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As California's perpetual state budget debate begins to heat up, so does its perpetual wrangle over financing of K-12 education, by far the largest piece of the budget.

The Legislature's budget analyst says the current state budget, passed in October after a record-long political stalemate, is already more than $6 billion out of balance and the 2011-12 budget faces a nearly $20 billion initial deficit.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will call the Legislature into special session next week and unveil a series of spending cuts to rebalance the budget, but Democratic legislative leaders are rejecting his approach out of hand and awaiting the inauguration of Democrat Jerry Brown in January. Brown, meanwhile, will convene the first in a series of public forums next week to establish the parameters of the budget dilemma.

In preparation for the outbreak of a new Capitol war over the budget, the California Chamber of Commerce's education foundation has published a lengthy study of school finances by Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy. It asserts that K-12 spending during the first four budget years of Schwarzenegger's governorship - 2003-04 to 2007-08 - increased by 22 percent, outstripping growth in Californians' personnel income, while school enrollment was declining.

At the same time, the Pepperdine report says, the percentage of school money going "directly into the classroom" declined slightly.

The report bolsters critics, especially in business and conservative groups, who contend that California hasn't shorted the schools financially, as the California Teachers Association and liberal groups contend. The latter have pressed for tax increases to boost school spending, which polls say is the most popular, as well as the costliest, piece of the budget puzzle.

As the chamber unveiled the Pepperdine report, one of those liberal groups, the California Budget Project, released a sharply worded critique, saying its numbers "should be used with caution" and contending that school spending has actually been dropping.

The Pepperdine report can be found here and the CPB critique here.


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