November's ballot will have two initiatives seeking higher taxes for education, but one would raise twice as much, for twice as long, and send it directly to schools. The other would save districts from midyear cuts, but primarily stabilizes funding to cities and counties.
School workers vigorously support the second one Gov. Jerry Brown's constitutional amendment, Proposition 30 bracing against a potentially huge budget hit this year. PTAs stand behind the first attorney Molly Munger's measure, Proposition 38 hoping for better, brighter school days ahead.
Carol Kocivar, president of California State PTA, said her group surveys its parents each year. School funding and giving children a more complete education consistently top the list of concerns.
"Our people are very, very concerned that there are cuts to art, to music, there are no nurses, no counselors," Kocivar said. She said the initiative was written specifically to bring back those programs, those people, those school days.
Within the Proposition 38 language, it lays out what the money raised roughly $1,000 per student per year can buy. Art, music, nurses and counselors are there, as are longer school years, smaller classes, summer school, science programs, computers, physical education, after-school enrichment, tutoring and more.
What is not there are the day-in, day-out expenses that often get first dibs on new dollars, things like raises for existing staff, money for leaky roofs, district office jobs and janitorial service which all have suffered cuts during the recession.
Proposition 30 has no such restrictions, but also would offer few new dollars. What it would do is give schools the same funding with fewer delays, with better days ahead as state finances improve.
If it fails, however, midyear cuts would fall squarely on schools an estimated $441 per child this year in schools across California.
Modesto City Schools stands to lose $13 million if the midyear ax falls. The Coalition for a Common Future, an alliance of all Modesto employee and leadership groups, sent out a letter this month warning that the effects of the threatened cut would be "nothing short of catastrophic." The school year might be cut short by three weeks, and arts and sports could be eliminated, according to the letter.
Union leaders said they back the governor's plan. The pain of midyear trigger cuts trumps the potential windfalls for local campuses under Proposition 38. "After they analyzed it, they felt Prop. 30 is the better proposition for the state," said Doug Burton, president of the Modesto Teachers Association.
"It's the stability," said Megan Gowans, MTA executive director. Gowans said she has reservations about the Munger plan, fearing it would not bring back class days and its public-input provisions might take authority away from school boards.
Kocivar of the state PTA said boards keep the checkbook, but the measure builds in transparency to ensure local control. "The important thing is it guarantees that money goes to every single local school and that decisions are made by local communities, because they know their communities best," she said.
Taxing decision for voters
The Munger initiative, expected to raise $10 billion a year for 12 years, is a broad-based income tax that would take at least a little from about 60 percent of the state's taxpayers.
Proposition 30, on the other hand, would tax for seven years only those who make more than $250,000 annually; for four years, it would add a quarter-cent to the sales tax. The measure also would permanently reroute taxes to local governments to help pay for prison inmates moved to county jails and other costs of the so-called prison realignment. Those permanent changes would mean a more stable funding source to local governments.
That realignment focus of the legislation is something most voters don't seem to understand, said legislative analyst Dave Heckler with School Services of California. "Gov. Brown is really looking for less of an education measure and more of a general government measure," he said.
Stanislaus County Tea Party activist Brian Du Bois said such cloaking is all too common. "Education, old people and safety are always stuck in the middle," Du Bois said, calling them "pawns in the budget battle in Sacramento."
Du Bois, who ran unsuccessfully for the Modesto board last year, is adamantly opposed to both measures. "Because we don't look at the current system. We only throw money at it. I'm not against funding education, but we need to evaluate where the money in education is going and we need to do that long before we start taxing the general public even more," he said.
Help is on the way
As of late August, the governor's initiative held a potentially winnable 55 percent approval rating, compared with 40 percent for the Munger measure, according to a PACE-USC Rossier School of Education Poll.
If both were to win, the one with the most votes would prevail. If both fail, as the governor predicted when the competing tax initiatives made the same ballot, the future for education funding is grim in the short term and uncertain going forward. Many districts are running out of reserves.
The California School Boards Association has endorsed both propositions. CSBA President-elect Cindy Marks, a Modesto City Schools trustee, said that though both could not go into effect, either would help.
"Schools have taken the brunt of the cuts in California for the last five years. It is time to do something, and these propositions do something. Our children deserve more," Marks said.
She said the governor's measure would help the state, thereby helping schools. The PTA-backed initiative would give more money to schools.
"Both propositions help schools, and that is why CSBA supports both," she said. School boards around the state have taken positions of support on one or both.
Taking the initiative
The Yosemite Community College District on Wednesday passed a resolution supporting the governor's initiative, said student trustee Douglas Dyrssen. Proposition 38 gives nothing to community colleges, he said.
"Prop. 30 keeps our head above water. It would help us to keep the status quo," said Dyrssen, who follows state cuts to higher education and scholarships.
The Sylvan Union School District Board on Tuesday took the unusual stand of declining to vote. Three out of five trustees said they did not agree with bringing politics into the boardroom and left their seats, frustrating longtime member Cynthia Lindsey. "I took an oath. If there's an opportunity to get any money for our district, we have an obligation to go for it," she said.
Sylvan Superintendent John Halverson said he disagrees with budgeting by initiative. "They're always flawed laws," he said. But with school finance in California in shambles, something has to be done.
"To be honest, I'm pretty angry about this whole thing," Halverson said. "The legislators didn't do their job. So we have initiatives."
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.
WHO BACKS IT: Gov. Jerry Brown; teacher and faculty unions; police, fire and district attorney associations; counties; unions; League of Women Voters; California Budget Project
WHO PAYS: Top 1 percent of earners pay 1 to 3 percent higher income taxes for seven years; everyone pays higher (0.25 percent) sales tax for four years.
HOW MUCH: $4.8 billion to $6.4 billion a year while both taxes are in force
WHO GAINS: Local governments get permanent guarantees of funding for prisoner care and other realigned services; schools avoid billions in midyear cuts this year; revenue tied to general fund would rise with temporary taxes and fall with permanent shift of tax revenue to cities and counties.
LAST WORD: Measure helps cities and counties, and avoids cuts this year to school budgets.
WHO BACKS IT: Attorney Molly Munger, California State PTA, California Retired Teachers Association (backs both), California School Boards Association (backs both), California Association of Bilingual Educators, a variety of nonprofit organizations
WHO PAYS: Estimated top 60 percent of taxpayers pay 0.4 percent to 2.2 percent more in income taxes for 12 years.
HOW MUCH: About $10 billion each year
WHO GAINS: Schools and preschools, with extra help to serve low-income students and train teachers; for three years, state would get about $3 billion to pay down its debt.
LAST WORD: Direct help for schools with local control and stable financing