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Education Advocates Rally At Capitol, Press Lawmakers For Tax Vote

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — With uncertainty looming over negotiations to close California’s huge budget deficit, a coalition of teachers, parents and public school employees descended on the capital Monday to lobby lawmakers to approve Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan and let voters decide if tax increases should be extended.

   State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and others warned that schools already have lost billions of dollars due to recent years of budget cutbacks and that one-time federal stimulus aid is expiring.

   “Why are we doing this to our children?” Dennis Smith, secretary-treasurer of the California Federation of Teachers said at a rally and news conference involving 300 education advocates. “The governor that we have elected has presented to us probably the most honest budget that we have seen in three years.”

   Brown wants to close California’s $26.6 billion deficit by cutting $12.5 billion in spending and extending temporary increases in the sales, personal income and vehicle taxes for five years.

   Republicans so far have refused to put the tax question before voters, saying that extending the tax increases enacted two years ago would cripple the state as it struggles to recover from the recession.

   So far, five Republican senators have engaged Brown in negotiations for pension reform, a state spending cap and ways to cut government regulations, although the status of their talks is uncertain.

   Brown continues to talk to legislators on both sides of the aisle, said Brown’s spokesman, Gil Duran.

   “He’s working hard to find common ground to forge an agreement to allow the people to vote on a balanced proposal in June,” Duran said.

   Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway told Fresno talk radio station that she believed negotiations had stalled with the five senators. Conway, of Tulare, has not been in the talks herself but has been getting updates from lawmakers.

   “”It’s their impression that even though the governor seems willing, that labor has said no to all the requests so I think everybody left very unhappy from the table,” Conway said.

   Duran said any suggestion the talks had broken off was “highly exaggerated.”

   Throughout the state, education advocates are bracing for another round of spending cuts to public schools. They warn that tens of thousands of pink slips will go out Tuesday to teachers and other school employees.

   Teachers said more cuts will result in larger class sizes and a shorter school year. Meanwhile, school employees said they already have accepted salary cuts and furloughs to help districts grapple with diminishing revenue.

   “We already are working with over 19 percent less revenue than we’ve had in the last few years,” said Renee Hendrick of the California Association of School Business Officials. “Without the extension of the tax revenues, we’re looking at at least another $2 billion cut for education. What else can we cut?”

   Allan Clark, president of the California School Employees Association, said custodians, secretaries, bus drivers and other support staff also have been affected by the cutbacks.

   (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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