Unfortunately, betrayal of the people by their government is neither rare nor new. For a generation, the state of California, by way of pandering to its most influential citizens, has routinely betrayed its most important citizens – its children.
During his remarkable run, Governor Pat Brown spearheaded the development of a California public education system whose depth, breadth and reach were unequaled anywhere. Its universities were peerless. Its four-year colleges and two-year community colleges ensured that any young person who wanted to could go to college. And its secondary schools were the best in the nation. It was the democratic ideal made real.
Then, in the tumultuous 1960s, UC Berkeley, the world-class, best and brightest campus in the UC system, was ground zero for the civil rights, women’s liberation, and anti-Vietnam war movements, as well as its own free speech movement. Then-Governor Ronald Reagan took umbrage, by turns deriding and condemning the students, the faculty who stood with them and their causes, and threatening to shut the university down. In those ways, he made the case for the philistines that education was subversive and too much education was downright un-American, and set the stage for reducing our schools and colleges to a kind of afterthought.
Reagan was succeeded by Jerry Brown, Pat Brown’s son, who, ironically, was governor when the decline and fall of the school system his father had built began. The trigger was Howard Jarvis and company’s 1978 Prop 13 that elevated low taxes over higher and secondary education, and just about everything else of value.
And, for 27 years, neither the legislature nor any governor has had the guts or gall to challenge Prop 13, apparently preferring to punish the children and, in that way, shortchange the state as a whole.
Once the best in the nation, California’s public schools are now among the worst. Berkeley and UCLA are still world-class universities, but tuition is up and admissions are down throughout the UC and CSU systems, and community colleges offer fewer classes and courses and charge more for the privilege.
So it is that California boasts both the eighth largest economy in the world, and some of the worst schools in America.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is among the richer school districts, but without continual fund-raising by the PTA, an increase in the parcel tax, donations from parents and annual allocations from the Cities of Santa Monica and Malibu, it would have been forced, as so many other districts have been, to drastically shrink its curriculum, increase class sizes, while its buildings and campuses disintegrated, because they don’t even have the money to do routine maintenance.
Though definitive studies have shown that a comprehensive arts curriculum is essential to the full intellectual and emotional development of students, the state’s so-called leaders continue to view the arts as luxuries, and expendable.
In order to give their students what they need, teachers need to know each student and his or her strengths, weaknesses and needs, but perennially overcrowded classrooms make vital teacher/student exchanges impossible.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor, he vowed to change all that, but, almost immediately after taking office, he began to play fast and loose with school funding.
Now he’s gone a step farther and called a costly special election whose primary purpose seems to be to increase his own power and reach.
His proposed Prop 76 would, in fact, lead inevitably to more draconian cuts in school funding.
According to the Attorney General, Prop 76 “limits state spending to prior year’s level plus three previous years’ average revenue growth. Changes minimum school funding requirements (Proposition 98). Permits Governor, under specified circumstances, to reduce budget appropriations of Governor’s choosing.”
The fiscal impact, according to the Legislative Analyst, would mean “State spending likely reduced relative to current law, due to additional spending limit and new powers granted to Governor. Reductions could apply to schools and shift costs to other local governments.”
A YES vote for Prop 76 means “State expenditures would be subject to an additional spending limit based on an average of recent revenue growth. The Governor would be granted new authority to unilaterally reduce state spending during certain fiscal situations. School and community college spending would be more subject to annual budget decisions and less affected by a constitutional funding guarantee.”
A NO vote means “The state would not adopt an additional spending limit, the Governor would not be granted new powers to reduce state spending during certain fiscal situations, and existing constitutional provisions relating to schools and community college funding would not be changed.”
According to the California PTA, “Passage of Proposition 76 would result in a permanent loss to our schools of $4 billion every year, since funds owed from the 2004 suspension of Proposition 98 would never be repaid. This loss would be equal to $600 per student per year and translates to more overcrowded classrooms, more teacher layoffs, more cuts in arts and music programs, fewer textbooks, elimination of more librarians, physical education specialists, nurses and counselors.”And so, if we allow the governor to have his way, the long-running betrayal of California’s children will not only continue, it will grow wider, deeper, and meaner.