Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stand Up for Education

All parents want their children to grow up to reach their potential and make their dreams come true. A quality education makes this possible.

About 90 percent of children are educated in our public schools. Californians love their schools. This is why Californians have prioritized education funding more than anything else in the budget. In 1988, voters passed Proposition 98 to lock in our state constitution protection of education funding.

Despite the voters’ strong support for education funding, the self-proclaimed “people’s governor” proposed suspending Proposition 98 earlier this month to help close California’s record deficit. Although cuts to public education are inevitable, because Proposition 98 requires that roughly 40% of our General Fund be directed to K-14 education, Democrats want to protect education as much as possible from long-term harm. Therefore, we want to make sure that in the future, as our revenues improve, we meet the requirements of Proposition 98 to repay education for earlier cuts.

A lot is at stake for California’s children. If we were to suspend Proposition 98 as proposed by the Governor, and fail to commit to repay schools in the future, our schools will lose about $11 billion per year forever. In other words if these cuts are never restored, a child born today will see about $165 billion less invested in his or her education from kindergarten through community college. Is this really the legacy we want to leave our children? In other words, it means about $11 billion a year for public education. Repayment of these funds will enhance the learning environment by keeping class sizes low, keeping quality teachers in our classrooms, and keeping updated instructional materials within school curriculum.

California ranks among the lowest states in the nation in per pupil funding. Yet, we are the 8th largest economy in the world. Failure to invest in our children’s education is failure to prepare ourselves and them to meet the challenges of a world-class economy in the 21st Century and to compete with other world-class economies who do invest in education, such as Japan and China. Failure to repay the funds as required by Proposition 98 is not only penny-wise and pound foolish, but irresponsible in the extreme. It is also deeply anti-business because state businesses depend upon a skilled local workforce and care about the availability of quality education for their employees’ children.

The Governor will no doubt contend that legislative Democrats seek to protect special interests. This is true only if one considers our children are not to be “special interests” unworthy of protection.

Nothing is more important to California’s future than its children. This is not an unreasonable request on the part of legislative Democrats. We need to make this commitment to our children a reality in this budget.