Monday, October 8, 2012
Kyla Calvert, KBPS Education reporter
Thad Kousser, political science professor, UC San Diego
California voters will chose between dueling school funding measures on November's ballot.
SAN DIEGO California voters will see two propositions on their November ballots that would increase taxes to fund schools.
Bey-Ling Sha and Monique Clifford are parents of children who go to San Diego Unified’s Language Academy in the College Area. They agree years of state budget cuts have left the school in a bind.
“We’ve cut any kind of fat, we’ve cut muscle, we’re cutting limbs, we cannot cut anymore. It’s too devastating, it’s destabilizing," Clifford sad.
Sha's son’s fifth grade class has 41 students, but that’s not the only problem.
“My son’s school has no music unless it's paid for by parent fundraising," Sha said. "My son’s elementary school has no art unless it's paid for by parent fundraising. What we’re looking at is a situation where schools today are providing a less-than-optimal education for students across California.”
What Clifford and Sha don’t agree on is how to vote on those two school funding measures - Propositions 30 and 38 - on November’s ballot. Only one of the measures can go into effect. If both pass, the one with the most yes votes would prevail.
Governor Jerry Brown is behind Proposition 30. That measure would raise the sales tax by a quarter cent for the next four years and increase income taxes on Californians earning more than $250,000 a year by between 1 and 3 percent. Clifford, who is also a teacher at the Language Academy, believes the measure is the fairest way because it won’t cut far into middle-income pocketbooks.
“Parents, teachers have already been paying extra," she said. "Because they see what’s needed and they try to meet those needs, and yet we’re going to be willing to pay that extra sales tax. It’s going to bring in $6 billion a year. That income that’s coming in will start right away.”
Analysts have said it is unclear when revenue would start flowing to the state or school under either measure because of the way they're written.
In addition to being a parent, Sha is the regional PTA spokeswoman. And California PTAs have gotten behind Proposition 38, which is backed by wealthy civil rights attorney and education activist Molly Munger. That measure would raise income taxes on all but the poorest Californians by between 0.4 and 2.2 percent for the next 12 years. Those taxes are expected to rise about $10 billion a year. But that’s just where the differences between the two propositions start, according to Sha.
“The one that means the most to me is the setting up of an independent trust fund that will collect Prop. 38 revenue and disperse it directly to schools on a per child basis," she said, "so that every community and every child in a public and charter school will benefit.”
The money raised under Proposition 38 would go into its own account and would be distributed directly to schools. A portion of the money would also go toward expanding early childhood education programs and to paying down state debts to free up general fund money.
That separate account is key for Sha because she believes state lawmakers have a history of finding ways around the minimum guarantee for school funding in current state law.
“The voters of California are sick of our schools getting ripped of because of funds getting diverted out of the general fund for something else,” she said.
Lawmakers have, in fact, suspended the law dictating the minimum amount of state funds that have to flow to schools twice in the last decade, during the 2004-05 and 2010-11 fiscal years, according to the California Legislative Analyst's Office.
Funds from the governor’s Proposition 30 would go into a new account that would still be part of the general fund. This year all of the money would go to preventing $6 billion in mid-year cuts. In future years, the money would free up other state funds for other programs – not necessarily increase funding for schools. If overall revenues decreased, the amount of money flowing to schools would also decrease - even with all of the Proposition 30 revenues flowing to school districts. But that’s part of why Clifford supports the measure.
“We can’t just think, our schools need more money," she said. "Our schools need stable communities and Prop. 30 provides the extra support for public safety. We all need that, whether or not you have kids in the school system and health and human services. Our kids are not going to learn if they don’t have basic needs met.”
If Proposition 30 fails, this year’s state budget is set up to cut $5.3 billion from the state’s public schools and community colleges, half a billion from its universities and about $100 million total from other state departments and local public safety grants.
San Diego Unified and other school districts in the county have made plans to cut up to three additional weeks from the school year if those mid-year cuts take place. Proposition 38's backers speculate that districts could issue short-term bonds to bridge the funding gap if Proposition 38 succeeds.
Many education supporters – including San Diego Unified’s Board of Education - are asking voters to vote yes on both measures. The board’s president John Lee Evans said the board wanted to support any measure that would secure more funding for schools. Proposition 30 heads off looming cuts, he said, but Proposition 38 would bring extra money to schools for 12 years. For Evans, every voter who supports both is sending a clear message to legislators.
“I think there’s really going to be an outcry on the public’s part for funding for public education," he said. "We rank number 47 in the nation in terms of per pupil funding. And this is just not acceptable. I think the voters are really going to say, ‘let’s stand up and vote for anything that’s going to improve our schools.’”
But Chris Cate with the San Diego Taxpayers Associations said by rejecting both measures, voters would send another equally important message that the budget should be balanced through reforms before tax increases.
“We already have the second highest income tax rate in the country, we have the highest sales tax rate in the country,” he said. “If education is their true priority, they should focus on that rather than wasting time, energy and money on things like high-speed rail or other pet projects they want to get done.”
Educators, students, parents and taxpayers across San Diego County and the state are holding their breath, waiting to hear which message voters chose.
KPBS' Maureen Cavanaugh, Patty Lane and Peggy Pico contributed to production.