Gov. George Deukmejian warned school administrators Monday that they should not expect substantial increases in money for education in future years as the state nears its constitutional spending limit for the first time.
If educators want to shrink the size of school classes, they will have to find the money by cutting back on existing educational programs, Deukmejian told a statewide conference of school administrators in Anaheim.
"We have to recognize that we are not going to be able to continue to make substantial increases in expenditures for all existing school programs year after year," the governor said.
The governor also suggested that educators consider doing away with some of the state's 60 "categorical funds," which are used to finance specific programs such as special education, bilingual education, vocational training and the hiring of many teachers' aides.
Nevertheless, Deukmejian received a warm welcome from the Assn. of California School Administrators as he recited his record of spending on schools and pledged that education will remain the state's top budget priority.
Deukmejian, who is up for reelection this fall, has called for expenditure of 55% of the state's general fund on education during the next fiscal year. In his first three years as governor, he said, he has approved $12 billion in new spending for public schools, a jump of 23% per student. Spending on higher education has increased by more than 20%, he said.
John Duncan, president of the school administrators association, called Deukmejian "the greatest public-education governor in my memory." The Republican chief executive received two standing ovations from the group.
Such reaction underscores how Deukmejian has been able to capitalize on the education issue after being pushed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature early in his term into accepting greater spending increases than he liked.
Now, Deukmejian is suggesting that the years of big spending hikes for education are coming to a close. Proposition 4, the constitutional spending limit approved by voters in 1979, may block such increases in the future, he said.
Under the measure, spending increases are limited by a complex formula tied to population growth and inflation, and any leftover money must be returned to the taxpayers. Deukmejian's proposed $36.7- billion budget calls for state spending just $100 million under the limit. However, nonpartisan Legislative Analyst William G. Hamm has challenged the Administration's calculations, saying the spending plan would actually exceed the limit by $238 million.
Public schools and colleges will receive some help from the state lottery, but the $331 million in lottery revenues projected for the next fiscal year actually represents only about $75 per school-age child.
One likely casualty of the spending limit, Deukmejian suggested, would be legislation to reduce classroom size, a proposal he has twice vetoed in the past.
"I agree that some classes are too large and that teachers and students will benefit from smaller class size," he told the conference of administrators. "However, if we are to give reduction of class size a high priority, the education community will have to indicate which funds, now allocated for educational purposes, should be redirected toward funding the reduction of class size."
Senate Education Committee Chairman Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) said later in an interview that classroom size in California has reached a "crisis" and charged that the governor was failing to exercise leadership by calling on the "education community" to suggest cutbacks in other programs.
Despite increased spending for education, California still averages more students per classroom than any other state, with a third of the state's high school classes exceeding a ratio of 35 students for each teacher.
Hart, the author of a landmark 1983 education spending and reform bill that Deukmejian signed reluctantly, has introduced legislation this year that would provide $60 million to reduce class size in high school core subjects.