I am aghast. Due to an asinine and ill-considered proposition limiting property tax increases, California is having trouble balancing its budget. The Democratic legislature had an elaborate scheme to keep the state running, but Governor Ahnold Schwarzenegger shot it down.

The plan he’s proposed would slash education:

California schools could eliminate a week of instruction and increase class sizes next year under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new plan for solving the state’s budget crisis. ? the proposal unveiled Wednesday also would allow districts to eliminate one of two science courses required for high school graduation.

That’s right, the Governator wants to balance the budget by cutting funding for science education! This is insane.

Calitics, who pointed me to this story, explains the big problem with this as well as I could:

In and of themselves these cuts are damaging and reckless. California students need MORE science instruction, not less, if they’re going to be globally competitive. Cutting instruction isn’t going to help students learn more, and will lead to corner-cutting by teachers and administrators alike.

Those damaging cuts become catastrophic, however, in the context of No Child Left Behind. Arnold’s proposals are likely to cause numerous schools to fail to meet federal standards set by the law, especially when subsidies to low-performing schools are cut. Because NCLB mandates the closure of low-performing schools, Arnold’s budget if enacted as-is would virtually ensure the closure of numerous schools in this state.

This cut follows cuts to last year’s budget which forced schools to lay off teachers, and indeed follows a several decades of attacks on California’s public education system. Proposition 13, which fixed property tax rate hikes to below the rate of inflation has starved the state budget as a whole, and centralized school funding through the state. An analysis in 2000 found that:

the passage of Proposition 13? affected school finance reform in ways that could not have been foreseen by reformers and policymakers. By limiting property taxes, Prop. 13 eventually led to per pupil spending reductions. In the face of these reductions, school districts chose to hire fewer teachers, which resulted in a dramatic increase in the pupil-teacher ratio. By the 1980s, the state was allocating revenues more equitably than before, but it did so by “leveling down” high-spending districts rather than by raising low-spending ones. At the same time, student test scores in California began dropping relative to other states.

“Over the last 20 years, California has fundamentally altered the way it finances schools without changing the way it governs them,” said economist [Jon] Sonstelie. “School boards continue to govern districts, but the state controls how funds are allocated. Until policymakers resolve this basic tension, California may have difficulty reversing the current pattern of low spending, large classes, and poor student performance compared to other states.”

The current budget crisis is the fruit of that ill-conceived proposition, and will only continue the destruction of what had been among the nation’s finest public education systems. As a 2004 RAND report notes, “As recently as the 1970s, California?s public schools were reputed to be excellent,” but that “[t]oday, that reputation no longer stands.” RAND, too, points to declining funding following Prop. 13, and illustrates the problem with this graph:


They summarize this result by stating that “California has a relatively high capacity to fund its schools (as measured by per capita personal income) compared with its ‘effort.'” The consequences of this underfunding are predictable. California has failed to implement the single simplest reform that could improve educational outcomes: cutting class sizes.

Indeed, while the nation as a whole has steadily cut pupil:teacher ratios, that ratio in California stands basically exactly where it did when Prop. 13 passed. Look at this figure and guess when that was:

When Governor Schwarzenegger proposes boosting class sizes, then, he is proposing to consign California’s students to worse employment prospects. He risks their shot at starting the next great business, of inventing the next great leap forward. He gives other states and other countries a greater chance and growing their economy at California’s expense, which will only deepen the hole his policies, and those of his predecessors, dug for the state.

Cutting funding for science classes in particular is especially egregious. Providing students a solid foundation in sciences is not just critical for their success on tests that govern the future of their schools, that foundation is crucial for their careers in college, and then in the workforce. Top schools won’t take students who have to get remedial science, nor will top employers in biotech or high tech overlook the fact that an applicant has a hole in his or her science education. Given the importance of biotech and high tech to the California economy, this plan amounts to eating our seed corn.

The state needs to balance its budget, and given the fraction of the budget dedicated to education, I don’t doubt that budget cuts will hit education. But Schwarzenegger’s plan doesn’t just force education to pay its fair share in the near term, it hamstrings students and educators for years to come. And that’s simply unacceptable.


  1. #1 catgirl
    January 2, 2009

    I’m surprised and disappointed that only 2 science courses are currently required for high school graduation. In my high school, we needed 3 science courses, and I always thought that was too low, considering we needed 4 courses of both English and gym class. If a student can graduate with only one science course, their diploma is almost meaningless.

  2. #2 iRobot
    January 2, 2009

    I finished high school just as the anti-tax movement was taking off, luckily. I remember the classes and programs we had. I cant imagine after 20+ years of tax cutting and fee raising the programs are there anymore.
    I have always wondered when the mania against taxes would totally implode the system. I guess now is that time!

  3. #3 Ruth McKinnie Braun
    January 3, 2009

    It’s outrageous that Gov. Schwatzenegger wants to slash the school year by a week. California schools already lag other states on so many fronts – per student spending, teacher-to-student ratios and on and on.

    I have a blog for California parents who want to help their children thrive in school. I have a post from the president of the California State PTA on what it is doing to lobby on behalf of schools and students. She also has advice on what parents can do. I think that is key – parents need to stand up and say: Do not balance the budget on the backs of our kids.

    You can find my site at http://suchasmartmom.com/

  4. #4 Modusoperandi
    January 3, 2009

    Look, California has to compete with cheap Mexican labour somehow…

  5. #5 Howard
    January 5, 2009

    California currently spends more than half its budget on education. It also has a fairly high corporate tax rate. California’s budget has continued to rise since prop 13 passed, but at a slower rate. Prop 13 has impacted the budget, but with many people in the past trading up to bigger more expensive houses, it hasn’t been the total disaster that some make it out to be. Given the current state of the economy, people may not change homes as readily as they have in recent times in California. Only people that have stayed in their homes over the years benefit (many of these older people were being tax-increased out of their homes, which is one of the reasons Prop 13 passed in the first place.) That being said, the state is facing a huge deficit and some difficult decisions will need to be made. IMHO elimination of prop 13 isn’t one of the best decisions. I recommend that interested people try creating their own California budget at http://www.next-ten.org/budget/challenge.html#. I kept educational spending (both K-12 and higher education) flat (no increase or decrease) and was able to basically balance the budget, but it does force you to decide on some increase in taxes and reduction in services. A good mental exercise. BTW, while I support science education and would like to see more, I believe (based on having two kids in the California schoold system and two parents with a fairly strong science background) that the biggest problem is the quality of science education, more than class size or how many science classes are required. Many that teach the subject don’t know it well and aren’t very good teachers. If you are good at science and math, you can make much more money in the private sector, so it only leaves those that are very dedicated to teaching and don’t care about personal wealth, or those that aren’t really good at science left to teach.

  6. #6 Blaidd Drwg
    January 13, 2009

    One wonders, how deeply is he considering cutting football, basketball, and soccer programs?

    Look, I know physical education is needed, our country is fast becoming a nation of blubber, but what is the ratio of spending on new gymnasiums and athletic fields as opposed to that of science courses?

  7. #7 Ctb
    February 5, 2009

    as a current high school senior, trust me when i say 2 science classes is more than enough. if the person enjoys science, they will take it more and pursue, but lets not torture all the other kids who really have no interest what so ever in any field of science.

  8. #8 Don
    May 3, 2009

    Education in California is unmanageable. The State needs to be split in two parts. 38,000,000 people and the land mass of Spain is excessive. Too many districts, to much administration and to little focus on classrooms. Over 50% of all the taxes collected is poured into education and if you measured the results to the cost per student, California is on par with the rest of the States on spending. The objective is not how much is spent, but on how effective is the education. Get the kids out of the schools that aren’t there to learn and give them back to their parents. Students that do not reach a madated GPA will be assessed from their household funds to pay for their education. Teachers should be given the same exit exam students are given to see if they should be teachers. Teachers should be graded by the students for a grade to continuing teaching.

  9. #9 ec
    May 26, 2009

    Posting number 8 is right on. I’ve been an LAUnified junky for years. The money that has been wasted is mind boggling. For example, the amount of money paid for outside legal counsel would fix me up in a nice multi-millionaire pad. We currently pay a fortunate in property taxes as many Californians do.

    Does anyone bother to do research as to why Prop. 13 came about? People were losing their homes. No one should lose their home because of huge rate increases in taxes. It is unfair. I don’t care that my elderly neighbors pay little property tax. They have lived in their home since 1958 and are in a fixed incomes. If prop. 13 became dismantled there would probably be a freefall of prices as no one is going to pay the outrageous prices without the certainty of the amount of taxes they may pay in the future. A free fall in prices would lead to a drop in revenue rec’d. As a scientist, you think you’d figure that one in.

  10. #10 la martina
    April 14, 2010

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