In his January State of the State address, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed legislation that would both require a minimum budget allocation of 10 percent for higher education and a ceiling of 7 percent on prison spending.
This proposal would essentially reverse the current budget allocation, which grants 7 percent of state funding for higher education and roughly 10 percent for prison spending.
With our state educational system in peril under fee hikes and budget cuts, Schwarzenegger’s proposal is undeniably appealing – the mismatch of funding between education and prison spending is a major problem. It addresses the longtime concern over the state budgets, which have long been criticized for their counter-intuitive priorities.
But the bill is neither flawless nor a tenable long-term solution. It doesn’t address larger underlying problems such as overcrowding and the three strikes law, as Tom Timar, professor and UC Davis Center for Applied Policy in Education director, said. The proposal will likely meet substantial opposition in the legislature as well.
Nonetheless, we see the proposal as a necessary step toward improvements in California’s dismal education system. Despite potential issues with contractor lobbyists and private interests in the prison system, increased support to our education system is nonetheless vital.
Students, in particular, should stand behind the bill. This is an issue beyond Mrak Hall or Sacramento itself – we need to pressure representatives to back the proposal, since bipartisan support will be needed for its passage.
As Rep. Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) said at last November’s Fall Dialogue with the Chancellor, students should contact their home legislators, no matter their political party or support for the bill. It is crucial that the proposal wins a wide support base, since many representatives will be reluctant to oppose influential lobbyists such as prison guard unions.
If all goes well, the proposal will move toward larger prison problems such as the three strikes law. This is the beginning of a positive movement toward budget reform, and if passed, we hope it is not the end.