Voters approve $9 billion for public school construction, repairs

Proposition 51 in the Official Voter Information Guide for the November 8, 2016 election. (Photo by Pablo De La Hoya)

Proposition 51 in the Official Voter Information Guide for the November 8, 2016 election. (Photo by Pablo De La Hoya)

This week, California voters approved Proposition 51, a $9 billion bond for public school construction and improvement across the state.

By noon on Wednesday, the proposition led 54 percent to 46 percent and the Associated Press had declared the victory.

“If you’ve been in some of our most antiquated schools, then you’ve seen, firsthand, how difficult it is to learn in that environment,” said Justine Fischer, president of the California State PTA, a nonpartisan organization that supported the measure. “We want to make sure that our kids have a safe and quality environment so they can face the challenges ahead of them in education.”

Critics of the measure cited concerns over support from special interest groups, such as contractors, construction unions and housing developers, who had a financial stake in approval of the bond. Early public polls in the fall showed the proposition not reaching a majority of support from voters.

Rick Marshall, director of the California Taxpayers Action Network, a nonpartisan organization opposing the proposition, was disappointed by the results. “I was certain that it would be close—certainly closer than some other propositions,” he said. “There were people who understood that it was all about developer fees, not necessarily school repair, and were willing to vote against it.”

Proposition 51 was one of 17 propositions voted on Tuesday, amongst other hot topics like marijuana legalization, requiring porn actors to wear condoms and repealing the death penalty. The measure faced a contentious campaign, with the California Republican and Democratic parties supporting it and Governor Jerry Brown opposing it.

However, school bond votes are historically popular in the state. According to the League of California Cities, 80 percent of local measures pass, and the previous four propositions on statewide school bonds were also approved. Californians also voted to approve Proposition 55 which extended income tax on earnings over $250,000 to fund schools and healthcare.

In the end, Proposition 51 was approved with almost 700,000 more votes than the opposing side.

“Ultimately, Prop. 51 is a really good idea and it’s great that it passed,” said Danny Beesley, the director of FabLabs in Oakland schools. “I’m always hesitant with these things because it’s up to the people managing the money to ensure that it’s going to be spent in a good manner. I think it’s worth the gamble.”

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