Proposition 55 is a step in the right direction for returning education in California to pre-recession funding levels. Entitled the Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare Initiative Constitutional Amendment, it extends the temporary personal income tax increases (enacted in 2012 on earnings over $250,000 for single filers, or over $340,000 for heads of household) for the next 12 years until 2030. Eighty-nine percent of these new tax revenues would be allocated to K-12 schools, and 11 percent would go to California community colleges. It bars the use of these revenues for administrative costs, but provides local school boards discretion to decide, in open meetings that are subject to annual audit, how revenues are to be spent. A “No” vote on this measure means that these income tax increases would expire as scheduled at the end of 2018. California voters should support Proposition 55, as it will prevent a $4 billion cut to school funding and continue to restore cuts made during the recession.
The funding generated from this Proposition could range from $4 billion to $9 billion each year from 2019 to 2030 (depending on the economy and the stock market). Roughly half of the revenue would increase funding for schools and community colleges, whereas upwards of $2 billion would increase funding for healthcare for low-income citizens. The State Constitution requires California to spend a minimum amount on K–12 schools and community colleges each year. This “minimum guarantee” increases over time based on growth in state tax revenues, the economy and student attendance. This year, the state general fund will provide over $50 billion toward the minimum guarantee, which is over half of the state’s total budget of $122 billion.
Proposition 55 only affects roughly 1.5 percent of taxpayers with the highest incomes. Proposition 55 would extend these 1-percent, 2-percent and 3-percent increases which were already established by the existing Proposition 30. In other words, these high-income earners would not be taxed any additional amount — Proposition 55 would simply extend the tax increases that were supposed to expire in 2018, until 2030.
Proposition 55 has strict transparency and accountability requirements to ensure educational funds get to the classroom. Strict accountability requirements ensure funds designated for education go to classrooms, not to bureaucracy or administrative costs, and it authorizes criminal prosecution for any misuse of money. Moreover, Proposition 55 requires mandatory audits, so local school districts must post annual accounting reports to guarantee that citizens know exactly how the money is being spent. This, in turn, provides local control over school funding, as it gives control to school boards to determine how best to use the funds for students’ needs. The state needs an estimated 22,000 additional teachers next year alone. Proposition 55 gives local school districts the money they need to hire teachers and prevent overcrowded classes. It also helps to restore arts and music classes that were removed from schools because of budget cuts during the recession. In terms of the aid given to California community colleges, these funds would help make college more affordable, as they prevent cuts to community colleges, preventing tuition increases and expanding course offerings. Lastly, it increases funding for healthcare for low-income families, as too many families cannot afford basic healthcare, which results in students missing more school days. Proposition 55 helps kids come to school healthy and ready to learn, because all children deserve access to quality education — not just the wealthiest Californians.
Julia Lawler is a senior majoring in history and social science education. Her column, “Get Schooled,” runs Fridays.