By Daniel Zarchy, Katia Protsenko & Melinda Szell
Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, they did.
As California faces a $14.5 billion budget gap, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced 10-percent reductions for all general fund departments and programs, including education.
Schwarzenegger proposed the new state budget on Jan. 10, declaring, “We must rise to the challenge and fix California’s budget system once and for all.”
Schwarzenegger reasoned the severity of across-the-board cuts by saying, “We have to be disciplined this year and look at it as an opportunity to solve this problem.”
Given the turbulent history of California’s public education system, many don’t see these cuts as necessary, but rather just another blow to a system that’s already struggling.
“It can’t be good news. There’s just no question about it. It’s not good for any UC system,” said Quentin Williams, an earth and planetary science professor and chair of the UC Santa Cruz Academic Senate. “There are sort of three ways to make cuts work. Either [you] do less, you do more—in the sense that you do more things that make money for the campus—or you charge more. As far as individual programs, I don’t know that [any will be cut] at the moment. But this will be a topic of really active discussion, which has only just started: how we can cut a budget that’s already been cut several times in the last 15 years.”
In the 1960s, standardized test scores ranked the California public school system as one of the best in the country. The system received much of its funding from state property taxes. This changed in 1978, when the state electorate voted for Proposition 13, which lowered property tax by an average of 57 percent, squeezing out a significant amount of funding for state education. Since then, California’s K-12 education has dropped to the bottom of national rankings.
“The impending budget cuts will no doubt further undermine the public education system in California,” said Rodney Ogawa, chair of the UCSC Education department. “The public education system in California has changed substantially over the past 3 decades. It went from being a relatively well-funded, high quality system to one that is chronically under funded and thus underperforming. Services to students have been cut-back over the past 30 years, despite efforts at educational reform.”
With higher education, however, a separate public fund is divided amongst three tiers: community college, California State University and University of California, with the UC getting the biggest slice.
Those in higher education have worked to assure increased funding. January’s cuts came just three years after the establishment of the Higher Education Compact, which guaranteed the UC to a budget increase of 4 percent per year. Another part of the compact was an agreement that the UC would not raise student fees by more than 10 percent in a given year.
“What the governor did this year [is basically say], ‘I’m fully funding the compact [including the 4 percent increase], and then I’m cutting it 10 percent.’ We’re supposed to get a net increase every year, and the 10 percent ate up all of that and more,” said Williams, an earth and planetary science professor and chair of the UC Santa Cruz Academic Senate. “I actually think past budget cuts have really improved the efficiency of the campus. We’ve pared down and gotten a bit more efficient. But I look at [proposed] budget cuts, and I’m a little less worried with the present budget. We’ll figure out some way to make the budget work this year. I’m scared about next year. If we have this same conversation next year, it’s going to be even grimmer.”
UC spokesperson Ricardo Vázquez explained that UC estimates its loss by comparing the Regents’ budget proposal and the Governor’s latest budget outline. “If you look at those two numbers, the difference is about $417 million,” he said.
Still, the Regents’ proposed budget is not set in stone, Vázquez explained. Both the UC administration and the Regents are engaged in discussions with the legislature and governor to minimize impact on the UC. Before the final state budget is released this summer, the California legislature will review the governor’s plan and make adjustments to it. Although the governor has suggested a 7.4-percent UC tuition increase, the final decision regarding the UC budget falls to the Regents.
While the Regents have not yet made any decisions, they have considered a variety of options, like eliminating compensation and salary increases for faculty and staff, raising student fees and increasing enrollment. “But all of these are very difficult decisions and in some cases very painful decisions. That’s why at this point they have just discussed these options but taken no action,” V