By Mary O’KEEFE
Senate Bill 847 has been approved and is now waiting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature, as of press time.
This was the last bill to reach the State Senate floor Tuesday night. If signed the bill enables the state to funnel approved federal dollars to local districts.
“California’s share from Washington is about $1.2 billion. This money is necessary to keep teachers and staff in the classroom doing what they do best: preparing students for their future,” said Jack O’Connell, California Superintendent of Public Instruction.
O’Connell spoke at a press conference at R.D. White Elementary School on Monday to emphasize the importance of the bill.
The federal funds were approved in late August when President Barack Obama signed the Keep Our Educators Working Act, which pushed through emergency funds of $26 billion for jobs in areas like law enforcement and education. This money has been touted as a reprieve for many laid off teachers.
Before the bill was signed, but confident it would pass, Glendale Unified hired back all of its RIF (Reduction In Force) teachers who had been given pink slips.
The bill was signed, the money on its way, but there was a catch – the money trail to local districts traveled through Sacramento. That is what had educators worried especially since the state continues to run without an approved budget.
The press conference was also a chance for officials to vent their frustration with the lack of budget and the proposed cuts in education.
“Schools have been experiencing devastating budget cuts … Our schools are operating on $17 billion less than they anticipated just two years ago,” O’Connell said.
Patty Scripter, education advocate for the California State PTA, said the first day of school always includes some jittery feelings.
“I have the jitters, too, as our students go back to school and push their desks close together as we cram more students into classrooms that are already the largest in the nation,” she addressed the crowd. “Our text books are older, shabbier and out-of-date due to budget cuts,” she said.
Both Scripture and school board member Mary Boger pointed out that in the past the state has cut 60% from education although it makes up 40% of the budget.
“Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’,” Boger said. “The state of California is denying our children the opportunity to be world changers because their method for funding their education is unsound, unstable and insufficient.”
All praised the money from the federal government, as much needed funds to keep teachers in the classrooms but worried about lies ahead with the future budget.
“There is a constitutional deadline of June 30 to pass the state budget but two months later we don’t have one,” Scripter said. “Our children need a budget that makes them a priority and they need it now.”