Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A Letter to President Obama

This was written February 19, 2009. Please ignore the above date - blogger glitch!

Dear President Obama,

The recent, and not-so-recent, budget crises in California are more than simply monetary issues. They are the death throes of a divided state. The two-thirds majority requirement for passing the budget and the way the districts are apportioned means that, although no state can run without income, those districts who do not want to see their taxes raised have enough power to hold the majority hostage. They are willing to throw the whole state over a cliff for their ideals. They have not only wreaked havoc on the functionality of the state as a whole, they have created a real, true, disaster zone for the people who live here.

Today the State Senate cut the education budget in this state by xxx. As a result, some districts in our area will be cutting out all sports, all art and music, and closing all their school libraries. They will be throwing out the size limitations for younger classrooms and fitting large numbers of small children into classrooms with a single, overworked teacher. Some schools will be forced to close, and the students from these schools will be forced to travel long distances to already overcrowded schools. But the burden will be on their parents, because there is no longer funding for school buses.

State employees are expected to take some of the burden. There are times in the past few years when the State has not passed the budget, and State employees have not been paid. They simply had to wait until the budget was passed, regardless of how long it took - and regardless of their mortgage payments, their food needs, and the needs of their families.

My husband is a professor in the State University system. In the six years he has worked at his job, his pay has actually gone down in relation to what he has been able to buy with the money. The union worked hard to get him back pay-raises, which were going to be paid out over a certain amount of time. Now, because wealthy Senators in Sacramento don't want to raise taxes which have been abnormally low since Proposition 13's tax-freeze in the 1970s, he is going to lose those pay raises: the State Senate says they can't pay for it, so he's just going to have to suffer. Meanwhile, wealthy landowners, who don't pay the taxes they should be paying, go on being wealthy at our family's expense.

I am writing to you, President Obama, not because you are allowed to tamper with State business, or because you can force the State legislators to do your bidding. I am writing to you because I want to point out that your stimulus package, on which we have all been hanging so many hopes, still allocates those funds to schools based on criteria which were set down by the previous government - one which ultimately did not want to pay for our children's education.

Title 1, for example, which theoretically pays for help for disadvantaged children, is supposed to be based on the number of low income families in a district. A few years ago, the criteria for measuring need was changed from being based on the number of families receiving aid to being based on incomes as reported in the census. In our district we have a large number of low-income families who for one reason or another (some of it racial) did not want to be counted in the census. So, according to the new criteria, we are well-off: thus, we have lost our funding for Title 1 - and will receive a very tiny amount from the stimulus package, enough to buy one computer - despite the fact that almost half of the families in the school are defined (by Federal standards) as low income. The next school district over, with a fraction of the number of farmworker kids, is getting close to ten times as much money from the stimulus package.

So, from those of us who are living in the danger zone, where State legislators are literally bludgeoning our children, our teachers, their own employees, and all the people of this state with their mistaken belief that keeping taxes down is in the best interests of the people, we beg you: look carefully where you distribute your stimulus. We have not only suffered at the hands of the previous Federal government, but we continue to suffer at the hands of our State government. It is becoming a war zone here, and as with all war zones, the smallest of us suffer most.

I beg of you, please examine how the funds are being allocated. The stimulus package will do none of us any good if it is built on the same old corrupt mechanisms that the old regime relied on to cut spending.

Thank you,

Heather McDougal
Educator, Writer, and Community Activist