This week, as staff from the California Alliance met with forty new legislators in Sacramento, the halls of the Capitol had an ominous air.
When Governor Jerry Brown was sworn into office on January 3rd, California was already in a declared state of fiscal emergency. Within weeks of taking office, Brown declared a new state of fiscal emergency and released a 2011-2012 state budget calling for $12.5 billion in cuts. Few could be surprised by these grim realities. As Brown, said at the press conference releasing this budget,
“For 10 years, we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt. We must now return California to fiscal responsibility and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth.”
K-12 grade education was the one area spared from cuts. Brown’s budget proposes keeping education at current, admittedly low funding levels. But even this is not a sure thing.
Continued funding for education depends on an extension of current personal income and sales taxes, as well as the Vehicle License Fee rate, for five years that must be approved by voters in an election this June. Without this revenue, officials say there will be 31% funding cuts across the board, including education.
Already, officials are painting a grim picture of the inevitable cuts in store for education, if voters do not pass the ballot measure. In a recent speech, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said,
“Unless voters agree to the extension of temporary car, income and sales taxes, the state would be so short of money that it might have to whack more than six weeks off the K-12 school year.”
That’s just one scenario. Increasing class size, cutting custodial staff and cutting or eliminating arts education programs altogether are other likely options if Brown’s ballot measure does not pass.
Despite the serious work ahead, the Alliance staff was encouraged by their meetings with new legislators. An impressive number of representatives were well informed about the cognitive, social and potential workforce benefits of arts education. All are committed to providing California children with a quality education. And most would agree (and we’ll keep working on the others!) that the arts must be a core component to a quality education.