By Walter Leal
California’s educational system is on the verge of collapse. If it’s not rescued by the passage of Prop. 30 on Tuesday, it may never recover.
Ironically, it does not cost much to save it! It’s a very modest amount.
It is difficult to believe that one of the greatest states in the nation ranks so low in K-12 education. We lead in innovation, environmental issues and legislation — just to cite a few — but we fail in the quality of public education. If we decline to invest in education and to train our future innovators like the next Steve Jobs, we cannot drive the economy. It will hit a detour sign, bumpy roads, and finally, a dead end.
The defunding of public education is most likely the primary reason for plunging California K-12 from the top 10 in the 1950s to a D-minus grade in K-12 achievement (Education Week, 2011) — a downward spiral. Insufficient funding of K-12 led to crowded classes and overall low performance. Continuous threats of pink slips are forcing well-qualified teachers and counselors to seek opportunities elsewhere. Who can blame them?
Colleges are training new K-12 teachers, but school districts fail to attract the brightest and the best — for them, better opportunities abound outside the K-12 classrooms. Without appropriate funding for higher education, the utopia of tuition-free college education has turned into the reality of ever-increasing student fees. The days of affordable higher education are gone, probably forever. Indeed, the fees for undergraduate students for California residents have almost doubled at UC Davis over the past six years.
The value of public education cannot be underestimated. The impact of K-12 education on the state’s economy is less obvious than that of public universities. With a state investment of $2.4 billion, UC pumps $46 billion in the economy. And that’s not all; we educate California (and non-California) residents. If defunded, the entire system, from K-12 to the University of California, including community and state colleges, will result in larger classes, fewer offerings, less qualified teachers, reduced academic programs and higher student fees.
The continued reduction of funds is forcing us toward privatization, if not of the institution, at least at the level of the cost of education. Do we want to privatize our public schools? No. We must continue to keep our public education “public.”
Consider this: Earlier this fall, the California legislators approved self-driven cars, cars that will run on autopilot. This new technology is destined to reduce accidents and injuries. A Los Angeles Times article published Oct. 5 indicated that “The auto insurance industry estimates that if all passenger vehicles were equipped with just four sensor-based alert systems — forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot detection and adaptive headlights that pivot in the direction of travel based on steering wheel movement — about one in three fatal crashes and one out of five injury crashes could be prevented or have their severity lessened.”
How odd that these new cars are self-driven while public education is not. We are all being injured by the unmet demands of public education. It’s time to refuel public education, or the cherished gateway to the discovery and implementation of new technologies will become a dead end.
Two propositions on the November ballot are aimed at saving California education. Although one may argue that increasing taxes alone is not a solution, Propositions 30 and 38 are a necessity. And they are affordable. Note that neither proposition earmarks funds for the University of California. Revenues from the passage of Prop. 30 would be allocated to K-12 (89 percent and community colleges (11 percent), whereas 60 percent of Prop. 38 is to be allocated to K-12 in the first four years. If Prop. 30 is approved, it will free up general funds to support UC. If rejected by voters, think about this: Cuts of $375 million to UC, $250 million to California State University and millions of dollar cuts to other grants and programs will be forthcoming.
If both propositions are approved by voters, only the one with more “yes” votes will prevail. Prop. 30 would generate revenues from increased income taxes and sales taxes. Those who have a taxable income over $250,000 would pay an increased income tax for a seven-year period, plus a one-quarter-cent increase in sales taxes. However, for more than 40 percent of the population, there will be no increase in personal income tax, but everyone would make a modest contribution to save K-12 education.
The standard statewide sales tax is 7.25 percent, but the final sales tax varies by district, being the lowest within the UCD campus (7.25 percent) and the highest in some districts in Los Angeles (9.75 percent). The rates for Davis, Woodland and Sacramento are 7.75, 8 and 7.75 percent, respectively. If Prop. 30 is approved, Davis would “upgrade” to the Woodland level.
The burden to our wallets would be minimal. For example, if you spend $30,000 a year you would contribute only $63, whereas those spending $60,000 and $150,000 would contribute only $150 and $250, respectively. That’s a real bargain to invest in today’s education and tomorrow’s economy. Revenues of Prop. 38 are based solely on an increase in personal income tax for 12 years. All taxpayers with taxable income in excess of $35,000 would contribute.
Both propositions are affordable, but under Prop. 38, lower-income taxpayers would contribute proportionally more: perhaps $210 for a $38,000 taxable income vs. $63 under Prop 30. Likewise, a taxable income of $80,000 would cost approximately $1,120 vs. $150. The increase for a taxable income of $150,000 would be $2,700 vs. $250. These approximations — meant to highlight a point — may differ significantly from the real tax increases given each individual case of deductibles and actual expenditures.
For very high-income taxpayers, the picture may reverse: a taxable income of $1.1 million would lead to an increase of $22,000 under Prop. 38, but $33,000 in personal income tax, plus a thousand dollars or so in additional sales taxes if Prop. 30 prevails.
In summary, if you are not in the top 1 percent of household income in California, these measures, particularly Prop. 30, will cost you very little. A little means a lot to our failing public education system. We’ve been operating on too little too long.
— Walter S. Leal is a professor at UC Davis and a Davis resident.