We wanted to make sure you saw this article from Politico discussing the impending budget dynamics:
California schools, unions brace for coronavirus budget cuts
By Mackenzie Mays
04/17/2020 09:54 PM EST
SACRAMENTO — California school leaders are bracing for funding cuts during a coronavirus-fueled recession, and districts are already scrambling to reimagine budgets while teachers unions are pledging to fight any reductions.
The pandemic’s implications on the state budget will be dramatic, officials have warned, and would have a direct impact on schools, since about 40 percent of the general fund goes toward K-12 programs and community colleges under Proposition 98. A report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office this month warned that the fiscal condition of school districts and the state are “closely connected” and that a decline in state revenues would also mean a reduction in school funding.
Before the pandemic, California education leaders were calling for higher school funding — a driving point behind teacher strikes in Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento last year.
While the potential for a state budget deficit poses a challenge to demands for money right now, teachers unions may have more arguments on their side than during the Great Recession.
Without a coronavirus vaccine, schools will face pressure to invest scarce resources or demand federal aid for distance learning and modifications to school campuses that allow for greater social distancing. At the same time, schools may need more teachers — not fewer — if districts decide that smaller class sizes are the only way to safely operate with sufficient physical space between students.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl urged teachers on Friday to reflect on what schools experienced during the 2008 recession. At that time, school districts increased class sizes, closed campuses and laid off less experienced teachers to save money.
“We cannot go back to that. We are going to have to fight to protect public education funding so that we don't have layoffs, we don’t have cuts to student programs," he said in a Facebook video.
Caputo-Pearl called for more assistance at both the state and federal levels and said, “We can protest, we can raise our voices during this time, we just have to do it carefully.”
Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown said the federal stimulus package should do more for education “instead of bailing out the billionaires,” saying schools are still reeling from the Great Recession.
“Our union is strong, and the educators in Oakland are together, and this pandemic will not stop us from doing whatever it takes to make sure that our students and families are protected from budget cuts,” Brown told POLITICO.
In a letter to state lawmakers this week, the California Teachers Association joined other education groups and county superintendents to call for the state to "maintain the integrity" of Prop. 98 and "at a minimum" ensure that schools receive the same level of funding as they received this year, plus a cost of living adjustment. The group is also calling for the state to use its reserves to mitigate cuts to education during the downturn.
Assembly Education Chairman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) painted a bleak picture on a Covid-19 call Thursday, warning education officials to “save wisely” and stay “extremely focused” when it comes to their current and future budgets.
“I suspect we’re going to have to make cuts. I certainly want to keep them as far away from education as possible,” O’Donnell said. “If I were a school district right now, what I would be doing is looking at my outlays and maybe pulling back on some of my expenditures.”
Some education officials are calling for the state to suspend requirements for districts to increase contributions to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the California Public Employees' Retirement System for the next two years in light of the recession. They believe such funds would be better spent on operating expenses during the recession.
“These rate increases were fiscally challenging even while the economy was at its best, but suspending them has become an imperative in this fiscal crisis,” said Sacramento-based education lobbyist Kevin Gordon. “The country has recognized that mortgages, rent, tax payments and countless timelines on obligations must be adjusted to meet this crisis.”
A spokesperson for CalSTRS said that the current funding plan assumes contributions to the system will continue as scheduled and that suspending payments "has not been considered at this point."
About 40 percent of the state’s school districts have seen reduced revenues in recent years due to declining enrollment while they faced escalating special education costs, according to a California School Boards Association survey conducted earlier this year.
“All of this was before Covid-19,” CSBA spokesperson Troy Flint said. “School budgets were already very tight prior to the pandemic, and have already been dipping into their reserves and foregoing programs and services that would benefit students as a result.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s call for schools to reopen in the fall with social distancing measures will also mean more costs, Flint said, pointing to a need for more classroom space and more teachers to lead smaller groups under that scenario.
“While those measures are appropriate from a public health standpoint … that would obliterate the budget of most districts,” Flint said.
Riverside Unified, which serves more than 42,000 students, has already implemented a hiring freeze in light of the state budget. Chief Business Officer Mays Kakish said the district could be forced to do much more than that to cope.
“If it gets drastic, we could get to a point where we would have to negotiate a salary reduction across the board and commit to restoring it back once our economy recovers,” Kakish said. “But our team will do everything in their power not to lay off a teacher, it’s the last thing we want to do.”
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