So what are we looking at in California?
K-12 education makes up nearly 40 percent of the state budget, so it's virtually impossible for lawmakers to solve the $21 billion deficit without affecting schools. And that really means affecting the people who work in them, because salaries make up 80 to 90 percent of most district budgets.
Decisions on school staffing are made locally, the product of negotiations between each of the state's roughly 1,000 school districts and their local teachers unions...
Right now state law requires a school year of at least 180 days. Schwarzenegger's proposal calls for temporarily changing the law to allow districts to cut the school year to 173 days for the next three years. Each district and its union would decide whether to shorten the year.
"It's just to give them an option, it's not that we want to reduce instructional time," said Kathryn Gaither, the governor's undersecretary of education.
"We're just trying to figure out ways to help them manage this big chunk that's coming out of their budget."
Clearly, something must be done. Instead of dictating at the state level, the government is letting individual districts decide how to absorb the cuts.
But wait! Someone isn't happy.
The president of the California Teachers Association – the umbrella group over local teachers unions – said he won't tell locals whether to opt for a shorter year or more layoffs. David Sanchez said he opposes both.
"When you shorten the school year, you're making it less time for teaching and less time for students to learn," he said.
"I am against shortening the school year because the final impact is going to be on our students … not to mention our members losing out on salary and benefits. But I'm also against the other option of reductions of teachers across the state. No one should be out of a job at this time."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is indicative of the problem that got us to this point in the first place. How does Señor Sanchez propose to solve this budget crisis? How would any liberal propose doing so? Raise taxes (including on those teachers he claims to want to protect).