When Elizabeth Zamora received a letter from Cal State Dominguez Hills stating that her application for the fall semester was on hold pending the outcome of Proposition 30, the prospective student said she was shocked.

"It's scary to think I won't be able to get into a four-year university next year," said Zamora, who is currently attending Cerritos College. "I felt like I wanted to vote for Prop. 30, but seeing that letter made me want to vote for it even more."

From sending letters to prospective college students to using automated phone calls reminding parents to vote, education officials are pushing harder than ever for the passage of Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative.

With less than two weeks before the Nov. 6 elections, officials have been stressing the potentially devastating impacts on public education if the measure fails.

But some critics call these methods scare tactics and in at least one case say the educators' efforts violated election laws.

This month, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an anti-tax group and major opponent of Prop. 30, filed a lawsuit against Cal State Monterey Bay over an email sent by a professor urging students to support the measure.

The email urged recipients to support Prop. 30 and push others to vote for it, while warning of dire consequences if it fails. It also noted that students would receive a $498 tuition reimbursement if the initiative passes.

Because the email was sent using university-issued equipment, it violates California campaign law that prohibits the use of public resources for mass political mailings, the lawsuit states.

Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal said the issue of using taxpayer dollars to push for Prop. 30 is a problem throughout the K-12 and university systems.

"In our view this is a systemic campaign of public resources being used for political advocacy, which violates California law," he said.

Education officials, however, say it's their duty to make voters aware of the impacts on public education if Prop. 30 fails.

On the campuses of universities, community colleges and K-12 schools, education leaders have held numerous press conferences and rallies in recent months to promote their message.

At the latest such event Friday, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and nearly two dozen Southland superintendents gathered at Gonsalves Elementary in Cerritos to reach out to voters.

"What we face is the biggest challenge to public education since the state of California was founded," Torlakson said. "We're here united in the hope that voters will realize what's at stake. We're here to say Prop. 30 is essential for public education to get back on its feet."

Torlakson was joined by Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy, L.A. County Superintendent Art Delgado and a group of 20 superintendents representing school systems in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Designed mainly to fund California's schools, Prop. 30 increases personal income tax on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years and also increases sales and use tax by a quarter cent for four years, generating an estimated $6 billion annually.

Supporters say the measure prevents massive cuts to education and provides billions of dollars in funding for classrooms.

Opponents say Prop. 30 is a temporary fix that doesn't guarantee new funding for schools, and furthermore, doesn't address the need to cut waste and administrative overhead.

With Election Day closing in, the message from advocates may be more dire than ever.

A recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that voter support has slipped since September. According to the numbers, just under half of voters -- 48 percent -- would vote "yes" on Prop. 30.

Education officials said the loss of Prop. 30 would create a $6 billion hole in the public education budget, putting funding for California's schools at a historic low.

"My concern is for the future of our children as well as the future of California," said Sandra Thortenson, superintendent of the Whittier Union High School District. "Without proper funding to ensure college and career readiness for our students, they will be less competitive in the job market and university placement."

San Bernardino City Unified Superintendent Dale Marsden said the failure of Prop. 30 would mean an additional $20million cut in funding for the school system of more than 50,000 students. The loss would force San Bernardino to make cuts in music, art and sports programs, he said.

Deasy said the Los Angeles Unified School District would be forced to close 15 days early this school year and could forgo high school graduation ceremonies. The district of more than 980,000 students has already laid off 12,000 employees and made deep reductions to programs, Deasy said, adding that LAUSD has nothing left to cut.

"We can't say as superintendents what to vote for, but we can be clear about the consequences of a vote," he said.

Coupal said the push to educate voters on the consequences if Prop. 30 fails could end up backfiring.

"People look at these messages they're getting and they are distressed and even angered by it," he said. "Voters do not like being threatened."

Besides what Coupal considers scare tactics, the legal questions remain.

California election laws prohibit public officials from engaging in campaign activities while on agency time or using agency resources, such as office equipment, supplies and staff, to engage in advocacy-related activities.

However, Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine law professor, said the law isn't always clear.

"There is a line between information and advocacy and it's very tough to draw that line," he said.

Coupal said the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association plans to file more lawsuits alleging campaign law violations, but ultimately the hope is that the rules can be clarified.

The Associate Press contributed to this report.

Kelly.Puente@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2181, twitter.com/kellypuentept ___

(c)2012 the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.)

Visit the San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.) at www.sbsun.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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  • Prop 30: Gov. Jerry Brown's Tax Initiative

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> There will be an increase in state income taxes on the wealthy (those who make over $250,000) for seven years. Sales taxes will increase by ¼ cent for four years. Its passage will stave off $6 billion in automatic “trigger cuts” -- mainly to K-12 schools and state universities -- that Gov. Jerry Brown wrote into the 2012-2013 budget. <strong>NO vote: </strong> State income taxes and sales taxes are not increased, and California's education budget will be gutted in accordance with Brown's "trigger cut" budget. <em>California Gov. Jerry Brown joins students at a rally promoting Prop. 30 in the upcoming election in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. Prop 30 would raise taxes, directing the money toward education. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)</em>

  • Prop 31: Two-Year Budget Cycle

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> All bills will be made public at least three days before coming to a vote before the legislature, lengthen the state's budgeting cycle from one to two years, mandate the identification of funding sources for all new programs costing over $25 million and allow local governments to create "regional collaboration" bodies possessing the ability to supersede state laws. <strong>NO vote: </strong> There will be no change to the California legislature and governor's fiscal responsibilities.

  • Prop 32: Ban On Corporate & Union Contributions

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> Unions and corporations cannot use money automatically deducted from employee checks for political donations. <strong>NO vote: </strong> There will be no change to the laws that currently allow unions and corporations to use money automatically deducted from their employees' pay checks for political purposes.

  • Prop 33: Auto Insurance Histories

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> Auto insurance companies will take into account a customer's car insurance history, even if it spans different companies. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Auto insurance companies will continue to be prohibited from giving customers discounts based on their histories with other companies.

  • Prop 34: Repeal Of The Death Penalty

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> The death penalty will end in California. <strong>NO vote: </strong> California's death penalty sentence remains intact.

  • Prop 35: Human Trafficking Penalties

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> Prosecutors will be able to seek harsher penalties (fines and prison sentences) for convicted human traffickers. <strong>NO vote: </strong> The laws currently in place about sentencing convicted human traffickers will remain intact.

  • Prop 36: Repeal Of The 'Three Strikes' Law

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> Convicts with two prior convictions who commit a third, nonserious or non-violent crime will not be sentenced to life in prison. Those who are currently in jail with a life sentence for a nonserious or non-violent crime could be given shorter prison sentences. <strong>NO vote: </strong> California's "Three Strikes Law," in which felons could receive life imprisonment for their third conviction, remains intact. Those already in jail for their third felony will remain.

  • Prop 37: GMO Labeling

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> Companies will be required to put labels on all food with GMOs (genetically modified organisms). <strong>NO vote: </strong> Genetically engineered foods will continue to remain unlabeled.

  • Prop 38: Molly Munger's Tax Initiative

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> All Californians will have a higher rates of personal income taxes, the revenues of which get routed to local K-12 schools and early childhood programs. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Californians continue with their current personal state income tax rates. Schools get no extra money. <em>Molly Munger, a wealthy attorney and civil rights advocate, listens to a reporters question regarding her proposed ballot initiative to raise income taxes for school funding following her appearance at the California Parent Teacher Association's annual meeting in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)</em>

  • Prop 39: Income Tax Increases For Multistate Businesses

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> All businesses will be forced to calculate their taxes based exclusively on in-state sales. <strong>NO vote: </strong> Businesses will continue to choose whether to calculate their state taxes based on either the sales they make in the state or a combination of sales, property and employees in the state.

  • Prop 40: Referendum On State Senate Redistricting Plan

    <strong>YES vote: </strong> California will continue to use the new Senate district boundaries that were drawn and certified by the Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011. <strong>NO vote: </strong> The California Supreme Court will appoint a special master to determine new state senate districts.