Schools struggle to recover amid years of cuts

In May, teacher unions staged a week of rallies, marches, and sit-ins across California to protest education spending cuts. More than two dozen teachers, including the head of the largest teachers union, were arrested when they refused to leave the state Capitol.

California school officials hope the school budget cuts are coming to an end after Brown released an updated state budget plan that showed an unexpected jump in revenues that reduced the deficit to $9.6 billion.

The Democratic governor wants to maintain K-12 funding by extending temporary tax increases, but so far he hasn’t been able to muster the needed Republican support for his plan. Education spending would likely be cut if the taxes expire, but it’s unclear by how much.

Amid the financial uncertainty, school districts issued about 20,000 preliminary layoff notices earlier this year. Many pink-slipped teachers could be brought back if the districts receive more state money than anticipated.

In Stockton, where 80 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, the school budget crisis could lead to more dropouts, crime, and joblessness in a city with an 18-percent unemployment rate.

Many of the district’s nearly 500 pink-slipped employees won’t be rehired unless the state increases funding or employee unions accept significant pay cuts and furloughs, said chief financial officer Jason Willis.

At Van Buren Elementary, which serves as a safe haven for students who live in the surrounding housing projects, 18 of the school’s 30 teachers have received layoff notices.

Among them is Debra Keyes, a veteran educator who has been pink-slipped three times since joining the Stockton district four years ago. The last two years the Wisconsin native was hired back at a different school the day before classes began.

“It’s a lose-lose situation for everyone,” she said. “Everything they say we’re supposed to be doing for our children is not happening.”

One of her seventh-grade students, 13-year-old Daniel Mayen, said he’s worried about what will happen to his school next year and the quality of education he’s getting compared with previous generations.

“We’re not getting the same opportunities that they did,” he said.

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