American schools — from the elementary to college level — are struggling with a financial crisis that is leading to alarming drops in access and quality. But more importantly, none of them are in agreement about what approach is needed to find a solution.
From Occupy Education protests that took place at UC and Cal State campuses earlier this year to the Chicago teachers’ union strike last week, students and teachers across the country are clamoring for change. In California, the upcoming election offers two very different solutions in the form of ballot measures, Propositions 30 and 38.
Protests should continue and the state measures are a step in the right direction, but a complex array of possible outcomes — whether one or both propositions pass come Election Day on Nov. 6 — as mandated by the state constitution, does not guarantee solid change. Our schools need more effective, reliable, direct relief than the current legislative process provides.
Prop. 30 and 38 are, in a sense, rival ballot measures competing for Californians’ votes. Yet they’re not totally opposing: They raise income taxes (mostly for the wealthiest 1 percent of citizens) with the aim of helping public schools. They do differ, however, on where these taxes go. Prop. 30 will send tax dollars to K-12 schools, colleges, universities and public safety programs. It will also prevent trigger cuts, or automatic spending cuts, that are built into the state budget. These cuts will mostly affect public schools. Prop. 38 will fund K-12 schools on a per-pupil basis and will not prevent trigger cuts.
So what happens if one or both pass? If Prop. 30 passes, only its promised provisions will go forward — temporary increases in sales tax and personal income taxes for certain individuals and prevention of a $6 billion trigger cut to public schools. If Prop. 38 passes, its provisions — raised income tax for anyone earning more than $17,000 a year — will go into effect. But the courts will still consider whether or not parts of Prop. 30 should be enacted as well. If both pass, the one with the most votes will take effect.
Californians should make an educated decision about which measure they support and vote for it, because nothing is going to change before Nov. 6 and some action is better than none. But there’s something fundamentally wrong with the legislative outcome of Prop. 38’s passage. What will students, teachers and administrators gain from having to wait longer for courts to decide whether or not $6 billion will be slashed from their schools’ budgets?
I’m not just saying this because I’m unusually interested in schools and education and want you to be, too. Trigger cuts mean tuition increases at UCs and Cal States, minimal class options at California community colleges, possible bankruptcy at City College of San Francisco and a loss of numerous job opportunities for those of us interested in going into teaching fields in California. That’s bad.
Education is a civil rights problem, not a political one. The reason the state is putting forward ballot measures derives from good intentions — because California’s Constitution requires a two-thirds vote requirement in the legislature and those who support both Prop. 30 and 38 know neither would get the two-thirds majority it needs — but the good intentions get lost in the political process.
More than ever, Americans are disillusioned with the federal government because crucial issues get lost in the partisan divides of Washington, but California is better than that. California’s residents and government should show the rest of the country how to move past politics to solve its education crisis.
Public schools are too important. Whether you’re a product of them, you want to work in them or you just pay taxes in California, schools remain a key part of your future. It might be too much to ask you to write a letter to your congressman or to Gov. Jerry Brown, but at least start by taking the initiative to learn about California’s political processes and what they mean for the future of education.
Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish and is the Daily Trojan’s editorial director. Her column “Beyond the Classroom” runs every other Thursday.