It’s newspaper endorsement season and the competing ballot measures that most benefit schools have been reviewed by the editorial board at the LA Times. In this morning’s editions, the paper comes out for Prop 30 backed by Governor Jerry Brown and no to Prop 38 backed by Molly Munger.
Expect the John and Ken crowd to come out widely against both measures.
From the editorial:
Two years of belt-tightening have left parts of the state safety net in tatters and pushed college costs out of the reach of many families. Cuts in aid to the poor and working poor in this year’s budget eliminated child-care subsidies for 14,000 children and preschool slots for 12,500 children. State aid for low-income seniors and the disabled is now as low as it was in 1983; welfare checks are smaller than they were 25 years ago. And K-12 spending per pupil remains $1,000 less than it was five years ago. California now spends less per student than all but three states.
The picture would only worsen if Proposition 30 is defeated, leaving a nearly $6-billion gap in the budget. If that were to happen, state law calls for $4.8 billion in automatic “trigger cuts” to public schools, more than $1 billion in cuts to higher education budgets and $100 million in assorted other reductions. K-12 schools would be authorized to cancel up to three weeks’ worth of classes in 2012-13 and 2013-14, and per-pupil spending would drop about $700. Fire safety would take a substantial reduction; overburdened courts would be burdened still further, meaning less access to justice for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Cuts of this magnitude are unacceptable.
Most of the money raised by Proposition 30 would come from increasing the tax rate on incomes above $250,000 per individual (or $500,000 per couple) by 1 to 3 percentage points for seven years. The rest — about $1.2 billion a year — would come from increasing the state sales tax by a quarter of a cent for four years.
The measure requires that 89% of the money raised goes to K-12 schools and 11% to community colleges, but those dollars would help satisfy the minimum annual funding requirements of Proposition 98 (the 1998 ballot measure that requires about half the general fund to be spent on public education). The result would be about a $3-billion increase in annual spending on schools and about $3 billion freed up in the general fund for other state priorities. The proposition would also make a critically important change in the state Constitution, dedicating state revenue (mainly from sales taxes) to local governments to fund the criminal justice programs and other responsibilities Sacramento transferred to them under Brown’s “realignment” initiative.
Proposition 38, by contrast, is more focused on pumping money into schools to reduce class sizes, restore instruction in the arts and other subjects that have been lost to budget cuts, improve classroom technology and update teaching materials. The measure would raise an estimated $6 billion to $8.5 billion annually for public K-12 schools for 12 years. That’s the equivalent of $1,000 to $1,400 per student. It also would raise $1 billion or more annually for early childhood education, including a new Early Head Start program for children under age 3 from low-income families.
The source of the money would be a temporary increase in personal income taxes. Proposition 38 would raise rates on a sliding scale, affecting taxable incomes as low as $7,316 a year. The vast majority of the money raised, though, would come from the top 5% of the state’s earners — those making more than $200,000 — whose rates would increase from 1.8 to 2.2 percentage points.
The measure is akin to a no-confidence vote for Sacramento; the money it would raise for schools would flow directly to local school boards and charter school governing bodies, bypassing the Legislature and state education officials. It would help relieve the state’s budget problems, but only for four years. From mid-2013 to mid-2017, 30% of the money from Proposition 38 would be dedicated to paying down school bonds and other state debt, freeing about $3 billion in the state’s general fund for other purposes.
Munger’s proposal includes several provisions restricting how schools could spend the new money. For example, none of it could be used to increase salaries. But the restraints appear to deter some kinds of reform, such as lengthening school days or years, creating regional pools of resources or offering more instruction online. And the measure bars the Legislature from changing any provisions that prove problematic; instead, any amendments would have to be made by the voters.
The biggest shortcoming of Proposition 38, though, is what its supporters consider its main selling point: the fact that it walls off from the general fund most of the money it raises. That’s a real problem for the current fiscal year, which will be over before much of the funding would kick in.