Gov. Jerry Brown scored a major political victory when a tax proposal that he shepherded onto the Nov 6. ballot was approved by voters by a 53 to 47 percent margin. For proponents of Proposition 30, its passage also signaled a temporary, yet significant boost to the coffers of public education.
Prop. 30 raises income taxes on those earning in excess of $250,000 a year. In addition, it will raise the state sales tax from 7.25 to 7.5 percent.
The tax measure will allocate 89 percent of the temporary tax revenues to K-12 schools and 11 percent to community colleges.
Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steve Zimmer was at the forefront of local legislators who sought to engage parents as well as students of voting age on the consequences of the failure of the tax measure.
“The scope of the potential catastrophe that people were preparing for was unimaginable,” he said. “I don’t think many people understood what the ramifications were if (Prop. 30) failed.”
The school board member, whose district includes schools in Westchester, Playa del Rey, Mar Vista, Venice and Del Rey, networked with parents as well as other interested parties to encourage everyone who was of voting age to vote.
Zimmer, along with other Prop. 30 proponents, argued that without the tax revenue from the ballot measure, drastic cuts to public education would be enacted.
“The message is even in the midst of an economic crisis, despite millions of dollars in negative advertising, we still believe in public education,” Zimmer said.
LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy thanked the electorate for pushing the ballot initiative past the finish line.
“On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of youth in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I am tremendously grateful to the voters of California for making the difficult decision to support Proposition 30,” Deasy said in a statement after the election. “It is apparent that the voters are aware of the devastating cuts school districts have taken the past five years. They have said enough is enough.
“These funds from Proposition 30 will better equip us to provide a quality education to all LAUSD youth over the next several years and begin the road back to fiscal recovery,” he continued. “We look forward in the next several years to begin to restore some of the programs and valued employees, which were previously cut by the devastating fiscal situation in California.”
At the school board’s Nov. 13 meeting, Deasy asked the members to restore the week of school instruction that was lost due to LAUSD’s budget deficit.
The legislative analyst predicts revenue derived from the passage of Prop. 30 will total approximately $6.8 million annually. The tax will last for 10 years.
Opponents of the ballot measure, which included a former press secretary of ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said before the election that if the tax measure were approved, California would experience an exodus due to the increase in taxes on wealthier citizens.
“If we adopt the highest tax burden in America, we will continue to see Americans vote with their feet, moving out of the state. The higher burden in and of itself doesn’t guarantee the money will be there, in fact many of us have argued that a healthy tax and regulatory climate will actually generate more revenue,” predicted Aaron McLear, one of the leaders of StopProp30, a coalition of businesses owners and taxpayer associations.
The early returns showed the ballot measure losing, which worried Zimmer. “I was very nervous,” he admitted.
But when Los Angeles County results were announced, the proposition’s chances greatly improved and that is when Zimmer began to think the tide was turning. “Our votes put it over the top,” the school board member said proudly. “That was the game changer.”
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe, a former elementary school teacher for the Compton Unified School District, was also concerned about the proposition’s future before the Los Angeles votes were tallied.
“I was definitely on edge waiting to hear Prop. 30 results and was incredibly relieved to wake up (Nov. 7) to see that it passed,” said DeSobe, who now works for a charter organization.
Zimmer thinks the victory at the ballot box will undercut an argument some have touted that has pitted two schools of thought regarding education against each other.
“This may finally be the moment that the false argument of revenue vs. reform is laid to rest,” the board member asserted.
Heather Kahler, a Venice parent whose son is a first grader at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice, proudly voted for the proposition.
“I’m honored to have my tax dollars go to something that matters,” she said. “If all the presidential campaign contributions went to education instead of elections, well we’d all be better off.”
Zimmer said he saw a semblance of old fashion retail politics at work in the drive to pass Prop. 30: a structural movement similar but on a much smaller scale to the “get-out-the-vote” ground game that propelled President Barack Obama to a second term on election night.
“What we saw was a coalition of supporters of public education out in force, a community activist coalition,” he said.
Zimmer feels much of the success of Prop. 30 locally can be attributed to grassroots political organizing, including an extensive door-to-door campaign to inform voters of the importance of generating new revenue for the school district. He saw diverse groups who have not been coordinating with each other all of the time – parents, union members and residents who have neighbors with children attending LAUSD schools – working toward the same cause.
“I’m extremely encouraged by this development, this unintentional resurrection of this coalition,” he said.
DeSobe said he hopes some of the funds from Prop. 30 will be allocated for teachers so the district will not be forced to issue as many Reduction in Force notices as it has in recent years. Reduction In Force, or RIFs, are preliminary letters sent to teachers in March warning them that they could be laid off.
“The immediate impact on schools is clear and positive. The K-12 school year survives and California won’t be a nationwide laughing stock in terms on how many days we want our kids to go to school,” he noted. “I believe strongly that great teachers make great schools so money should go to return ‘RIFed’ teachers to where they belong.
“I also believe Prop. 30 is one step to returning our education system to the model it once was. These new funds don’t fill the gigantic hole created by previous cuts,” DeSobe added. “The anti-tax revolt of the late 1970s did serious structural damage to our state. Hopefully, as Prop. 30 is smartly implemented, other measures will pass that return our system to the model it should be.”
Kahler feels a vote for Prop. 30 was also a vote for the future.
“It will be good to have our young people educated, competent and hopefully pay it forward. They will make their choices on policy and how best to use their income one day,” she said. “Why not lead by example now, so they and we all benefit in the future?
“Kids are ‘future adults.’ Their minds and hearts are what we depend on for the future.”
With the passage of Prop. 30, Zimmer feels confident that the public now sees how critical it is to fund schools, and he views this as a high water mark for LAUSD after years of news about budget deficits, overcrowded classrooms and high drop-out rates.
“This is the most hopeful moment for public education in a decade,” he concluded. §