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THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET PROPOSAL : Governor Proposes 8% Hike in Public School, Community College Funds

Times Staff Writer

The governor’s proposed budget for kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools falls short of what proponents of last November’s successful school funding initiative had hoped for, but it is not as bad as many feared in light of the state’s overall budget woes.

The budget proposes $15.1 billion, an 8% increase, for public schools and community colleges to cope with inflation and a projected enrollment growth of 149,000 students.

“It’s a heck of a lot more positive than we anticipated,” said Bill Ingram, president of the California School Boards Assn.

Higher education did not fare as well overall, with the governor proposing 10% increases in basic tuition fees at both the University of California and the California State University systems and some cuts in other state funds.

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Aides to the governor blamed the squeeze on higher education in part on the requirements of Proposition 98, which requires that at least 40% of the state budget’s General Fund go to schools. The measure has channeled about $400 million to schools that they might not have otherwise received, according to state budget officials.

All levels of education will receive about $20.1 billion in state funds out of a budget ofabout $47.7 billion, according to the Department of Finance.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, who had been warning for weeks that the governor might use a variety of accounting devices to undercut the intent of Proposition 98, said he was generally pleased with calculations of what was due the schools. “We can live with it,” Honig said.

But he added that the overall 8% increase for public schools and community colleges was misleading because 3% is needed to cover growth in enrollment. He said local school districts will actually receive a 3.2% increase--not enough, he said, to keep up with an inflation rate of nearly 5%.

The reason for the gap, he said, is that the governor has proposed new restrictions on how some of the funds may be used, including holding about $230 million in a new education reserve account to cover unforeseen expenses.

Honig said that the proposed reserve was excessive and that he would urge the Legislature, in its consideration of the budget, to free up more money for school districts so they do not have to cut back programs and balance their budgets “on the backs” of teachers through small pay increases.

Honig and other school officials also expressed concern about a $110-million pot the governor proposed to set aside for reducing class size. With an average of 28 pupils per class, California has the highest ratio of students to teachers in the nation.

But the California Teachers Assn. and others have expressed fear that the governor’s effort to reduce class size--a costly undertaking--would detract from other needs, such as materials and higher starting salaries for new teachers.

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Details of the governor’s class-reduction plan were sketchy. Robert L. Harris, an education analyst in the governor’s finance department, said the funds would be targeted for reducing class sizes in science, math and English at the high school level. In the elementary level, the effort would be aimed at language skills in Grades 1 through 3, Harris said.

Honig said it appears doubtful that $110 million would have a significant impact on class size.

The proposed fee increases at the two university systems were part of a broader effort to hold down state expenses at a time when non-educational health and welfare programs are targeted for cuts.

An analyst at Cal State, which has 355,000 students, said the proposed fee increase was considerably greater than university officials had anticipated. It would mean that a state resident would pay a basic fee of $750 a year, up from $684 this year.

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Cal State Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds said the system’s overall budget increase of $118 million, including money raised by the fee hike, would not be enough to pay for salary increases for instructors that have already been approved. The governor rejected CSU’s request for $23 million worth of new programs and proposed an additional $8.3 million in cuts in maintenance, instructional materials and other expenditures. Reynolds said the budget, if approved, would “greatly threaten our ability to maintain quality instruction.”

At UC campuses, the governor’s proposed budget would mean a $144 fee increase for state residents, raising the basic tuition charge to $1,577.

UC President David P. Gardner said even with the higher fees, the university system’s budget would be up 4%, far less than the 10% sought by trustees. He said “extraordinary budgetary action” would be needed to get through the next year.


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