully support its programs. Assemblymember Campos feels that we should support Governor Brown's tax measures such as the Vehicle License Fee extension, on the ballot and passed by the voters.
Speaking with staff of Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski, we learned that he is in favor of the proposed Governor's tax extension while staff from Senator Blakeslee's office, stated that he has not taken a position on this, yet. Assemblymember Monning is in support of other revenue generating ideas such as taxing oil companies for the oil pumped from California's ground. Both of these revenue sources have been stopped by the supermajority requirement.
In spite of the differences, Assemblymember Gordon feels that there can be bipartisanship to pass the budget but it will take a lot of work. Estelle Lemieux from the California Teachers Association credited Governor Brown's work with both Republicans and Democrats in eliminating opposition.
It is important for residents to meet with legislators to discuss their values and priorities. They are, after all, representing us. Our group consisted of a wide variety of people - students, teachers, parents, concerned seniors - of all races and ethnicities. While in Sacramento, we let our legislators know that we value education and that investing in education is important for California's future.
Among the most vocal in our group was a group of students from East Side Union High School District, some of whom were organized by ESUHSD Board Trustee Frank Biehl. Their personal stories of the impacts funding cuts have on them carried the message that budget cuts have real consequences. It also reminded legislators that school has a tremendous impact on their lives.
Assemblymember Alejo credited his high school teachers for setting him straight after he made some bad choices, helping him become the man he is today. Assemblymember Buchannan noted that California's schools were once among the best but that California has stopped investing in education, investing in its future. It is very important that we all reach out to our legislators and demand that they work together to find new ways to support our education system.
We were encouraged to continue contact with our legislators about education by Lupita Alcala from the California Department of Education. She encouraged us to continue sending a message about the negative impacts funding cuts have on schools.
To read the full transcript of the Sacramento Bus Trip for Education, visit my website at www.supervisorcortese.org.
Legislators that met with the Delegation:
Assemblymember Joan Buchanan
Assemblymember Luis Alejo
Assemblymember Rich Gordon
Assemblymember Bill Monning
Assemblymember Nora Campos
Assemblymember Jim Beall
Senator Elaine Alquist
Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski (Staff)
Senator Sam Blakeslee (Staff)
John Chiang, State Controller
Estelle Lemieux, California Teachers Association
Lupita Alcala, California Department of Education