A major set of decisions face the California voter on November 8, not the least of which is the decision to vote in this special election. I have become seriously concerned with the frequency with which people tell me that they are sick and tired of special elections and that they will sit this one out ‘and that will show them.’ I know that voter fatigue is real and obviously present these days, but I implore you to vote in this election. The voice of every person is critical if you care about the future of California. For what is at stake in this election is a very real decision about our economic future as a state.
There are a number of propositions on the Ballot, and many of them are bound together as reform for a fiscally ailing State. I am not going to comment on all of the rhetoric or the myriad of campaign advertisements facing the electorate. I am going to simply call out what I feel is a landmark situation before all of us with respect to public education. There are two specific Propositions related to public education: Prop. 74 deals with extending the waiting period for permanent teaching status, and Prop. 76 deals with State spending and school funding limits.
My comments on Prop. 74 are short and simple. This is not a critical issue. I do not believe that extending or shortening the waiting period for permanent status for teachers will affect the quality of education in this state one iota. A high quality evaluation system for employees will do this, and only a high quality evaluation system coupled with deep investments in professional development for the teaching force can improve the education system of California’s public schools. The proposition will extend the time for teachers to receive permanent status from the current two years to five consecutive years. Passage of Prop. 74 may well hurt California because it may dissuade new faculty from entering the teaching profession in this state, as we will now be only one of three states in the Country to have a five- year waiting period before tenure. We will join the ranks of Indiana and Missouri. A cursory examination of State achievement data points to the fact that an extended waiting period for tenure status for the teachers in these two states did little to improve the quality of education and student achievement. One can look to the type of evaluation and professional development systems that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified schools have put in place if the voter (or public) wants an example of how to improve the quality of instruction and student achievement. These data speak loudly for themselves. Collaboratively developed rigorous systems to assure quality teaching performance is what California needs, not a red herring nestled inside another special election.
As for Prop 76, my comments are direct, explicit, and serious. If Prop. 76 is passed, there is not a single component of the new law that will help public school education. The Proposition will give the Governor unprecedented power to cut school budgets at her/his determination in mid-fiscal cycle. The act will alter the State’s Constitution with respect to school funding in ways never seen before by this State. While any additional cuts to K-12 funding bring us closer to a third world status of fiscal support for education, if there must be a cut then it must be planned for in advance of the current fiscal cycle. Since schools do not generate revenues (like businesses) they can only absorb cuts if planned for, not in the middle of a school year. We simply can’t shut a school or end courses in February. The passage of Prop. 76 will allow for such misdirected fiscal decision-making. The dramatic changes to previously approved voter propositions 98 and 111 will be permanently altered to lower the constitutional school-funding guarantee provided for in Prop. 98. Please recall the recently released RAND study that examined how California’s public schools were doing. The report was solemn and bleak. We fund our schools at nearly the bottom of the 50 states, and last with respect to the large industrial states. Our schools are at the top in respect to overcrowded classrooms and achievement is dead last when accounting for conditions of the students as compared to like students across the country. The direct effect of diminishing funding for public education in California since the passage of Prop. 13 was clearly pointed out as the single largest contributing factor to the decline of what was once the Nation’s finest public school system and the model for most of the world.
It is true that there are systems like Santa Monica-Malibu that dramatically buck the trend. But they are few in number, and have required unique and special communities that are willing to stand up and say education is a priority and an essential for the health and welfare of a community and a state. But even these systems will be gravely harmed by the passage of Prop. 76. California turns out the largest number of new members of the Nation’s workforce annually. I pose this question: Do you want a well trained individual to put in your IV needle, to drill your tooth, to change the tires and adjust the hydraulic breaking system on your airplane, to operate the switching mechanism on your mass transit train, to operate your regional nuclear reactor, and to maintain your vehicle? I, for one, want all Californians to participate in the American Dream of home ownership and an opportunity economy. I believe we all want this and expect it. This requires a high quality public education system that is well funded. Proposition 76 will clearly not permit this.
As the Legislative Analyst points out ‘The net impact over time will be to lower the minimum guarantee for K-12 education.’ I must ask myself, and you, one question: How do you get lower than last place? Implicit in the decision to approve or not approve Prop.76 is a moral question about the future and future opportunity of those whose voice is not heard. We are voting on a measure that will affect our children. I think we need to ask them what part of the diminishing American dream do they want to give up permanently?I suggest and request that you remain a well-informed and active voter on November 8.