With budget cuts looming across California, Los Angeles Unified School District, and all California schools, are at risk of 15 furlough days—a last-ditch effort to cut costs. This is on top of districts already shedding teaching, administrative, and janitorial staff down to bare bones in recent years. In Los Angeles, students have already lost five instructional days this year due to fiscal cuts (with teachers forced to take an additional five furlough days). With Prop 30 polling at just 46 percent approval, the children of Los Angeles are poised to lose another 15 days of school, for a total of 20 days this year and another five or more next year—one full month of learning time.
What will happen to my students if Los Angeles Unified loses an additional 15 days of school? Teachers like me will be forced to make hard choices about what to lose from their curricula: Will it be decimals or percents, the Cold War or World War II, frog dissection or genetics? Something has to give.
In my classroom, students will miss out on studying the Holocaust. These cuts will hurt all our students, but for our most vulnerable children, the losses will be greater than academics.
Earlier this fall, the public expressed outrage at the Chicago teachers’ strike, which caused students to miss one week of school. How can something as drastic as students missing nearly a month of school pass without even a whisper? No school may mean no breakfast or lunch for the 80 percent of children who depend on the school meals program—that’s more than half a million children. It will mean no access to the support network of caring teachers and counselors.
No school has larger implications for the community, too. Working parents will have to pay for childcare or find relatives to help out. Some children may sit at home and study on their own, but most will think summer has come early.
The situation is bleak, but there is still hope. Though it may not be the shining beacon we would wish for, Prop 30 is a lifeline. Sponsored by Governor Jerry Brown, Prop 30 increases taxes on people who make over $250,000 per year and raises the sales tax by a quarter of a cent. This will generate an estimated six billion dollars of revenue for the state general fund, the majority of which is dedicated to education.
This is the carrot of Prop 30. More persuasive is the stick: the $6 billion is already spent. Last summer, the legislature allocated the money, assuming that Prop 30 would pass. If Prop 30 fails now, it will trigger automatic budget cuts of nearly $6 billion to public education statewide. This means a cut of $255 million for Los Angeles Unified in the 2012-13 school year, which would go into effect in January. Public education will be decimated at all levels.
Governor Brown has lifted the cap on furlough days, so that if Prop 30 fails, the school year could drop as low as 160 days, tying California with Colorado for the shortest school year in the nation. In Los Angeles, Superintendent John Deasy has already made it clear that our schools will have to cut days. Without this ballot measure, summer could begin in early May.
Complicating matters and causing some confusion for voters is the fact that there are two conflicting ballot measures, both relating to education funding. Prop 38 will also fund education, by increasing taxes on all income levels and placing the revenue in a fund dedicated primarily to education. Even if both pass, only the one with the greater number of votes will go into effect. Prop 38 may be a better bill than Prop 30, but it is unlikely to fill the shortfall from the “trigger cuts” if Prop 30 doesn’t pass.
What should California voters do? On November 6, it is imperative for the sake of our students that we pass Prop 30. Vote yes on both Prop 30 and 38. We have to get over our collective frustration with the gridlock in Sacramento, and our cynicism about government spending. Instead, we must hold on to optimism and push this legislation forward. Our children have a civil right to a quality education.