San Diego State University Hosts Proposition 30 Discussion

Photo: Michael Higham[/caption]

The San Diego State University (SDSU) Alumni Association hosted a Proposition 30 discussion on Thursday, Sept. 20th. The two panelists were school board member Richard Barrera, from the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), and Chairman Richard Rider of the San Diego Tax Fighters. Proposition 30 is a state-wide tax measure intended to fund public education. The discussion of education funding is certainly relevant to the city of San Diego.

The Proposition 30 discussion opened up with the latest polling results from the Public Policy Institute of California. The numbers are currently at 52% supporting the measure, and 40% opposing the measure with 12% still undecided.

Mr. Barrera began with the introductions, stating why he supports Proposition 30. In his comments, he said:

Our student achievement rates in San Diego and in the state are the highest they’ve ever been. They’ve been growing faster over the past several years than they ever have before…They have been producing and achieving while we have been pulling the rug from underneath them with budget cuts.

Mr. Rider introduced himself and stated his opposition to Proposition 30. His comments included:

We believe public education is critical to a society, we want educated people just as much. The question is how do we get there and is more money the answer? There are other answers to consider and also a prioritizing of where we spend the money. Not just so much education, but in other areas.

From the start, it was clear that the Proposition 30 discussion is not about whether public education is good or bad. The panelists differ on the best way to fund education and keep track of proper funding.

Mr. Rider moved the discussion towards the possibility of taxpayers leaving California. One argument against the ballot measure is that another tax increase on the wealthiest taxpayers will encourage them to leave the state. He states that California has the highest sales tax and second highest income tax in the country. For him, it’s apparent that the state does not need to be taxed any further. He also pointed to net domestic migration, California had 1.5 million more people move out than move in during the past decade.

Mr. Rider acknowledges that the sales tax increase from the proposition is modest. However, he believes taxing upper income brackets is the problem. “[E]veryone should have skin in the game and unfortunately we’re going after someone else,” He remarked. Relating to net domestic migration, he claimed the corporate tax rate also discourages businesses to move into the state. California currently ranks 10th in the nation for highest corporate income tax at 8.84 percent.

Mr. Barrera presented a rebuttal. He states that more and more teachers are leaving the state because of an underfunded system. His argument is that states like Texas have more attractive public education systems for teachers to work. The lack of funding is also making families reconsider where they live:

The people who rely on a great public education system for the future of their families that have to make these decisions: Do we stay in California or do we go to another state where there’s more opportunity? That’s what we’re risking. If we want great public schools, we have to pay for them.

An attendee of the discussion said that the direction of the state’s money is leaving her disgruntled. The attendee cited California’s proposed high speed rail project and $54 million parks and recreation surplus. She declared, “[t]ake all that money, put it into education, don’t raise our taxes. We’re not going to stand for it anymore. We’ve been in this nonsense for years.”

Mr. Barrera replied that the funds that would be used for the high-speed rail project is barred from education. This would be federal funds and Proposition 1A funds that are restricted to the project itself. As for the parks and recreation surplus, he stated:

That money has to be reallocated to the parks and recs but sure we’ll take the $54 million. That produces about half a million dollars for our school district, but if prop 30 fails, that’s $50 million in cuts for our school district.

Mr. Rider mentioned public choice in the Proposition 30 discussion. He cites Louisiana as an example for a state with a school choice system. This is essentially a voucher system where low-income families can qualify for financial assistance to attend a private school.

Richard Barrera fears the impact of Proposition 30’s failure on an academic progress. He mentioned that literacy scores are up 30% and science/math test scores are up 15% since 2008 for SDUSD. However, funding has been cut by 20 percent.

Mr. Barrera was asked about the San Diego Unified School teachers’ perspective on the Proposition 30 discussion:

What teachers are saying is: Understand what we’re doing that is working. Understand that more cuts will destroy what we’ve been doing that’s been working. But if we can just stabilize the situation and have the ability to not go through every year with layoff notices. If we can just focus on doing our job then you will see greater and greater results. We’re asking everyone in California to contribute and be part of the solution, instead of putting the burden on teachers and parents.

Richard Rider’s position is that budgetary and education spending reform will not take place if the state continues to fund it through higher taxes. He was questioned on what California can do to help ease the repercussions of budget cuts:

We need to take a look at what the rest of the things the state does. We’re paying incredible amounts of money for incarceration both at the state and local level. California has 12% of the nation’s population but we have 33% of the population on welfare…we need to get them back on their feet again. There is no easy answer, but the answer we have to first establish is no more taxes, let’s come up with other solutions.

The San Diego Unified School District has and might continue to face hard times. Cutting 3 weeks into the school year is in the SDUSD budget if Proposition 30 fails. Mr. Barrera is projecting 1,000 faculty layoffs and $50 million more in cuts.

In the past five years, the district has seen $500 million in budget cuts and the state has cut $20 billion from education. The California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) system will lose $250 million each. The CSU system is holding off on admission decisions until after the election. CSU trustees have increased increased tuition by 9% and will increase it again by 5% if the ballot measure fails.