In California, a faltering economy, a burst housing bubble and dwindling tax revenues are adding to a growing budget deficit that is projected to reach $18.9 billion in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. To combat the growing deficit, lawmakers have enacted sharp cuts across the state budget, including public education at all levels, from K-12 to the University of California.
School systems trying to fill budget gaps have employed stimulus money, furloughed employees, deferred hiring, cut enrollment and increased fees.
Over the last year, the fallout from funding cuts has spurred protests, from student, faculty and staff walkouts, to strikes, protests, riots and vandalism. On Berkeley’s campus, thousands of students, professors and employees staged a walkout in September, 2009. Two months later, on Nov. 20th, a group of about 40 students took over the second floor of Wheeler Hall, while several hundred students staged a sit-in outside of the building.
On March 4, 2010, parents, students, faculty, and school staffers throughout California are planning a statewide “day of action” to protest cuts to education funding. Organizers have planned events on campuses, at the state capitol, and in Oakland. The initial call for the day of action came from the California Coordinating Committee, a loose network of students and faculty from across California that met once last spring. Since then, the idea has spread and many education and labor groups across all campuses have taken up the call. The OUSD board approved a resolution to support the DoA at their Feb 10 meeting and have planned the days events in conjunction with the OEA (teacher’s union) and the other unions with members who work for the school district.
Some protests have begun ahead of March 4. On Monday, more than a dozen UC students headed to the state capitol to try to convince lawmakers to allocate more funds to higher education. Last Friday, what started as a dance party protest at Berkeley’s Sproul Hall turned into a riot on the South side of campus. Protesters broke the window of a Subway sandwich shop, and set a dumpster on fire.
Although different groups will observe March 4 differently—and some not at all– all parts of the state and all levels of public education have been deeply affected by the budget cuts. At the University of California, the regents furloughed employees, and approved a 32 percent hike in undergraduate student fees to offset a $535 million shortfall. Patrick Lenz, the UC vice president for the budget, said could grow to $600 million in the next fiscal year if the school doesn’t find new sources of revenue. UC President Mark G. Yudof has defended the cuts as a necessary action. “When it comes to the university’s core support, we have only two main sources – taxpayer dollars from the state and student fees,” he said in a press release. “Even with deep administrative cuts, when one goes down, the other almost inevitably must go up.”
The state is reducing general fund support for California State University system by $66.3 million for the 2009-2010 school year. Over the summer, the state university system decided to end spring enrollment—which usually adds about 35,000 students to the system—in order to help cut its budget. Tuition this year is up $978, or 32 percent, for full time students.
The California Community Colleges system is facing $520 million in budget cuts, or 7.9 percent of its overall budget for the current school year, and is expecting to lose another $320 million during the next school year. A student fee increase implemented in the fall of 2009 is expected to offset the cuts by approximately $80 million. Since the last school year, enrollment has fallen by 21,000 students.
K-12 education is struggling as well. The Oakland Unified School District is operating on a $615.3 million budget for the 2009-2010 school year, down $70 million from last year, and the district expects to face cuts of another $40 million next year. Though the district says it is working hard to keep most of these cuts—65 percent—at the district’s central office rather than at school sites. School sites in Oakland are run on what is called Results Based Budgeting, which allows principals to create their own budgets based on their allocation from the district, which, among other factors, is based on the average daily attendance at individual schools. Since principals don’t yet know what their allocations for next fall will be—the final budget will be voted on in June—it is unclear at this point if there will be teacher layoffs.
Programs run by the district but separate from the schools are suffering too. Oakland’s Adult Education program is scheduled to receive a $7.5 million cut this summer, a 15 percent reduction in its overall budget.
Meanwhile, the district is in the midst of what have become very tense budget negotiations with Oakland’s teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association. Union members recently voted to support a strike if the district failed to offer an increase in compensation in the new union contract. Oakland teachers have not received more than a 1.5 percent raise in the last seven years and are the lowest paid teachers in Alameda County according to the California State Department of Education.
Oakland North will provide all-day coverage from three cities—Oakland, Berkeley and Sacramento—on March 4. On our site, you can find timelines showing campus protests and legislative action, numbers to help explain the budget cuts, as well as a map of planned actions in the East Bay. Oakland North reporters will be updating the site, and our Twitter and Facebook pages, throughout the day.
You can find the final version of the day’s coverage here on our special page: California’s Education Budget Crisis.
Additional reporting contributed by Lillian R Mongeau.