California school funding cut in Gavin Newsom’s budget. Sacramento teachers are pushing back

Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing backlash from different public interest groups following the unveiling of his revised 2024-2025 budget, which addresses a $45 billion deficit by making big cuts to state operations and programs. Chief among his critics is the California Teachers Association, which claims that Newsom’s cuts to K12 education are unconstitutional and will “wreak havoc for years to come.”

The teachers union and the California School Boards Association are both asserting that the governor’s maneuver to avoid $8.8 billion in immediate cuts to schools is not lawful under Proposition 98 (which sets aside a minimum amount of funding for schools in the state budget), sets a dangerous precedent for the future of public school funding and could devastate school district budgets for several years.

In the 2022-23 fiscal year, California gave its public schools $76 billion because that’s what they estimated the Prop 98 formula required. Newsom’s administration says that because state tax collections ended up being 25% less than what the state had predicted, this retroactively affects the formula for public school funding to the tune of $8.8 billion.

The problem is that the state can’t take that money back, as school districts have already spent it. Instead, Newsom is treating the money like a preemptive loan: spreading the cost across future school budgets by reducing public education spending in the upcoming years. While this maneuver prevents layoffs and district budget cuts at the moment, the California Teachers Association estimates that this, along with another accounting move by the administration that the union alleges is illegal, would actually reduce public school spending by $12 billion in the next two years.

“Prop 98, when it was passed, was meant to be the floor. And when you start having maneuvers that all of the sudden say, ‘the floor is not really the floor,’ what that means for educators and students is untold harm,” teachers union President David Goldberg said.

How Sacramento schools will fare

For most schools, the vast majority of their funding comes from the state level. School districts across the state have their eyes on Newsom’s budget as they draft their budget proposals for next year.

Janea Marking, Chief Business and Operations Officer at Sacramento City Unified School District, said that while the budget does represent a loss of anticipated revenue, no student programs are at risk of being cut. The district’s proposed budget will be presented at the next board meeting on June 6.

But educators still fear the implications that the shortfall could have on their schools. Nikki Milevsky, President of Sacramento City Teachers Association, worries that budget cuts could roll back efforts to bolster student success that were just gaining momentum in her district and in districts across the state. She said that similar state cuts to education funding in the past usually result in laying off support staff.

“It would be devastating to schools to have these kinds of cuts,” Milevsky said. “We’re working really hard with our district right now to put in intervention programs for students, and this budget cut would undermine that terribly.”

At Twin Rivers Unified School District, students are largely not meeting learning standards, and the results for Black, Latino, indigenous and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged students are even more bleak. That said, the district’s test scores have improved overall since 2015, but budget cuts could risk the efforts to close the racial achievement gap and get all students up to grade level, said Rebecca LeDoux, President of the Twin Rivers United Educators.

LeDoux worries that Newsom’s budget maneuver could result in larger class sizes and fewer instructional aids, special ed teachers, counselors and psychologists on staff to help students get the individualized attention they need to succeed academically.

“Behind all of those cuts are students, those are kids who need extra attention and they may never reach their full potential because of those cuts,” LeDoux said. “The cost to the kids is really immeasurable in my opinion.”

LeDoux is also troubled by the effect the slashed budget could have on teachers in her district and on the industry at large. Amid a teacher shortage, factors like poor benefits or pay that doesn’t reflect the area’s rising cost of living will keep people from being attracted to the profession. LeDoux said that the poor quality of benefits at Twin Rivers Unified has greatly reduced the number of people interested in teaching at the district.

The road forward

CTA launched an ad campaign earlier this month urging the public to pressure state leaders into halting this maneuver. The union is hoping to work with state leaders to reach a resolution before heading down the path of litigation.

“We’re open to any solution and talking through different ideas, but what we are not open to at all is any gimmicks that put years of gains in public school funding in jeopardy,” Goldberg said. “We will not accept a proposal to cut funding from classrooms today and we will not accept a proposal to cut funding from classrooms in future years.”

If a lawsuit is filed, it would likely not be resolved until well after the cuts are in effect, but Goldberg said that it is important to challenge unconstitutional moves by legislators and to set a precedent that strengthens — not weakens — Prop 98. The state school boards association has also threatened a lawsuit.