On Wednesday night, “Stand Up for Our Children: A Community Forum” at the Oakland School for the Arts in downtown Oakland brought together educators, administrators and local political figures to discuss two propositions on the November ballot that could generate new funds for public schools by raising taxes for Californians. The forum also included a “break-away” session that allowed attendees to voice their concerns in more in-depth fashion.
The forum was organized by the Alameda County Office of Education, an organization that serves as a liaison between the California Department of Education and 18 Alameda County public school districts. The event brought together speakers including state Senator Loni Hancock (D- Oakland), Susan Nathan of the Peralta District Parent Teacher Association, and Edgar Cabral, principal fiscal and policy analyst at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, a non-partisan body that provides impartial advice to state legislators.
Like most states, California has seen a dramatic cut in education funding, most speakers at the event pointed out. “Today many schools don’t have paint or clay or a sculpture teacher. I’m tired of knowing and thinking about the budget crisis. I want to do something,” said Nathan, who became interested in educational funding after her daughter brought home an orange clay bunny she had made at school. It was orange, Nathan said, because her teacher only had enough funds for three paint color choices.
The event was organized to raise awareness among California voters who will weigh in on Proposition 30 and Proposition 38 in November. Proposition 30, which is supported by Governor Jerry Brown and the California Federation of Teachers, would increase the personal income tax on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years. It would also increase California’s sales tax by one-fourth of a cent for the next four years.
Money collected from the tax increase would be set aside in a new fund called the Education Protection Account (EPA) and distributed to schools on a per-student basis. Schools and community colleges could use the revenue for any educational purpose.
Proposition 38 would raise the personal income tax for anyone who makes over approximately $7,000. The tax would last from 2013-2024. The tax would go to funds for public schools and also repay some of the state’s debt. According to an analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, “schools would receive roughly $6 billion annually, or $1,000 per student from the measure. Of that amount, $4.2 billion would be provided for education program grants.”
According to Cabral, Proposition 30 is estimated to bring in $6 billion annually for the state, and Proposition 38 could generate $10 billion a year. The money the tax will generate has already been built into the state’s budget, so if the measure does not pass, it could lead to other cuts in education funding, also known as “trigger cuts,” he said.
“If Proposition 30 does not go into effect, there are some trigger reductions. Schools and colleges would see the most of it. Virtually all the trigger reductions would be to public education,” said Cabral during the forum.
Presenters who supported the initiative said the measure could help the state during tough financial times. “I think Proposition 30 is the most important initiative on the ballot in November,” said Hancock. “It is essential that it passes, because it will restore stability to California so we can begin to rebuild.”
While the majority of presenters urged audience members to support the measure, opponents of Proposition 30 believe raising taxes in California is not a good idea. “Proposition 30 will increase the state sales tax, already the highest state sales tax in the nation. On top of that, personal income taxes will go up on upper income individuals, many of whom are the owners of the small business that provide the bulk of the jobs in our state,” Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a group that protects taxpayer’s rights, wrote on the website Defeat30.com.
Similarly, opponents of Proposition 38 believe a tax increase is not the solution. As the California Chamber of Commerce, an organization advocates for businesses, states on its website: “Even as the economy improves and more people get back to work, the tax increases continue. Even without necessary reforms to our education system, like the ability to fire bad teachers, the tax increases still continue. Prop. 38 locks us into higher income tax rates for the next 12 years—no matter what!”
Proposition 38 also received support from the crowd at Thursday’s event. “I’m supporting 38 because it is a more balanced initiative. There have been so many cuts throughout the budget in so many different places, we can’t let it remain if our kids are going to come to school ready to learn, and teachers ready to teach,” said Sheila Jordan, Alameda County Superintendent of Schools, as people headed to the breakout sessions.
“I don’t want [people] to think of it as money coming out of their pocket, I want them to understand that’s an investment in our future,” said Sonia Osbourne, a teacher who also attended the event. “If we want to create a society of caring people who want to make a contribution to their community and society, then we have to invest in them.”