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Boxer, Fiorina clash on education funding

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, August 17th, 2010 at 4:20 pm in 2010 election, Barbara Boxer, California State Senate, Carly Fiorina, Darrell Steinberg, education, state budget, U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was crowing last week that the $26 billion aid package for cash-strapped states includes $1.2 billion for California that would “keep 16,500 teachers on the job.”

This morning, the campaign of Republican senatorial nominee Carly Fiorina sent out a news release saying California Democrats had other plans for the money: “Another day, another broken promise from Barbara Boxer.”

The Fiorina release pointed to a Sacramento Bee blog item in which state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said this new federal money could help plug part of the state budget’s gaping deficit. It also says that the federal money won’t be available before districts must plan their budgets and school starts, and that the money won’t flow through to schools under the Legislature passes a budget, so jobs will be lost at least in the interim.

Both Steinberg’s and Boxer’s offices shot back later this morning.

“The education jobs law and the guidance from the Department of Education could not be more clear: This funding can only be used to save education jobs that serve our children in public schools – and nothing else,” Boxer said in her statement.

And Nathan Barankin, Steinberg’s communications director, said Fiorina “fails to grasp the basic fundamentals of budgeting.”

“News flash to Fiorina: keeping teachers on the job does help the state balance its budget,” he wrote. “Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget proposes to slash school funding by billions, which would result in thousands of teacher layoffs throughout the state. This is an outcome that Senator Boxer and Senator Steinberg want to avoid. The federal money will ensure our schools can afford to keep teachers on the job and our children receive a quality education.”

Then there’s the issue of timing: whether the federal money would arrive and the state budget would be enacted in time to save teachers’ jobs.

Districts already have budgeted for this coming school year; when there’s uncertainty about the budget, they peg their budgets to the Governor’s May budget revision. The state Education Code dictates timing of budget-related layoffs, with a June deadline, so districts already have issued their pink slips for this coming year.

California applied for the federal funding last Friday, Aug. 13, the first day it was possible to make the request, so the governor’s office clearly was wasting no time. Secretary Arne Duncan told governors that day that the U.S. Department of Education anticipates awarding the money within two weeks of receiving approvable applications – in our case, that would be by Aug. 27; he also urged states to give districts an estimate of how much they’ll receive as soon as possible so they can plan accordingly.

The state need not wait for a budget to be passed and signed into law before passing the federal dollars through to the districts; the state Department of Finance can send a letter to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, the caucuses can sign off on it and the money can go out. The hope is that districts would get it in time to choose whether to bring pink-slipped teachers back right away and staff up for this school year, or to save the money as a bulwark against further layoffs next year.

As California Watch’s Louis Freedberg noted last week, that won’t be possible everywhere. Some districts have started school already, and most others will do so around the end of this month. And local school boards would have to ratify whatever decisions are made on how the funds will be spent.

As Freedberg concluded, all levels of government – federal, state and local – are going to have to work very quickly and efficiently with clear communications if teachers will be re-hired and paid in time to greet most students returning to school this year. That said, I’d bet there’s not a school district in the state that won’t gratefully accept the money, whenever it arrives.

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  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Don’t hold your collective breath, friends of public education. The only way the schools could receive proper funding this year is for the teachers to go on strike for a few months. The money saved on salaries could then be applied to educating the kids.

  • John W

    RR,

    Public ed works just fine in San Ramon Valley United School District. In others around the Bay Area and state as well. I’m all for reform and greater teacher/school accountability. It should be much, much easier to dump an ineffective teacher. But the greatest variable is what happens or doesn’t happen in the home between birth and the time a kid starts school. I don’t have a clue how we fix that. I’ve been a classroom volunteer in grades 2, 3 and 5 for several years (not the above mentioned district). I’ve seen kids come into second grade who can’t even count to five and others who have read half the Harry Potter books and can count to ten in three languages.