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Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco  Headshot

California Dreaming

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It is a significant and memorable day for California as state voters have made their voices heard in support of public education. Proposition 30, Governor Brown's temporary tax initiative to restore funding to education throughout the state, has been approved by a 54 percent majority or more than 4.9 million of California voters on the November 6, 2012 ballot. The citizens of our largest state spoke clearly on what is a defining issue of our day: the role of public education in the remaking of the American promise.

Proposition 30 will increase the sales tax by a quarter cent for four years, and income taxes for people whose income exceeds $250,000 a year will be raised for seven years. The initiative will collect an estimated $6.9 to $9 billion for California to fund education and in doing so will save the state's seriously embattled public schools and higher education systems from further disastrous cuts. It provides a desperately needed halt to the enormous cuts California's public education has endured in recent years at a time when more, not less, is asked of education in order to prepare all our students to thrive in an ever more interconnected global economy and society.

Over the last four years, California's public schools have been deeply hurt by more than $20 billion in state funding cuts. Today 30,000 fewer teachers serve in our classrooms and class sizes have become some of most overcrowded in the nation. California's community colleges, our nation's largest workforce provider, have weathered $809 million in cuts, California State University has managed a budget gap well in excess of $500 million, and the University of California has sustained nearly $900 million in reduced state funding since 2008. The consequences of these gouging cuts to the Golden State's educational system have meant dramatic increases in tuition, staff reductions, faculty hiring freezes, academic program cuts, and the ushering in of a culture of despair and disrepair throughout public schools, community colleges, and universities. The damage done will not easily be fixed.

Although it does little to alleviate the destruction rendered by previous budget cuts, which will require long-term strategic planning to turn around, Proposition 30's passage stops in its tracks another $6 billion in cuts from being levied against our state's public schools and colleges over the next year. Furthermore, it stops the ever more perilously steep tuition and fee hikes from being exacted from college students and their families when Californian's can least afford them.

Never before in our history has education been as important to our collective future than it is today. Higher education is inextricably linked to numerous life-sustaining, virtuous cycles, from health to socio-economic mobility, from autonomy to innovation, from freedom to opportunity. Research shows that more education, even marginal gains earned while enrolled in a community college is beneficial to individuals, as well as the state and the nation. The benefits accrued to a four year college education are even more pronounced.

The passage of Proposition 30 enables us to get to work again towards providing a quality education for all of California's citizens. It restores luster to California's higher education system, once the envy of the world, and keeps a promise made long ago to ensure a better future for generations to come. When Californians voted on November 6th they showed the country and the world what is fundamental about public education: an autonomous and informed citizenry weighting and deciding on the pressing issues of the day. November 6th was a good day for education, a good for democracy, a good day for California.

Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco is Dean and Distinguished Professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies