Prop. 51 invests in tomorrow’s students

Students line up to enter a first-grade classroom at Lucas Elementary School in Ceres in 2013.
Students line up to enter a first-grade classroom at Lucas Elementary School in Ceres in 2013. Modesto Bee

From Los Angeles to San Francisco to Sacramento and back again, public policy officials have been wailing over California’s housing shortage and resulting high prices.

Median-priced California homes cost $469,000. More Californians rent than do residents of any other state except New York. Even a parking space in San Francisco costs $500 a month. The law of supply and demand insists a building boom is imminent. If past is prelude, that boom will echo throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Consider: A house payment in San Francisco consumes 95 percent of a resident’s median income. But in Stanislaus County it’s only 44 percent; San Joaquin 51 and Merced 40. When Bay Area families seeking those bargains find their way to our valley, many will have children in tow. And those children will need schools.

Which brings us to Proposition 51.

The bond issue would make $3 billion available in state matching grants for new school construction. More important to communities that have seen declines in student populations, it would provide $3 billion for districts to renovate, update and modernize older schools. There’s money for charter schools, community colleges and technical education programs.

Don’t doubt the need is dire. A Modesto City Schools study put the district’s capital facilities needs at $1 billion. That’s probably vastly overstated, but the need is clear. So is the need for modernization on most campuses.

Too many Valley districts are forced into choosing between making repairs to keep students safe and investing in the updates and innovations that will prepare students for 21st-century jobs. By necessity, those choices veer toward safety and away from a better future.

If Proposition 51 passes, 24 school districts in Stanislaus, south San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties will be eligible to benefit. In Merced and Mariposa counties, another eight districts will be eligible. Combined, it could mean $149 million in new facilities for the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

In Stanislaus County, there are six school bond measures on the ballot this November; all will make a good case for matching funds if Proposition 51 passes.

Gov. Jerry Brown and others say this bond adds too much to the state’s debt; that enrollments are declining. Others say bonds are not the best way to fund school construction and renovation. But such bonds are precisely how we’ve funded school buildings for the past 100 years. And the last initiative to fund matching grants for school construction has expired; there’s no bond money left – even though interest rates are at historic lows, making such construction more affordable.

We’ve been begging our Legislature to fix our roads, fund water storage and help us clean up our region’s dirty air. But little happens. Asked to address this problem, the Legislature punted. Perhaps that’s why Californians so frequently turn to the ballot box to fix problems that matter.

Both the California Democratic and Republican parties endorse Proposition 51 along with the California Chamber of Commerce, California Labor Federation and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

We can never be certain our Legislature will ever get around to helping us prepare for the students we are certain will be arriving. Vote yes on Proposition 51; California’s 6.2 million students are depending on it.