How did we get here? Many of the key budget and policy decisions regarding public education in California were made decades ago. Here’s a list of key dates from California’s legislative history and recent budget wrangling.
1960: The California Master Plan for Higher Education is introduced, creating new guidelines for the already-existing tripartite system in CA public education: the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges. Many of the plan’s recommendations became codified into law; others, like the plan’s eligibility targets for admissions in the three systems, are not officially law.
June 6, 1978: Proposition 13 passes with 65 percent of the vote. Introduced at a time of rising housing values and property taxes, Prop. 13 placed strict limits on property tax rates. As a result, local property taxes, the bulk of the revenue base for local governments and school districts, were cut by 57 percent. The state picked up the slack in spending, and General Fund expenditures increased accordingly. Prop. 13 also instituted a two-thirds vote requirement in the legislature for approving tax increases.
November 8, 1988: Proposition 98 passes, guaranteeing a minimum level of funding for K-12 schools and community colleges. The measure laid out complicated formulas for determining Prop. 98 allocation; it does not specify percentage shares for K-12 schools and community colleges, and although it establishes an overall funding level, it does not protect individual programs from reduction or elimination. Prop. 98 requires that roughly 40 percent of General Fund revenues go to education from the kindergarten through community college levels.
2003: Two years after the dot.com bubble burst and state revenues plummeted, then-governor Gray Davis reinstates the state car tax to combat California’s budget deficit. The car tax fuels discontent against Davis, who is recalled in California’s first-ever gubernatorial recall election on October 7, 2003.
Fall 2008: The national economy collapses, ushering in the “Great Recession.” California is hit hard, as unemployment rates jump from 7.6% in September 2008 to 11.5% in March 2009. With escalating unemployment, the state’s income tax revenues fall, exacerbating the deficit problem.
February 19, 2009: After five days of deadlock, the legislature passes a 17-month budget plan to close an estimated $40 billion shortfall. The plan, to end in June 2010, includes $15 billion in program cuts and spending reductions. K-12 schools took the largest hit in spending reductions, with cuts totaling $8.6 billion; other cuts included furloughs of state workers and spending reductions for health and social services.
May 19, 2009: Six ballot measures, intended to ease the state’s budget crisis, are put to a vote during a special election. All but one–a measure to freeze legislators’ salaries in times of fiscal crisis–were defeated.
July 24, 2009: The Legislature passes amendments to the 2009-2010 Budget Bill, updating the agreement made in February. The deal includes broad cuts in state spending, including $6 billion in new cuts to K-12 schools and community colleges, and $3 billion worth of cuts to higher education. The package was signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger four days later.
January 6, 2010: Schwarzenegger proposes a state constitutional amendment that would require California to spend more on higher education than on prisons. The change to the constitution, which would need to be approved by ballot measure, would require 10 percent of the General Fund to be dedicated to state universities, while capping prison spending at 7 percent.
January 8, 2010: Schwarzenegger submits his 2010-2011 budget proposal to close the state’s $20 billion budget gap. The plan proposes cuts to social services, like eliminating a $1 billion welfare program for families with children and reducing the state’s Medicaid eligibility to the minimum.
February 10, 2010: Democrats in the state senate propose the year’s first round of budget cuts, focusing on trimming government payroll and the prison healthcare budget. Decisions on cuts to schools and social services will not be made until the summer.