California’s former Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has been traveling the state to brief school districts on the governor’s proposed budget and its potential effects on education. He now works for the educational consulting firm School Innovations & Advocacy.
Here's an excerpt of a brief Q & A with him:
Q: Whats the good and the bad of this budget?
A: The good news for this is we know the budget’s going to pass on time, we know it’s going to be signed, we certainly believe. And I think that might remove some uncertainty. But that uncertainty is going to continue, it’s going to because of the triggers, the potential reductions, based upon the November election.
Q: What does this budget look like compared to others you've seen?
A: This budget contains more major policy initiatives in it than any that I’ve ever seen and I’ve been working on state budgets since 1982. This is a budget that totally rewrites education school finance so that we don’t have money going out the door based upon money for kids in schools at school districts based upon some historical and traditional criteria. It really changes the distribution formula significantly. It proposed to eliminate most of our categorical programs. It proposes to change our mandate program, so it really lets the state off the hook for those school districts that are going to seek reimbursement for maximum remuneration of services that they’re going to deliver.
It's a budget that through the budget process tries to eliminate transitional kindergarten, a program that the Legislature passed about two years ago that was going to have two years to ramp up, and now the governor’s going to try to eliminate that. It’s a budget that really does attempt to significantly change policy. Not just fiscal policy, but real public policy.
Q: Is that in a good way?
A: I would certainly argue that the policy committees in the Legislature should be part of this discussion and part of this debate. For example if you’re going to try to elimnate the mandate on background checks that’s a public safety issue and we ought to make sure that’s heard by the public safety committee. If you’re going to attempt to eliminate funding through the mandate process for the actual cost of truants that too affects the school community, that affects the law enforcement community, and so that too ought to be discussed in the policy committee.
So many of these initiatives and bills have been passed and initiated to solve a problem, to address an issue, and to simply, through the budget process, try to eliminate funding for these programs, I don’t think is good sound public policy. We should really have the policy committees be able to render their opinion, their judgment, with maximum public participation. I think that helps minimize unintended consequences.
Q: What are people seeing today compared to what they saw in January?
A: The state budget deficit has grown significantly, from about $9 billion in January to about $16 billion. So the scope of the problem has increased nearly two-fold. That means they're more at risk for potential triggers. That means it’s more important the the governor's intiative pass. Otherwise, deficits are going to continue to grow.
Q: Why do all these major cuts seem to be to education?
A: The politics of this initiative, in my opinion, are public education, people don’t want to make any more cuts. People see the cuts have been real, seen, experienced, and felt, and to the detriment of our public school system. And so, if the governor can portray this initiative — that if my initiative fails then you’re going to see a disproportionate reduction in education funding — in the final analysis that might be the case...But I’m hopeful that, No. 1, the initiative passes, I’m supporting it and hope that it passes, I’ll be voting for it. No. 2, I think even if it weren’t going to be successful I think we would have to revisit the notion that 99% of the cuts would come from education."
Q: So education won’t necessarily be cut so severely?
A: I think there's no question about it, that if the governor's initiative does not pass there will be severe reductions to public education. Will it be as severe as some people have talked about? Will there be potentially three weeks less school? I don’t think so. But would there be less school? I do think so. Will it be three weeks? Probably not that much.