Putting aside all of the political rhetoric you’ll hear in California this fall, there are a few things on which we can all probably agree: California’s budget is a mess. Our public schools are underfunded. People are tired of blame-shifting politicians.
So what’s on the ballot this fall to address some of this madness? If you’re a parent concerned about public education, the propositions you will probably hear the most about are two competing tax measures, Proposition 30 and Proposition 38. Both address school funding and both involve tax increases, but they go about this job in different ways.
Prop. 30 is sponsored by Governor Jerry Brown, and it has the support of political powerhouses like the California Teachers Association and the League of Women Voters. It is a constitutional initiative aimed at addressing the budget crisis while preventing additional cuts to schools and protecting public safety funding. It would create 4-year, 0.25% sales tax increase and a 7-year income tax increase of 1 to 3% on single filers over $250,000 and joint filers over $500,000. It would raise $8.5 billion this fiscal year, and $6.5 billion in subsequent years.
Supporters say that Prop. 30 will stop $6 billion from cuts in the public schools and will provide new money to schools for smaller class sizes, up-to-date textbooks, and rehiring teachers. The new money for schools will be put into a special fund that the legislature cannot touch. It also establishes a constitutional guarantee for public safety funding that can’t be changed without voter approval.
Opponents of Prop. 30, which include various taxpayer organizations, call the measure a “shell game” that they say will allow politicians to take money away from schools and use the new tax revenues to replace it. They also say that there are no guarantees that the money will actually go to the classrooms, and that it does nothing to cut waste or eliminate bureaucracy or address the state pension fund problems.
Further down on the ballot you’ll find Prop. 38, which is funded almost entirely by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, and is supported by the California State PTA and many local PTA groups. (The PTA is calling it “our biggest fundraiser ever.”) Prop. 38 is a statutory initiative that increases state income taxes to raise money for California’s public schools. The tax increases would affect all families except for low-income earners, with tax increases ranging from 0.4% to 2.2%. It would raise $15 billion in 2013/14 and $10 billion thereafter. During the first four years 60% of the funding would go to K-12 schools, 10% would go to early childhood education, and 30% would go to state debt relief. In subsequent years, 85% would go to K-12 schools and 15% would go to early childhood education.
Supporters of Prop. 38 say that the new education dollars would go straight to every local school and must be used to support cuts. School sites can use the money to reduce class sizes or restore classes in music, art, math, science, college preparation, vocational or technical education – depending on the need of the individual school. It also helps to prevent further cuts by setting aside $3 billion annually through 2016/17 to reduce the state deficit. The money cannot be spent to increase salaries or pensions of school personnel, and no more than 1% can be spent on administration.
Opponents of Prop. 38, including the California Chamber of Commerce and various taxpayer groups, say that the measure pours money into a new and unaccountable bureaucracy. They contend that there is nothing in the measure to keep politicians from continuing to spend and waste money in Sacramento, and that there are no requirements to improve school performance or get rid of under-performing teachers.
So, how do you figure all of this out? Let’s say you don’t want any new taxes. You’ll probably vote “no” on both. But if you are willing to support a tax increase to send more money to the public schools, you might consider one or the other. If only Prop. 30 passes, you may or may not see immediate results in your schools, but at least you won’t see cuts. If only Prop. 38 passes, your schools will see additional money, but the schools – and many other state-funded entities including community colleges and state universities – will be subject to a “trigger cut” from the fallout of the failure of Prop. 30. If both pass, the one with the most votes will take precedence and the other will be nullified. Several education groups have decided to split the difference and are supporting a “yes” on both, even though it’s clear that only one can take effect.
Bottom line: With either proposition, you can vote to send more money to go to the schools, if you’re willing to pay more taxes in some shape or form. But if they both go down, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen once all of the funding cuts shake out.
Full disclosure: I am both a state university employee and a PTA member. I am not personally advocating for either initiative. But I am advocating for getting yourself educated and voting. No matter which one makes the most sense for you, make sure you register to vote and then get out there on November 6 and make your voice heard.
A former reporter, Jeanne Ponessa Fratello currently works as a speechwriter and freelance writer. She blogs about kids’ nutrition at Jolly Tomato and about local events and attractions at South Bay Sparkle.
Photos via Morguefile.