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New schools Supt. Tom Torlakson cites worsening financial picture

January 6, 2011 |  3:41 pm

New state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson joined with education leaders in Sacramento on Thursday to call attention to what he called an education funding crisis.

The message was not new but Torlakson said Californians need to understand just how bad things are: 30,000 teachers laid off statewide, as well as 10,000 support staff; 174 school districts in jeopardy of default; 16 of the state’s 30 largest school systems compelled to shorten the school year.

He tabulated the total cuts at $18 billion over the last three state budgets.

“The law won’t allow me to call up the National Guard,” he said, so he was trying to summon public outrage instead.

He said obtaining more education funding is the central challenge to improving public schools. Efficiencies, spending flexibility and other reforms could save millions and improve schools but would never make up for the billions lost and needed, he said.

As a partial remedy, Torlakson pushed for the extension of temporary tax increases and other revenue measures that were part of an earlier emergency state budget deal. These expiring provisions would shave an estimated $8 billion from a projected $28-billion state budget deficit in the next fiscal year.

He also supports new tax increases, he said, except for those that would prove too great a burden on economic recovery.

How said about $11 billion of the $28-billion state budget deficit would apply to education.

L.A. Unified serves at least 10% of the state’s students, so that figure translates to more than $1 billion in cuts for the nation’s second-largest school system. The district’s entire general fund revenue last year was $6.2 billion.

Some advocates have offered competing prescriptions for the state's lagging educational achievement, saying using existing money more effectively is more crucial than increasing funding.

They point to a variety of ideas, including making it easier to fire ineffective teachers, improving teacher evaluations and opening more charter schools.

Few critics, however, dismiss the funding shortfall. Operators of charter schools, which are run independently of traditional school systems, say they are cash-strapped as well.

-- Howard Blume