California's Education Crisis and the Need for New Revenues

Posted on 20 March 2012

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By Duane Campbell

California, like most states, needs additional revenue to fund schools and to invest in the future. A tax plan known as The Millionaires Tax has been proposed by the California Federation of Teachers and the Courage Campaign to increase revenues to pay for vital services. It was assigned the official title "Tax To Benefit Public Schools, Social Services, Public Safety, And Road Maintenance."

On March 15, Governor Jerry Brown agreed to modify his proposed tax plan to make it more like the more progressive plan of CFT, the Courage Campaign and others.

California public schools are in crisis - and they are getting worse. This is a direct result of massive budget cuts imposed by the legislature and the governor in the last four years.  Total per pupil expenditure is down by over $1,000 per student. The result: massive class size increases.  Students are often in classes too large for quality learning. Supplementary services such as tutoring and art classes have been eliminated.  Over 14,000 teachers have been dismissed, and thousands more face lay offs this fall.

California schools are now 47th in the nation in per pupil expenditure and 49th in class size.  Our low achievement scores on national tests reflect this severe underfunding.

Of course the economic crisis of 2007 to the present caused by bankers and pirates made matters worse.  The state took in some $30 billion less in taxes and thus had less to send to the schools.  School budgets have been cut by some $10 billion.  K-12 education receives about 40% of the California budget.  Thus any decline in the state budget leads directly to cuts in school services.

A report of the California Budget Project notes that “measured as a share of family income, California’s lowest-income families pay the most in taxes. The bottom fifth of the state’s families, with an average income of $12,600, spent 11.1 percent of their income on state and local taxes.  In comparison, the wealthiest 1 percent, with an average income of $2.3 million, spent 7.8 percent of their income on state and local taxes.”

The question for the promoters of the corporate agenda, such as the Chamber of Commerce, is can the economy prosper with a poorly educated work force. California grew and prospered from 1970- 1994 based upon a well educated work force.  Then, in the period between 1994-2008 over $10 billion in corporate tax cuts were passed – making the current crisis much worse.  California suffers from a decade of disinvestment.  Today, instead of continuing our state’s once great commitment to education, conservative anti tax forces have imposed a Mississippi model on California schools.

Back to the ballot compromise designed to address the state’s education crisis: The new plan follows the Brown tax format but would increase taxes on earners starting at $250,000 for single filers, as well as increase the statewide sales tax by a one forth of one cent. The other two of the governor’s tax brackets will also be retained, but the last marginal tax hike – at $500,000 for singles and $1 million for couples – would increase by 3 percentage points rather than Brown’s original 2 percentage points. The new income tax hike on the rich would also last longer than Brown’s proposal, going for seven years instead of five. The sales tax hike would still expire at the end of 2016. A major concession is that the new Brown proposal would send the revenue collected to the general fund for allocation thus allowing some of the funds to be used for desperately needed relief for public programs facing annual budget assaults.

Until now the two proposals had divided the labor community- particularly those most active in the electoral arena. CFT and the California Nurses Association backed the "Millionaires tax," while the California Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union State Council backed Brown's proposal. The State Buildings Trades backed the Brown plan and pressured others to abandon their efforts.  Now that the two plans have merged, major labor unions are united in support of the new tax plan. Already conservative politicians and pundits such as the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters are calling the compromise plan “soak the rich”.

Political analysts worried that if two or three tax measures make it to the ballot, all of them would fail. The new plan must now be qualified for the ballot.  This will require over 800,000 signatures in about 30 days – a difficult feat. Not helping matters, civil rights attorney Molly Munger is backing her own $10 billion income tax measure.

The California economy needs to invest in roads, bridges, telephone lines, communications systems, clean energy and quality education.  These are the down payments that make prosperity possible. Conservative opposition to any new tax ignores the undeniable, historic fact that prosperity depends upon having a viable educational system and a well functioning infrastructure. Rather than invest in something that pays itself back many times over, the Republicans have led the effort to starve public education of desperately needed revenue.

The good news is polling consistently shows that the California voters are willing to pay for a quality public education system.  The hurdle to putting these poll numbers to the test has been getting such a historic choice and opportunity onto the ballot. It appears that this November Californians just may finally have a chance to make their voices heard.


Duane Campbell is a Professor (emeritus) of Bilingual/Multicultural Education at CSU-Sacramento and the Chair of  the Sacramento local of Democratic Socialists of America.

Is the California Chambers of Commerce holding the political strings that is depriving the Children of California from what we used to know as a "quality education for all who desires to have them?

We all know who is behind this effort and the politics that is destroying our family, the middle class, the working class, the rights of labor, and the California childrens' rights to quality education and health; why then is the public sitting pretty and not getting to the root of the problem?

Who are the influencials behind the powerful lobbyist at the CA Chamber of Commerce? Who is funding this "special interest" so that our children will be held back and pepper sprayed by our public servants and police them from standing for their constitutional rights?

Why are the people not OCCUPYING the Chamber of Commerce? Why are we not demanding our public representative answers as to WHO is behind these efforts that is gradually destroying our people civil rights that has been guaranteed to us all? There forces that are pitting the people against our government. It is clearly a common sense that this is what is happening. Who are these FORCES?

The Dems and the unions are in control of CA state government. They can implement the taxes, rules and regulations that seem right to them. Businesses, large and small, can decide if CA ramains a viable place to grow and prosper. It appears that many are deciding that AZ, NV, TX and even WA and OR have better schools, a more rational (less progressive) regulatory environment and are better places to live and do business. In my view, raising taxes on individuals and businesses to levels that drive them out of the state is a misguided strategy.

The Molly Munger/PTA initiative, "Our Children, Our Future", is still the only one that funnels money directly to school sites and mandates parent and community input re how the money should be spent. It is based on a reasonable and fair sliding scale income tax for everyone. All will pay in, something, depending on income bracket, except the poorest. This creates a stable funding stream.

The money will be placed in a separate trust fund that can only be spent as authorized by the provisions of the Act. The Governor and Legislature are prohibited from using the money. It cannot be used to increase current teacher salaries, but can be used to hire additional teachers and staff, i.e., the arts, science, technology, engineering and math, smaller class sizes, counselors, librarians school nurses, and more.

No more than 1% of money raised by the The Molly Munger PTA "Our Children, Our Future" initiative will go towards administrative costs -- mandated. The initiative will raise $10 billion for schools per year for twelve years. Every child in the state will benefit. The money goes into a trust and does not pass through Sacramento.

At this point in time, CA would need to spend an additional $60,000 a year, per classroom, just to catch up to the national average -- that is a fact. CA has the highest ratios of students to teachers, students to counselors, students to administrator in the country -- that is a fact. We are shortchanging all of our kids and have been for many years. PTA, the largest volunteer organization lobbying for children, supports "Our Children, Our Future". PTA has been in the trenches advocating for kids -- for free -- for 115 years -- my vote goes with them.

Tax the other guy and give it to me for free.

If the guy getting it for free had an opportunity for good wage job then he don't need to get anything for free, he is working for it, but until this system is fixed, the rich will keep getting richer and the poor poorer.

libral f you