5 June 2009
Two weeks after the California electorate voted down a series of ballot propositions that would have imposed austerity conditions and regressive taxes, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has advanced a wide-ranging set of proposals to slash whatever remains of California’s social safety net.
California faces an ongoing budget shortfall of $24 billion and is fast reaching a state of insolvency. In February, the Democratic-led State Legislature passed a budget deal that included tax breaks for sections of big business and $15 billion in cuts to social programs and public education. Despite this, the California treasury is still short many billions of dollars, prompting further attacks on the living conditions of working people and the public services upon which they rely.
The attack on social services in California is fully backed by the Obama administration, which has rejected any “bailout” of the state. While trillions have been allocated to the banks, the government is determined to force states to carry out major cuts. California is seen as a model for cuts in other states, which provide much of government spending for education and health care.
Public education is being decimated. In late May, Governor Schwarzenegger announced revisions to his May budget proposal that include $1.6 billion in cuts to the state’s education system for the 2008-2009 school year and $4.2 billion in cuts for 2009-2010.
These reductions in spending, coming on top of $11.6 billion in cuts already passed by the state government this year, will make California the last state in the US in terms of funding-per-pupil. They translate to roughly $3,000 in less money for every student in the state.
School districts across the state will be forced to delay funds for textbooks, increase class sizes, and cut seven days off the school year. Many districts are on the brink of insolvency. Arts and music programs, physical education courses, summer school, advanced placement, special education, and other vital courses will be eliminated as a result of the new round of cuts.
College students will especially feel the pain as more than 200,000 incoming students will lose most or all tuition assistance under the Cal Grant program. Cal Grants help students to enroll in a public or private university by offering financial assistance as long as they meet grade-point-average requirements and are residents of the state. They can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, and, unlike student loans, they do not need to be paid back.
New grants for students attending college will be rescinded and existing grants to already enrolled students will be significantly reduced. By 2011, Cal Grants will be completely phased out.
According to the California Student Aid Commission, which manages all Cal Grants, about 118,000 college-bound students who were awarded grants to attend school in the fall will have their grants terminated.
At the same time, the University of California and the California State University systems, once among the best education systems in the US, will face a further $335 million in budget cuts this year and the next, forcing tuition hikes. The UC system will have a $531 million shortfall next year, while the CSU system faces a $410 million dollar shortfall.
CSU will be proposing a number of measures including: a salary freeze on the vice-president/chancellor positions, a hiring freeze on “non-essential” positions, termination of all “non-critical” equipment and supplies purchases, and travel restrictions for employees. For the first time in its history, CSU will announce a system-wide limit to the number of students enrolling for fall 2009.
At CSU Stanislaus an additional $6 million will be revoked from the school’s budget, on top of the $6.2 million that has already been cut. University President Hamid Shirvani told the Turlock Journal, “With cuts of that magnitude, either fees would have to be raised by about 30 percent or there will have to be some substantial cuts in the workforce, or some combination of the two.” He added ominously, “There would be no alternative.”
The UC Hastings College of Law would have its state funding of $10.3 million, 40 percent of its operating budget, effectively eradicated. This would mean that this once public-funded school would no longer be state supported.
Community colleges will also be forced to offer fewer courses during the summer. The Los Angeles Community College District, with nine campuses, is no longer offering a second summer session. One East LA campus already has 10,000 students enrolled.
College of the Desert (COD), a community college in Palm Desert, will face $4.7 million in cuts through 2010, the deepest in the school’s 47-year history. With an annual budget of $40 million, the cuts represent a 10 percent decrease in the school’s funds. Funding for school counseling and student services will be cut by 73 percent.