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Educators split on ballot

Two November measures to solve California budget crisis divide schools

Posted: August 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Education interests both locally and statewide find themselves divided over the issue of the two November ballot measures touted as solutions to California public schools’ continued suffering from budget cuts.

While the state’s PTA drew up a tax plan with civil rights attorney Molly Munger that appears on the ballot as Proposition 38, the Community College League of California is backing Gov. Jerry Brown’s competing plan, Proposition 30.

The California School Boards Association is hedging its ballot bets, giving official support for both measures.

“We support both,” said Dennis Meyers, assistant executive director of governmental relations for the association of elected school board members.

“The reason is: Both provide money for schools, both help schools, and we just thought it was wise to educate voters to the need for more funding for schools. We need money; we’re desperate.”

Both ballot measures call for tax hikes. In a nutshell, Brown’s Proposition 30 would raise income taxes by a percentage point on Californians making $250,000 or more per year and raise sales taxes for everybody.

Munger’s bill would raise income taxes across the board on a sliding scale so that Californians making the most money would bear the largest share of the cost for beefing up school funding.

If both measures pass, the one receiving the highest percentage of approval would take effect.

Educators’ dispute over the two measures deals not with the tax hikes but with the way in which the increased revenue would be distributed.

While the California Parent Teacher Association supports Munger’s Proposition 38 and takes a neutral stance on Proposition 30, California community college proponents favor Brown’s measure.

They say Munger’s measure would direct more funds to early childhood education and ignore the needs of California’s 13th- and 14th-grade students — those who attend community college.

“Proposition 30 is actually much better for us,” said Paige Marlatt Dorr of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

“Not only do we not get (restored) funding from Proposition 38, but we have to take a trigger cut, so we would take a $338 million trigger cut in January,” she said.

Statewide, that works out to about 180,000 fewer students who can be served by the community college system, according to Dorr.

Split among the state’s 112 community colleges, it means a $4.6 million reduction to College of the Canyons’ budget.

Brown’s measure currently has a favorable standing among voters with about 55 percent saying they would support it, according to recent polling data conducted by USC’s Rossier School of Education.

The Munger-PTA measure had about 40 percent support, according to the same poll.

For many voters, the issue is not about an unwillingness to pay more for services deemed essential, it’s about not trusting the government to spend money wisely, according to Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Brown understands this — that’s why he’s spent a lot of time talking about pension reform and welfare reform and cutting government spending,” Schnur said. “He realizes he has to regain credibility.”

However, the presence of two measures on the ballot proposing to raise taxes to benefit schools could spell failure for both, Schnur said.

“When a voter feels overloaded, he tends to vote ‘no,’” he said. “The subconscious thinking is, ‘Things might not be great right now, but to pass an initiative I don’t fully understand could make things worse. So I better vote “no” and play it safe.’”

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