In contemplating the trajectory of California education in 2024, it’s crucial to balance the projections with a sense of optimism for the year ahead rather than simply dwelling on potential challenges.
Amid the dawn of the new year, educational prospects are set to witness notable shifts and advancements. One significant area of growth is the resurgence of arts programs across various districts. Schools like Manteca Unified in San Joaquin County are slated to experience a surge in student engagement, particularly in music education, thanks to the infusion of approximately $3.8 million in fresh funding from Proposition 28. This ballot initiative, known as the Arts and Music in Schools — Funding Guarantee and Accountability Act, received voter approval in 2022. Manteca, renowned for its strong musical ensembles and equitable provision of instruments, is poised to excel compared to many other districts struggling to fill positions in arts, dance, and music departments, particularly in the initial stages.
As the educational landscape unfolds, the focus will also shift to the impending release of Governor Gavin Newsom’s initial draft of the 2024-25 budget. However, preceding this, Legislative Analyst Gabriel Petek painted a sobering picture with a projected three-year deficit of $68 billion in the state’s general fund. This staggering shortfall includes an estimated $16 billion to $18 billion encompassed within Proposition 98, which dictates funding allocations for TK-12 and community colleges.
Addressing this financial strain will demand astute maneuvering, potentially involving tapping into the state’s reserves designated for rainy days and reconsidering budgetary allocations, such as those earmarked for purchasing electric school buses and establishing additional community schools. However, this could potentially alleviate only half of the financial burden. Consequently, education advocates will pressure legislators to safeguard districts and community schools from cuts, urging budget reallocations elsewhere. Nevertheless, UC President Michael Drake’s response might echo a challenging stance.
A plausible resolution might entail meeting the appropriation levels set for 2023-24 but resorting to a tactic reminiscent of strategies employed during the Great Recession. An analogy can be drawn to the approach adopted by employers facing payroll challenges but aiming to avoid layoffs: issuing IOUs, or in education terms, “deferrals.” This strategy involves postponing state payments to districts, originally slated for May and June 2024, to a later period in the following fiscal year, potentially July, August, or beyond. While this maneuver isn’t devoid of repercussions, such as forcing districts lacking immediate funds to seek loans, it presents an interim solution. Nonetheless, repayment obligations might impinge on future Proposition 98 funding levels, rendering it a less than ideal scenario.