Per-pupil funding in California ranks near the very bottom of all states, and, unfortunately, this isn't likely to change anytime soon. Thanks to Proposition 13 -- which passed as a ballot initiative in 1978 -- when the state was flush with cash, longtime land owners such as the Walt Disney Company still pay property taxes on values assessed in the 1970s (Disney pays roughly five cents per square foot for much of their Disneyland property). But working to increase funding for public education just isn't a priority among those with almost limitless resources, including Eli Broad, ultraconservatives David and Charles Koch, David Welch (funder of the Vergara lawsuit), and other millionaires and billionaires.
Thanks to their efforts and those of others, unions have had to play defense and respond to each and every attack just to maintain the very few job protections public employees actually do have. In 2012 it was Prop 32, which, among other provisions, would have prohibited unions from using payroll deduction for political purposes. This spring it's the Vergara trial, which seeks to eliminate seniority provisions and due process related to the hiring and firing of teachers.
Teaching is a thankless job. Though Prop. 30 provided a windfall to schools and it's been nearly seven years since LAUSD employees have seen a raise, the school district has yet to even propose any sort of salary increase for employees.
Though the voices of the working class are often already ignored by management, astonishingly, it could get worse. With the Supreme Court's recent ruling that caps on political contributions are unconstitutional, individuals and unions could be in an even more imbalanced fight for our very survival. Though the ruling affects a limited number of wealthy individuals -- lifting a cap of $123,000 in campaign contributions to congressional candidates -- the decision shows that the court may take even more drastic steps to eliminate all contribution limits in the future.
Representing the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
Spending large sums of money in connection with elections... does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner influence over elected officials.
Ever since their formation, unions have been under attack by those seeking to weaken the voices of workers, and the movement has survived by advocating for the reasonable: a fair wage, adequate working conditions, and due process protections to ensure that management is acting responsibly when disciplining employees.
Yet for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that money doesn't buy influence just shows how far out of touch the majority is with the interests of Americans. Who has $123,000 in pocket change to donate to political campaigns? Anyway, it's more important than ever that we vote and that we do everything possible to increase voter participation to try to level the advantage that money and power buys.
Low voter turnout is not just a problem in public elections. In the first round of voting in the recent UTLA presidential election conducted through a mailed ballot to members' residences, only 22 percent (or 7,099) of the 32,000 eligible members voted, which represents only a small increase in participation over the 2011 UTLA elections, when roughly 17 percent of all members participated. By contrast, in March 2013, more 17,000 members participated in school site based voting in the "no confidence" vote on LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy.
Elections have a price. Making a decision not to vote should not be celebrated as some sort of statement of rebellion or independence. People have literally fought and died for the right to vote, and it's important to not just remember that, but to defend that sacrifice by encouraging others to participate in our democratic processes. It's incumbent on all of us to do everything possible to make sure that, however citizens cast ballots, whether they are on the right or wrong side of an issue, that they vote.