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California budget: How teachers, community colleges will use extra state funds

Protestors gather in downtown Los Angeles to rally against cuts to public schools and universities.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC
File photo: Protestors gathered on March 4, 2010, in downtown Los Angeles to rally against cuts to public schools and universities in the midst of the recession. Now educators anticipate significant new funding when Gov. Jerry Brown releases his revised budget on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, Gov. Jerry Brown is set to unveil an updated budget proposal for the next fiscal year, and California educators and community colleges anticipate good news.

Better-than-expected California income tax revenues are filling state coffers. That means Brown will likely announce a much larger spending plan than he initially proposed. How much bigger is a closely guarded secret that even the state’s top education leaders said they’re not privy to.

“We don’t know. We’ve heard numbers from one and a half billion to three billion more since the January budget,” said Estelle Lemieux, a budget consultant with the California Teachers Association.

Proposition 98, passed by voters in 1988, guarantees about 40 percent of the new funds will go to public schools and community colleges. Brown’s preliminary budget plan released in January had already designated $7.8 billion more for education in 2015-2016 than funded for the current year.

Nonetheless, Brown called back then for fiscal restraint and is expected to repeat the same theme on Thursday.

Lemieux and other leaders of statewide education groups, including the California State PTA and the California School Boards Association, spoke Monday during a teleconference with reporters. Their message: public education is still reeling from the damage brought on by funding cuts during the recession.

According to the group, public schools lost 30,000 teaching positions since the financial downturn, which began in late 2007. So schools “need school nurses, librarians, counselors,” said Kathy Moffat, California State PTA director of legislation.

“Our professional educators need support as we implement California’s new standards and assessments,” she said, referring to the new Common Core learning standards and the tests based on them.

Community colleges also saw their resources dwindle during the recession. Campus administrators said the 112 colleges in the state system offered 425,625 course sections in the 2008-2009 academic year. In the 2013-2014 academic year, campuses offered 352,516 course sections, a decline of 17 percent.

Officials at Long Beach City College, serving about 30,000 students, say the campus would get roughly 1 or 2 percent of the anticipated funding increase.

“Some of the things we’ll be able to use the money for, more than likely, are for one-time expenses like funding some resources, some new technology to better help our students navigate our classes, [and] putting some more instructional equipment in the classrooms,” said LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley.

The campus hired 55 new faculty last year with additional state funds it received. It plans to hire 27 new faculty this year.

Additional state funding has lawmakers circling the spoils and budget negotiations have already begun.

State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has called for using tax revenue from the improving economy to fund child care and other favored programs. Advocates rallied last week at the state Capitol to support expanded state-funded child care, adding to the political pressure on lawmakers to approve such programs.

But CTA’s Lemieux said while child care funding is an important policy, paying for it from money already designated for public schools by the Proposition 98 guarantee would be an "encroachment."

“Child care is not necessarily an education program,” Lemieux said.

This is the kind of back-and-forth that will ramp up in Sacramento after Brown’s budget update. It’s likely to reach a fever pitch just before the June 15 deadline to approve the state budget.