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California and the West

Teachers Mass at Capitol for More Funds

Education: Thousands demand that some of the budget surplus be spent on public schools. Governor and lawmakers of both parties have rival plans.


SACRAMENTO — As several thousand teachers came to the Capitol to press demands for more money, the Democratic-controlled Senate on Monday tentatively approved a $1.4-billion boost for public schools beyond what Gov. Gray Davis proposed.

Hoping not to be outdone, Senate Republicans called for an increase in school spending of more than $2 billion, possibly as much as $3 billion, more than Davis. The governor is expected to raise his school spending proposal later this week.

The jousting comes as Democrats and Republicans prepare for battle over the 2000-01 budget, which by law must be in place by July 1. The stakes are heightened this year as half the 40-member Senate and all 80 Assembly members face election.

The upper house Monday approved a preliminary version of the budget: a $92.8-billion proposal, or $4.7 billion more than the about $88 billion Davis offered when he outlined his preliminary budget in January.

The sharp increase reflects the growing state surplus, estimated by the legislative analyst's office last week at as much as $13 billion. On Monday, Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga placed the combined surplus from the current fiscal year and the new year at about $16 billion.

With the state rolling in a record surplus, Brulte called for a tax cut of at least $1.4 billion, and renewed his call for a major rollback in tuition for students at the University of California and California State University systems, saving students and parents more than $400 million annually. Senate Democrats offered no significant tax cut.

Teachers came to Sacramento from across the state; 85 arrived from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"We want part of the surplus," said John Perez, a vice president of United Teachers-Los Angeles. Public schools, he said have "been starved for years."

At a late afternoon rally attended by between 8,000 and 10,000 teachers--with many chanting "Show me the money"--Brulte called for $3 billion in extra school spending. That would push the state's share of public school spending to about $28 billion.

The California Teachers Assn. is proposing an initiative for the November ballot that would require the state to raise per student spending to the national average, at a cost of several billion dollars. As it is, California spends $5,584 per student per year, about $900 below the national average.

Teachers also want the state to give school districts more say over how they spend their money, believing that as districts gain discretion, teachers will be able to win greater pay increases.

"I'm one of those who think we ought to go beyond the national average," Senate President Pro Tem John Burton told the teachers outside the Capitol. "We have the money. So the question is, do we have the will?"

In addition to spending more on schools, the Senate's preliminary budget grants significant increases to welfare recipients and expands state-funded health care for poor people. One of the major boosts comes in funding for the care of the severely mentally ill. At Burton's urging, the Senate raised spending on mental heath care by more than $300 million.

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