Californians and our political representatives have jointly presided over the demise of our once-heralded system of public education. Just how far has the once-mighty fallen? California now ranks 40th in per-pupil funding; our standardized testing scores now rank below almost every state in the nation, with only 25 percent of students at proficient levels (44th in math, 45th in reading); more than 180 school districts face major financial strain and are forced to borrow money (at high interest rates) to pay their bills; and class sizes have ballooned to near 40 students per teacher in many school districts.
From the elimination of preschool and shortened school years to tens of thousands of K-12 teacher layoffs and dramatic cutbacks (and simultaneous tuition increases) at universities, we have been pilfering from our children and the future of our state for more than 30 years. As the hangover from the financial crisis drags on, we face the very real prospect of even more staggering cuts to education, which will hinder California's economic prosperity for decades to come. It's time to get on the right path.
With this as the backdrop, I should be ecstatic that not one but two education-focused initiatives will be on the ballot this November. Proposition 30 provides approximately $8 billion, much of which is restitution funding for K-12 education, public colleges, and universities and new funds for pubic safety. Proposition 38 could provide $10 billion per year in new funding for K-12 education and preschool, including funds to offset some education funding losses triggered by the potential failure of Prop 30. Finally, the people of our state are using their collective voice to say that education matters!
Were it so simple.
As with almost everything in our day and age, education has become exceedingly politicized and "charged," potentially diluting a worthy cause beyond recognition. In the cases of Propositions 30 and 38, parents are led to believe that they must debate the pros and cons, strengths and weakness of two competing ballot measures, when they should focus their attention on the only goal that really matters: maintaining and improving California's public education for our children and our future. This false "competition" may, in fact, lead to a far more dire outcome than divided attention: a divided vote, which could lead to the failure of both measures.
Who are the biggest losers if both initiatives fail? My kids, your kids, your neighbor's kids, the college kids who can't get their classes or afford the tuition increases -- in essence, the future workforce of California and the future economic stability of our state. Consider the long-term consequences of the loss of an additional three full weeks of instruction (after having already lost up to five days in recent years), ballooning class sizes, the shutting of school libraries, the elimination of physical education, the termination of reading specialists, and/or ongoing technological stagnation, among other possible budget remedies.
I recently watched Molly Munger, civil rights attorney and key figure behind Prop 38, "Our Children Our Future," describe the merits of her measure on NBC Class Action. Similarly, the governor has put out a public service announcement describing his initiative and its benefits for the state budget. I have also sat through hours of meetings, conference calls, and convenings to understand each initiative in its intricacies. While there are many compelling aspects of each initiative from a parent's perspective, the truth of the matter is that while both are lacking, each is sufficient -- in its own way -- to provide a lifeline for our schools and the state's children during this devastating recession.
I ask that we bring a stop to the competition. The time has passed for comparing and contrasting these measures. If the governor and Molly Munger both want to save our schools and provide better opportunities for our state and our children, it is imperative that they put down their weapons and focus on playing together nicely in the sandbox.
As a parent of three young children who will suffer the consequences of our political irresponsibility if we allow both measures to fail, I am therefore voting "yes" on education by voting "yes" on both Proposition 30 and Proposition 38. "Are you paying attention?" as I often say to my children. The only way to give our children any chance of avoiding even more devastating cuts to their schools is a "yes" vote for both education measures. While the one with the most votes will be the only winning measure, our state's children will be out of the line of fire, temporarily, if at least one passes.
There is so much work ahead to completely renovate our education system, and that is just what we intend to continue to advocate for: a high-quality education for every child in this state. But the first step is not letting our entire system crash and burn.