Cautious optimism for Gov.’s education spending proposal
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed this week spending $4.3 billion more for public schools next fiscal year, providing hope to skeptical educators and administrators in El Dorado County.
The governor’s plan, which will be formally released next week as part of his state budget proposal, would provide $54.3 billion in the 2006-07 fiscal year for kindergarten through 12th grade education and community colleges.
If approved by the legislature, the budget would be the most ever spent on public schools in California. It would raise annual spending to $11,000 per child.
Francie Heim, deputy superintendent at El Dorado County Office of Education, was buoyed by the news, saying she remained “cautiously optimistic.”
“If you are a governor who is truly committed to investing in the quality of schools in California, if that truly is what you’re about, you need to supply the additional funding,” she said.
Heim referenced last year when Schwarzenegger pledged to give the most money to education as compared to past California governors. Also included in the budget, Heim said, were increases to costs in education, such as teachers’ retirement.
“We want to make sure there is a true increase,” she said.
The increased spending on education is made possible by higher tax revenue to the state, an unanticipated boost estimated at $5.2 billion that is expected to make budget negotiations easier.
The governor might make reference to the extra income in his State of the State address scheduled for 5 p.m. today.
Proposition 98 requires the state to spend 40 percent of its revenue on education. One of Schwarzenegger’s November ballot initiatives, Proposition 76, which would have provided a different education spending cap, didn’t pass.
“The reason why Proposition 98 is so important is … the last thing ever funded was education in California,” said Mike Patterson, the political action arm of the South Tahoe Educators Association who also sits on the California Teachers Association. “It’s very important that we maintain that guarantee.”
Schwarzenegger’s education secretary praised the $4.3 billion education proposal.
“What this budget does is express (Schwarzenegger’s) best judgment of how all the competing needs of California can be met, and in this case, provide a very large increase in education funding,” said Alan Bersin.
Education groups said schools still are owed about $4 billion more as part of an agreement they made with the governor two years ago. Schwarzenegger has denied the agreement was ever made.
Patterson said more money is needed for several areas in education, including funds to combat the rise in health insurance for educators.
“Obviously we would like to see as much money as possible go to education in California,” he said. “We’re currently either 43rd or 44th in per-pupil spending in California depending on the day.”
Schwarzenegger also wants to allocate more money for several specific programs including an after-school program.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell was hopeful about the governor’s proposal.
“California’s economy has been picking up steam, and this is very good news for our state and for our schools,” O’Connell said in a statement.
“He said he would increase funding for education, making a significant down payment on what’s owed to our school children.”
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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