Next week Californians will quite literally vote on the future of education funding in the state. Backed by California Gov. Jerry Brown and supported by California teachers unions, Proposition 30 would increase taxes on the wealthiest Californians and increase sales taxes by a quarter of a cent for four years to bolster funding both in K-12 and state colleges and universities.
But a little-heralded second education ballot initiative, Proposition 38, backed by millionaire civil rights lawyer Molly Munger, is causing confusion among voters. Munger's competing initiative is also designed to plump school funding through taxes, but it would be an across-the-board hike, not just for the state's wealthy. It would also only fund K-12 education, leaving the state's higher education system to make more tuition increases.
It's no secret that California has been struggling with education funding during its ongoing financial crisis. The state has actually cut back on general K-12 education funding about 15 percent since the 2007-08 school year, and a May report out of "Stanford University said that the effect was that "parents perceive bigger class sizes, increased out-of-pocket expenses for student supplies, fewer arts and after-school programs and increased local bonds or taxes."
Peter Birdsall of the Association of California School Administrators, which works with school districts directly on budgets, said that the state has basically been borrowing from the education budget since the 2008 financial crisis hit. He said that his organization has been trying to explain just how dire the situation could be for schools in the state if the initiative doesn't pass.
"My sense is that it's well over 100 schools have contingency agreements," Birdsall said. "If they have to make these cuts, then they will cut the school year by 5 days, up to 15. Which is just appalling."
"In the future, when the economy starts to improve, parents might expect us to start improving schools and replacing programs," Birdsall told Raw Story. But the state won't be able to do that unless they pass Proposition 30. "You have that credit card bill out there, and at some point you've got to pay it down, right?"
Jeanette Wylie, president of the Travis Unified Teachers Association in Fairfield, California, said that her school district had already scheduled 11 furlough days to deal with existing budget cuts this year, dramatically increased class sizes and teachers took 4 percent pay cut, even after cutting teachers and pay in 2009.
"If Prop 30 doesn't pass, they'll want another $2.4 million from us, and there will be nothing left to cut … We can't afford another 4 percent," Wylie told Raw Story. "It shouldn't be up to the employees to finance the school district."
"I feel like the voters in California will finally come to realize how precarious education funding is," Wylie said if Prop 30 doesn't pass. She says some districts might be able to survive without the initiative, but "it's just a bigger divide between the haves and the have-nots."
Prop 30 could prevent a tuition increase of as much as $2,400 for the state-funded universities. And that's on top of a multi-year trend of tuition increases. According to a recent College Board report, California has seen a five-year in-state tuition increase of 72 percent at four-year schools and 104 percent at two-year schools.
Caitlin Quinn, who has been working registering voters on the University of California-Berkeley campus and co-authored an op-ed for her school paper in support of Prop 30, said she told students their tuition would literally be on the ballot this November. "It's really a decision of whether Californians are ready to reinvest in public education," she told Raw Story.
She said that though the UC regents "usually look out for their own interests," UC President Mark Yudof wrote a veiled letter of support. In it, Yudof said that though it isn't his place to "suggest how others should vote," he directed readers to university press release that says without Prop 30, the university system's budget will take a hit of $250 million this year and $125 million next year. The press release additionally points out that the system has seen a cut of $900 million in state funding in the last four years -- a reduction of 27 percent.
"No matter what on Nov. 7 we're going to be gathering to figure out what we need to do," Quinn said. "[Tuition]'s always a pertinent issue on our minds."
A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute found that 48 percent of California voters support the initiative. Proposition 38 polled at about 39 percent of likely voters in that same poll. If both initiatives pass, then whichever ballot gets the most votes will be the one to go into effect.
[Image of school children via Shutterstock]
Correction: The piece originally said taxpayer unions supported Prop 38. They oppose both Prop 38 and 30.