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The 7% solution is no solution at all

Recently, California Senate Republicans, led by Sen. James Brulte,

unveiled a plan for addressing the huge $35 billion budget deficit

facing California. For many months, Republican legislators have

claimed that the state deficit could be met by budget cuts alone,

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with no tax increases.

Their plan calls for an across-the-board general fund reduction of

7%, or $5.1 billion, beginning in fiscal year 2003-2004. This

proposal -- without any new tax revenues -- would be on top of

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Governor Davis’ plan that would already cut $17 billion out of the

state budget over the next two years.

I applaud Senate Republicans for having stepped up to the plate to

present a detailed budget plan to confront the state’s worst economic

crisis since the Great Depression. Perhaps to some this severe budget

cut sounds fair, even appealing. But as with most apparently simple

solutions to complex problems, it’s dead wrong, and it’s a public

education killer.

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Let’s briefly consider specifically what a 7% cut would do to

education.

The Republican plan would lead to a $1.8-billion cut to the K-12

budget for fiscal year 2003-2004. Remember that this $1.8 billion

reduction would be on top of other education reductions already

totaling close to $3 billion in the governor’s budget proposals for

this fiscal year and the next one. The Republican proposal equates to

an additional cut to schools of at least $310 per student.

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Cutting the $1.8 billion could be achieved in one of the following

ways:

* Eliminating 13 days from the school calendar.

* Axing almost 30,000 teaching positions.

* Cutting both the K-3 class size reduction program and all summer

school classes.

Stop and think for a moment.

Do we really want to create this kind of chaos in our public

schools?

And what would this 7% across-the-board cut mean to California’s

colleges and universities? In the University of California system, we

could achieve this cut by closing one of our UC campuses, such as the

University of California at Santa Barbara. It could occur at

California State University by closing its Long Beach campus. Or in

our 107 community colleges, we could close several colleges or just

institute a 10% cut in all classes, thus closing the door to

thousands of students. Remember that certain college expenses

(liability insurance, health benefits, bond payments) cannot be cut.

So a 7% cut has to be taken directly from the classroom.

If we want to take the backward step of failing to support

education for California’s children and college students, then a

draconian cut of 7% on top of the governor’s proposal would move

dramatically in that direction. I am not sure what steps our public

schools and colleges would be forced to take to implement these cuts,

but I know the devastation this would cause. Doesn’t it really make

more sense to tackle this budget deficit with a combination of cuts

and tax increases? The respected UCLA Anderson Forecast has called

for tax increases to pull the California economy through in the short

term.

That’s the way California successfully got through the recession

of the early 1990s. The Republican governor, Pete Wilson, led the

Legislature in a bipartisan approach of budget cuts and temporary tax

increases. The state survived and when prosperity returned, the tax

increases were removed. In fact, we were able to institute a further

series of tax cuts in the late 1990s.

I am convinced that the citizens of California do not want to see

public education devastated in our state. We have moved from a

shameful 43rd in the nation in per pupil spending to 29th in the past

five years. This is still below the national average. But this gain

in resources has led to dramatic and positive changes in California’s

public education system: the adoption of world-class academic

standards, a focus on school accountability and student academic

achievement, class sizes have been reduced, the school year has been

lengthened by six days, California has crafted new standards-based

textbooks along with purchasing school library materials, and

outdated facilities have been replaced with new buildings.

And every year over the past five years, test scores in the core

academic areas have gone up. Finally, teachers are better paid and

the teaching profession has once again attracted people to its ranks.

Let’s not turn the clock back and see California education trail all

other states in education expenditures. We cannot butcher our schools

in this cavalier manner. The future of our state is at stake.

* SEN. JACK SCOTT (D-Burbank) represents the 21st Senate District,

which incorporates Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and portions of Los

Angeles. He also heads the Senate’s budget committee that deals with

education spending from kindergarten through university. Before

serving in the Legislature, he was president of Pasadena City

College.


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