On Tuesday, November 6 I’ll be doing what Americans nationwide will be doing: heading to the polls to elect a president. But, I also live in California, a state that in the last four years alone has seen public schools endure $20 billion in education cuts. On Election Day, I—and every other Californian—have the opportunity to show our support for public education by passing two education-focused initiatives, Proposition 30, the Schools & Local Safety Protection Act, and Proposition 38, Our Children Our Future. With these initiatives, we will send a message to our state leaders that the voting public cares about education and it should be a priority for our state once again.
The two propositions are models for legislation in other states impacted by education cuts. Proposition 30 "temporarily increases personal income taxes on the highest earners—couples with incomes over $500,000 a year—and establishes the sales tax at a rate lower than it was last year." That will provide up to $6 billion per year, most of which is restitution funding for K-12 education, public colleges, and universities, plus some new funds for public safety. The revenue from Prop 30 is already included in the 2012-13 state budget, therefore failure of this proposition would trigger a $5.4 billion cut to education.
Proposition 38, alternatively, provides $7-10 billion per year in new funding for K-12 and preschool education, including funds to offset some education funding losses triggered by the potential failure of Prop 30. It would tax Californians "on a sliding scale based on the ability to pay, with the wealthiest Californians paying the most." A family earning between $25,000-$50,000 would pay about $54 a year.
As with most issues these days, the discussion around these initiatives has become exceedingly politicized, to the extent that many Californians have already forgotten what the discussion is really about—the kids and the future of this state. Voters are led to believe they must debate the strengths and weakness of the two competing ballot measures, when they should be focusing their attention on the only goal that really matters: maintaining and improving California's public education for our children and our future.
This perceived "competition" could lead to a dire outcome—a divided vote, which would mean failure of both measures. Opponents of the measures are even spreading the rumor that if both pass, Californians will be taxed twice. That’s not true—only the measure with the most votes is put into effect.
Who are the biggest losers if both initiatives fail? Everyone.
Students could lose an additional three weeks of instruction—after having already lost up to five days in recent years—not to mention ballooning class sizes, shutting of school libraries, elimination of physical education, termination of reading specialists, and ongoing technological stagnation. Failure to pass one or both of these initiatives will also affect the college students who can't get their desired classes or afford tuition increases.
Let's not forget how this impacts our future. What will California, the eighth largest economy in the world, be like when these improperly educated children grow up and become the guys who fix the planes we fly cross country in—or the 911 dispatchers we call in an emergency, or the nurses at our bedside when we are old and unable to think for ourselves? In essence, the future workforce of California and the future economic stability of our nation will be impacted by the results of these initiatives.
Our education system is a skeleton compared to what it should be. We've eliminated preschool, shortened school years, laid off tens of thousands of K-12 teachers, and raised tuition at universities. We've been pilfering from our children and the future of our state for years. As the hangover from the financial crisis drags on, we face the very real prospect of even more staggering cuts to education, which will hinder California's economic prosperity for decades to come.
While neither proposition is perfect—and there's much work ahead to completely renovate California's education system—it's time to get on the right path. The only way to give every child in this state any chance at a high-quality education is a "yes" vote for both education measures.