Viewpoints: Will Prop. 30 boost public education? Yes

Special to The BeeOctober 16, 2012 

Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers.


When I am asked why I support Proposition 30 I think about Manual Arts High School, where I taught for more than 20 years. Manual Arts is an inner-city school in Los Angeles, serving the families who need public education the most.

Even in the 1980s the dire effects of inadequate budgets had begun to erode what was once one of the finest education systems in the world. So like most teachers, I dipped into my own pocket to purchase classroom supplies when the school site supply budget ran out by midyear. Manual Arts was built in 1910. The building required more help than my pocket could take care of.

So did the community surrounding the school. More than 90 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. Yet over the past four years, what the California Legislature has offered to Manual Arts and schools like it across the state is massive budget cuts – to schools, and to critical social services that support the students and their families.

Proposition 30 is also about my daughter, who attends middle school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. When I dropped her off on the first day of school this year, her first-period teacher asked me if I could buy supplies for her classroom. This was a familiar story, but note that things are speeding up. Thanks to the budget cuts in Los Angeles, teachers have 10 furlough days this year. And if Proposition 30 doesn't pass on Nov. 6, my daughter will spend three more weeks somewhere other than her classroom.

Proposition 30 asks the wealthiest Californians to pay a modest 1 percent to 3 percent more in income taxes to restore public education programs cut over the past several years. It would also impose a very small increase of one-quarter of 1 percent in the state sales tax, equivalent to an extra penny on a $4 hamburger. And it would protect local public safety service funding by folding it into the state constitution.

Proposition 30 will not solve all of the state's fiscal problems, accumulated through 30 years of tax cuts and disinvestment. But by raising $6 billion per year, it is a necessary first step toward restoring the educational programs we need so that California's future can be the one I want my daughter to live in. It is also the only measure on the ballot that will prevent billions of dollars more in "trigger cuts" to education.

This won't be easy. We are hearing the voices of fear and cynicism already. From the anti-tax crowd we hear that the rich will all leave California if they pay another few cents on the dollar in taxes, taking all the jobs with them.

I doubt it. When a similar modest increase on Oregon's wealthiest taxpayers was proposed a couple of years ago to prevent further cuts to schools, the same shrill cries were heard, and no exodus occurred after the voters passed the measure. Think about it. There are plenty of states with no income taxes whatsoever. We have 41,000 people in California who earn more than $1 million a year. If income taxes were their chief concern in life, they'd already be living in Nevada.

Then there are the anti-government messages, stoking fear that "the politicians" will misspend Proposition 30 revenue, as in the nasty ad sponsored by Molly Munger and the Proposition 38 campaign. Proposition 30 funding would be governed both by the Proposition 98 guarantee that 40 percent of the general fund goes to K-14 education, and by a new accountability mechanism, put in place by Proposition 30 that oversees disbursement and ensures it goes to schools.

Proposition 30 is supported by a broad coalition that includes the governor, unions, business and community organizations, students, virtually every credible major newspaper and faith-based groups.

If you repeat anything often enough, some people will believe it. Our opponents have enough money to repeat their fear-mongering very often – like Molly Munger's brother Charlie, who has put millions of dollars into a super PAC opposing Proposition 30. So no doubt some people will believe them.

But I'm betting on more than 50 percent of the electorate understanding it's time to stop underfunding schools. We have 6 million kids in K-12. We have another 2 1/2 million adults in higher education. Their time to be educated is now. We owe it to them to give them the boost into a better future that public education is there for.

Vote yes on Proposition 30.

Coming on Wednesday: Proposition 38

Proposition 38 would increase state income tax rates for most Californians to provide $10 billion in new annual revenue for public schools. Delaine Eastin, former superintendent of public instruction, says Proposition 38 would give substantially more support to students and reverse deep cuts to early childhood education. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, says Proposition 38, by competing with Prop. 30, is a threat to California's fiscal stability.

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