“Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” ~ Secretary of State Edward Everett
In June 2003, concerned about proposed budget cuts for public schools, I wrote a column that included these lines:
“There’s no better way to perpetuate a strong, safe, prosperous America than by providing her children with the education needed to keep her that way. We ensure the continuance of democracy and freedom by teaching children the value of equality, voting, liberty — and how to think.”
That nearly eight-year-old column has been on my mind recently.
Now that Republicans in Sacramento have used the tyranny of the minority to prevent Californians from even voting on whether or not they want to extend current taxes that would spare K-12 public schools from draconian cuts, we’re starting to understand the harsh realities of an all-cuts approach to balancing the state budget — and they’re not limited to the K-12 education system.
The state’s five high-tech crime task forces, dubbed REACT, will lose their funding in June when vehicle license fee increases expire. These task forces are made up of officers from multiple agencies who focus on preventing and solving high-tech crimes, which is particularly important to this region’s economy.
California’s once-envied college systems have already absorbed brutal cuts and face still more. The CSU board of trustees moved recently to again reduce enrollment to accommodate budget cuts.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that those cuts have long-term effects: “James C. Blackburn, Cal State’s director of enrollment management, says some of the system’s universities also have a difficult time raising enrollment once they have reduced it. Cuts in faculty, staff, and courses are difficult to reverse, and institutions can be hurt by the loss of the tuition income.”
And South County’s K-12 public school districts are reeling. Thanks to the expiring taxes, they’re facing what one district termed “unfathomable” additional cuts that follow years of cuts.
The Morgan Hill Unified School District, which includes San Martin and parts of south San Jose and serves 9,100 students, is looking at cutting $7.2 million because those taxes are not being extended. The Gilroy Unified School District, which serves 10,500 students, is facing more than $10 million in cuts.
Both districts are considering dropping school days, reducing athletics, eliminating arts programs, continuing to increase class sizes, and closing schools to accommodate the loss of funding.
Thanks to the un-American and irresponsible position of Republican state Assembly members and state Senators, Californians might not be able to vote on extending state-wide taxes to fund education, but South County residents can certainly vote on local taxes to do that. And there’s a sliver lining to that plan: Because the state cannot play middleman, funds raised from local taxes are under local control.
In Morgan Hill and Gilroy, we need to be asking ourselves these questions: Do we value education? Do we want our children and our nation to be able to compete with students from countries with schools that feature longer school days, more school days, more rigorous coursework, and offer a wider variety of classes? Do we think our children deserve at least as good an education as our parents and grandparents provided us through their taxes?
Most of us will say yes. But, words are cheap; actions count. Very soon, we’re going to have to prove it at the ballot box.
We can put our money where our mouths are by supporting local taxes for local schools. South County’s school districts will have to put tax measures of some sort on the ballot — parcel taxes, sales taxes, something — or cut programs dramatically, reducing the quality of education we’re providing our children and grandchildren.
School district administrators have done a good job over the last several years of chronic budget cuts of keeping cuts away from the classroom as much as possible. The cuts that we currently face are so deep that keeping them away from the classroom is no longer feasible.
I hope South County voters will provide their children and grandchildren high-quality educational experiences like the ones that they received. If we value our children, our communities, and our nation, we must support quality public schools in our communities with our wallets, not just our words. It’s the right thing to do, and the patriotic thing to do.
“It was in making education not only common to all, but in some sense compulsory on all, that the destiny of the free republics of America was practically settled.” ~Poet James Russell Lowell