Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The state budget contains hundreds of specific provisions but none is bigger, more complicated, more politicized, more emotional – or more important – than the 30 or so billion dollars that it spends on K-12 education.

That was true even before Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to increase state school aid and raised its political and societal stakes even higher, although he claims it would be less complicated.

Brown’s proposed 2012-13 budget would increase K-12 spending by $4.4 billion – but only if voters pass temporary increases in sales and income taxes next fall. School officials worry, however, that the supposed increase would be more a bookkeeping exercise than new cash-in-hand. And if the taxes fail, the schools would lose the money.

Is Brown using schools as a pawn in the chess game over taxes, knowing that they are the most popular piece of the budget? Does the sun rise in the East?

At the very least, it forces local school officials to make difficult assumptions about whether the taxes will pass or fail and fashion their own 2012-13 budgets accordingly. It’s a new version of the game that Brown and the Legislature played with the 2011-12 budget and its last-minute assumption that the state would get another $4 billion in revenue.

John Fensterwald, a veteran journalist who blogs about schools for the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, puts it this way:

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