AFT Guild

There IS a Better Way to Fund California Education

California Federation of Teachers
American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO  

                   Steve Hopcraft, 916/457.5546;  
Thursday, May 29th, 2008                              

There IS a Better Way to Fund California Education
By Marty Hittelman
President of the California Federation of Teachers

The governor’s proposed budget for schools and other vital public services will
impede efforts to provide high-quality education. Our schools rank dead last in the
nation for the number of teachers per student, as well as in the number of
librarians, counselors and critical support staff, while having some of the largest
class sizes in the nation.  California is 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending.  
The governor’s budget proposal keeps our schools and students at the bottom of
those rankings, despite recent studies that show California needs to spend 40
percent more to ensure that all students meet the state's rigorous standards.    
The governor’s budget revision tries to protect education, but lacks the funding to
do it. Continuing to balance this budget with a cuts-only approach hurts children,
schools and the economic future of California. The final budget agreement must be
built squarely on new progressive tax revenues to protect education funding.  
The founders of this nation did not say, “No new taxes.”  They said, “No taxation
without representation.”  We do have “representation.”  We elect people to serve in
government and to make decisions about the best way to address challenges of
common concern.  If we find that their decisions are not to our liking, we can
choose not to re-elect them.  Any legislator who makes a blanket “no new taxes
pledge” is abdicating his or her responsibility.  Taxes are the price we pay for
living in a civilized society.   
Selling bonds based on future lottery proceeds is not the answer. It postpones some
of the hurt that the governor’s budget proposal would inflict, but it also shifts the
burden to adequately fund education and other vital services into the future. The
lottery gamble would also undercut future revenue that already is currently targeted
for education from lottery proceeds. Lotteries across the U.S. are heading
downward in revenues, not upward. Whether this dip is due to the competition
from Indian casinos, Internet poker or the economic slowdown, no one knows. But
the lottery proposal adds up to a very bad gamble for education.

There is a better way to fund education and other vital services. It’s time to restore
the top income tax brackets, close loopholes like the yacht owners’ tax break, and
join the other twenty oil-producing states in imposing a severance tax on the giant
oil corporations.  
Restoring the top income tax brackets makes good fiscal sense. That’s where the
money is hiding.  The top one per cent of the economic pyramid—people who
make $400,000 per year and more—own more than one third of the wealth. They
can well afford to pay more than they are currently paying in order to educate
California’s students and maintain the health care of our residents. Many wealthy
individuals have expressed a willingness to help. Billionaire Warren Buffet, for
instance, has been quoted forthrightly proclaiming that he is taxed too little for the
amount of money he makes.  Bill Gates Sr., co-founder of the group “Responsible
Wealth,” has argued for the preservation of the estate tax.  It is politicians that have
lacked the political courage to reasonably tax those that can best afford it.
Shifting the bulk of the cuts to health and human services is a disguised cut to
education.  These programs aren’t isolated from schools.  Our students need to
come to school ready to learn, and they can’t do that when they are hungry or sick.  
That is why the California Federation of Teachers is fighting for adequate funding
for all vital services, not just education. In short, the governor is proposing to take
from those who can least afford it and refusing to ask for anything from those
whom can best afford it. This is not the route to a better California.  

School kids did not cause this crisis. Their teachers and school staff are being
confronted with uncertain futures. This year I have seen teachers crying as they
describe their feelings upon receiving layoff notices, and possibly losing the
careers they worked so hard to prepare for.  Even though many of these notices
have been rescinded for the time being, the faith of these teachers in their future
careers has been shaken.  Many of these really great teachers, recognizing for the
first time the instability of public education financing in California, won’t be
coming back.  This will be a lasting loss for our future generations of students.
The people of California rely on their schools and other vital public services. A
progressive tax policy that asks the people who have benefited the most from
living in California to pay their fair share is the only reasonable alternative to
massive program cuts.

Kara Buchanan
Hopcraft Communications
Government and Media Relations; Campaign Management
Phone.916.457.5546 :: Fax.916.457.5548