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Bey-Ling Sha is president of the Language Academy Parent Teacher Student Association. She is in Sacramento lobbying lawmakers on education and sharing her thoughts on what she’s learned. The views expressed here are her own, not those of her school or parent group. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or just post a comment on the blog.
Anyone who parents or works with children knows that kids like to play games. Duck-duck-goose, hide-and-seek, ring-around-the-rosy — all are cherished traditions from our childhood playgrounds. I’m in Sacramento with other parent leaders to lobby lawmakers about education funding, and I’m learning that, apparently, adults like to play games, too.
Of course, the playground of politicians and lobbyists is a far more complicated and treacherous place than your average children’s park. Yet some things are eerily similar – the neighborhood bully who throws his weight around, intimidating the other players; the whiner who cries to everyone at home that she didn’t participate in making the mess; and the smooth-talker who manages to come out looking like the golden child to the “grown-ups” (read: voters) even though all the other players know that he is the one who instigates many of the problems.
The biggest losers in the games being played in Sacramento are the children of California.
From 1929 to 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, per pupil funding in our state was reduced 25 percent. In comparison, in the 2008-2010 budget cycles, per pupil funding has already declined 18 percent. For San Diego schools, the $17.6 billion cut to education in the last two years amounts to a loss of $2,100 per student.
The governor’s proposed 2010-2011 budget, released over the weekend and coming to a vote on Monday, contains another $2 billion cut for education, or another $400 per student. This is a straightforward game. Education funding is the goose, and this foul fowl is not laying any golden eggs for California’s future.
A more complicated game is hide-and-seek. A state law supposedly guarantees that at least 40 percent of the state general fund will go to education. In emergency situations, this minimum funding level can be suspended, but only on the condition that the state makes up the difference later.
For 2010-11, the governor’s office proposed a “gas tax swap,” which would eliminate the gas tax (which feeds into the general fund) and implement an excise tax (which would not feed into the general fund). By reducing the general fund in this way, the proposed budget would effectively reduce spending on education, but without the messy stuff about paying back money later because, technically, the minimum funding level of 40 percent was not suspended.
Are you still with me?
So education advocates were freaking out about the “gas tax swap” until Saturday morning, when — surprise — the actual budget language that was released said that the move would still preserve money for education. You can argue that everything apparently worked out in the end for proposed education funding levels. But I’m frustrated. We really don’t have time to play hide-and-seek with money for our children’s education. And now we hear it might change again — more hiding, more seeking.
Some people are getting tired of these games. And so, in true American fashion, they are filing a lawsuit, claiming that the rules are broken. The Association of California School Administrators, the California School Boards Association, and the California State PTA will be principal plaintiffs in the suit, which will be filed later in the spring.
As a parent, I feel dizzy from all that I learned here. It seems that education funding has people going around in circles. Some people might shrug and say, “Oh, well. Education funding will get better in the next five years.”
But in five years, my fourth grader in the San Diego Unified School District will be in high school, and my second grader will be in middle school. And like the child at the playground who feels left out of all the games, I just hide my tears and whisper to myself, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
— BEY-LING SHA