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The State of California is dealing with several issues. One of the most pervasive is the consistent inability of the State Legislature to produce a budget acceptable to the Governor of the state. This is largely a function of the political parties involved, as the legislature is dominated by democrats and the governor is a republican. When finally resolved in February of 2009, the budget created as many problems as it solved. While it did close a $41 billion dollar deficit (one of the primary goals of the Governor) it did so through a program of cuts in social services, increases in taxes, increased University tuitions and extensive borrowing. All of these measures are occurring in the middle of a national economic downturn. Additionally, California is, as it usually does, dealing with ever-increasing numbers of immigrants, both legal and illegal, who produce their own strains on the local economy, and populate already overcrowded and underfunded schools. The state is also dealing with a population sharply divided on some social issues such as legalizing marijuana and gay marriage. Having recently passed a referendum to change the constitution of the state to explicitly define marriage as a union of a man and a woman, the state has experienced a backlash from the segment of the community sympathetic to gay rights.
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They allege that other states (such as Utah) made a deliberate effort to manipulate the results of the referendum. On the issue of legalized marijuana, the State has already permitted this in circumstances of medical necessity, but, again, large segments of the population are seeking to expand the permissibility of the use of the substance. The budget of California is under the direct control of the State Government. It is the responsibility of this government to find a way to accommodate the needs of the people within the State while honoring fiscal realities. It is also the responsibility of the state legislature to pass laws reflective of the clear will of the majority of the people of the state, without setting unconstitutional limits on the liberty of any one citizen. The problem of immigration, in contrast, is well beyond the purview of the Government of California. California does not have the power legally to negotiate any sort of agreement with the Government of Mexico, or any other government. Only the Federal Government has this authority, and even to the extent they exercise it, they are not always effective in keeping illegal aliens from crossing into California and other states.
Education in California is facing a crisis that is composed of two elements. The first of these elements is the spiraling number of students enrolled in California schools. That number, 6.2 million, is 2 million more than that of the State’s closest neighbor in terms of population, Texas. California also has the highest percentage of students learning English as a second language and is among the top States in students from low-income areas. While dealing with these significant issues, California has been cutting spending in education, and now lags behind other states in proportional (per-student) spending. California is also between 22nd and 33rd in the amount of proportional spending on education in the United States, and the most recent budget reflects even more reduction in education spending. Education in California is faced with the prospect of becoming overwhelmed by the combination of increased enrollment coupled with reduced spending.
The state already has the highest student to teacher ratio in the United States, and budget reductions tend to increase that number. The Governor of the state hopes to fix the education system in California by improving infrastructure and Career/Vocational programs, but he ignores the needs of the schools in terms of staffing and materials. This is somewhat understandable, given the budgetary concerns of the state, but it is a short-sighted view on education as a whole. Education should be fully funded for optimal performance regardless of cost. The cost of maintaining prisons and social services for students who emerge from the education system ill-prepared to enter the work force greatly outweighs the cost of reforming the education system. Efforts should be bent to refocus education to the purpose of preparing people to become useful parts of the economy.
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