As a PTA member who is deeply concerned with the education of all children in California, I am strongly opposed to Proposition 76 on the November 8th Special Election ballot.
In an ironic counterpoint to California’s academic standards – the most rigorous in the nation — California currently ranks as one of the most poorly funded education systems in per pupil expenditure. As a result, our class sizes are among the largest in the country, and we have far fewer counselors, librarians, school administrators and school nurses than other states. Proposition 76 would ensure that this picture will not improve. Instead, Proposition 76 would result in major school funding cuts, hurting our children and our economy’s competitiveness. If this measure passes, there will be a permanent loss to schools of $3.8 billion. That is $600 less for every child. The result would be more over-crowded classrooms; more teacher layoffs; more cuts in arts and music programs; fewer librarians, PE specialists, nurses and counselors; and fewer textbooks. And, in the long run, Prop. 76 would produce graduating class after graduating class that is under-educated in comparison to students in other parts of this country, and certainly countries around the world.
We have worked hard in Santa Monica and Malibu to protect our school children from the effects of chronic under-funding by the state. We’ve done this by encouraging a partnership with the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu resulting in significant ongoing funding to our local schools. And, our voters have approved local school funding measures, demonstrating this community’s commitment to quality public schools for our children.
Despite this support, our local schools would not be left unscathed by Proposition 76. Proposition 76 would alter Proposition 98, passed by voters of California in 1988, which provides a constitutionally guaranteed minimum level of funding for public education. Our public schools would become vulnerable to severe spending cuts, even disruptive mid-year cuts, year after year. These cuts would permanently reduce the minimum funding guarantee for schools as Proposition 76 would remove the state’s existing obligation to restore funding to education when the economy improves.
Compounding my concerns about threats to education, Proposition 76 would also eliminate our constitutional system of checks and balances. It gives the governor unprecedented powers, including the ability to unilaterally declare a fiscal emergency, and cut General Fund spending across the board if revenues fall 1.5 percent or more below forecast levels. Under Proposition 76, budget decisions can be made by the governor and his or her political appointees behind closed doors, with no public hearings or accountability.
Proposition 76 would allow the governor alone to cut additional funding for schools in the middle of the year, creating havoc for local school budgets. When faced with mid-year budget cuts, school districts would not have the ability to release teachers due to contractual constraints. The need to reduce expenditures would therefore, result in severe cutbacks in other areas including classified staff (including special education aides, custodians, library assistants and office staff), textbooks, supplies; and sports and other extra-curricular programs. This would mean that schools could not guarantee students a full and comprehensive program throughout a given school year. If our schools are to continue to focus on improving student achievement and meeting federal and state standards for all students, they must have a strong and stable source of funding.
Proposition 76 would not solve California’s budget deficit. This was admitted by no less than the initiative’s own sponsor during questioning at the Legislative hearing on Proposition 76 earlier this month. And, in a published report, California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst concurs, saying that this proposal will not halt autopilot spending, but rather increase it. She also cautions against such a serious diminution of legislative budget authority. Proposition 76 removes any incentive for the governor and the legislature to work together and does nothing to prevent tax hikes.
Proposition 76 won’t solve our state’s budget problems, but it will hurt our local schools, our children, and by extension, our communities.
On November 8th, make sure you vote to make your voice heard. I urge you to join with the California State PTA, and vote No on Proposition 76.
Laura Rosenbaum is President of the Santa Monica-Malibu Council of PTAs