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California teachers unions fight to preserve flawed, costly status quo

The teachers unions should help the districts find a path forward with existing resources.

Teachers unions in California are vowing to fight any cuts to education funding during the recession caused by the open-ended coronavirus lockdown.

For example, United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl told members, “we cannot go back” to the type of cuts school districts experienced during the 2008 recession, when class sizes were increased, campuses were closed and teachers with less seniority were laid off.

But he’s wrong. Not only can we go back, we likely will have to.

It’s simply not possible to pay the same bills without the same revenue. The order for people to stay in their homes week after week, with “non-essential” businesses forbidden to operate and millions of Californians filing unemployment claims, has blown up the state’s revenue forecasts and made the governor’s January budget proposal a fairy tale.

Education funding is tied to the state’s fiscal health. Under Proposition 98, about 40 percent of the general fund goes to K-12 schools and community colleges. But revenue from personal income tax will collapse as jobs are lost and long-term stock market gains vanish. California’s highest-in-the-nation state sales tax rate of 7.25 percent brings in very little when nearly all retail stores are closed by state order.

The California Teachers Association and other education groups sent a letter to state lawmakers calling for the state to “maintain the integrity” of Proposition 98. The teachers union wants schools to have, “at a minimum,” the same funding they received for the current year, plus a cost-of-living adjustment.

But Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, said it would be a good idea for education officials to “save wisely” and be “extremely focused” when they work on their budgets. “What I would be doing,” O’Donnell advised, “is looking at my outlays and maybe pulling back on some of my expenditures.”

The level of current expenses has been in need of scrutiny for some time. A California School Boards Association survey earlier this year found that about 40 percent of the school districts in the state have suffered declining enrollment and reduced revenues. At the same time, education costs – and pension costs – have been rising.

This has to be addressed. Californians have been asked to pay higher taxes again and again with little to show for it. That cannot continue, as voters appeared to declare in March when they rejected a statewide school bond measure for the first time in more than two decades. School bond measures at the local level also failed in unprecedented numbers.

The teachers unions should help the districts find a path forward with existing resources. This is not the time to stand in the way of needed changes. Unemployment is at record levels and public employees cannot be supported in the style to which they are accustomed.