The budget released by Gov. Jerry Brown's last week forces voters to make an uneasy choice: approve a $35 billion tax increase in November or severely cut public school funding.
But is education really at risk or is Brown playing smart politics?
"When Jerry Brown put out his budget proposal this week, he essentially wrote the most expensive ransom note in California political history," said Dan Schnur, Director, USC Unruh Institute of Politics.
"What he told the voters of California is 'pass my initiative' which is going to be on the November ballot this fall, and if you don't 'I'm going to cut three weeks out of the school year, I'm going to cut K-12 public education in California.'"
Gov. Brown said his budget was "not nice" and the cuts would produce "hardship" and "burdens" for Californians. Schools would be the most severely hit, taking a $4.8 billion cut.
Voters are a lot more emotionally attached to K-12 public education than they are for welfare, or other social service programs, Schnur said.
"So by framing it this way—pass my initiative or the kids get it-- he's aiming at the emotional core of the California electorate," Schnur said.
Schnur believes voters would be willing to pay higher taxes if they were assured the money actually went towards education and that's more politically popular for Gov. Brown.
"He's saying 'we can save our schools,'" Schnur said, "but you have to pass this initiative in order to do it."