Current California Taxpayers Not Wanting Taxes to Go Toward Education

By on August 20, 2013

Some California school kids, teachers and college students pursuing a degree in teaching got discouraging news this past fall: It appeared that the majority of current California taxpayers did not want their personal income taxes going toward education in the state.

Proposition 38, Tax to Fund Education and Early Childhood Programs in the State of California was put on the ballot in November of 2012. The initiative asked California voters “Should California’s personal income tax rates be increased during 2013-24 to provide funds for public schools, early childhood education programs, and state debt payments?”

The answer was a resounding “No.”

The ballot, which would have required a majority of votes to pass, was thrashed: 71.3% against the ballot to 28.7% in favor of it.

How it Would Have Worked 
Many schools in California have faced drastic cuts in recent years because of budget crises. For example, Los Angeles Unified School District has cut about half a billion dollars from its budget each of the past five years because of the state’s financial deficits. Class sizes in LA have grown to an average of more than forty students. Five teaching days were cut from the school year and many teachers have been downsized.

Spearheaded by an affluent civil rights attorney named Molly Munger, the point of Proposition 38 was relatively simple: State personal income tax rates would increase for 12 years. The additional revenues would be used for schools, child care, pre-school and state debt payments. For the first four years, however, 30 percent of the revenues would be used to pay down state bond debt.

The initiative would have increased personal income tax rates on annual earnings over $7,316. It would use a sliding scale going from .4% increase for the lowest earners to a 2.2% increase for individuals earning over $2.5 million, over the course of twelve years. During first four years, the initiative would have given 60% of revenues to kindergarten through high schools, used 30% to repay state debt, and given 10% to early childhood programs. Afterward it would allocate 85% of tax revenues to K through 12 schools, and given 15% to early childhood programs. It would have provided funds for K through high school with a school-specific and per-pupil basis. The funds would be subject to local control, audits, and public input.

Why Supporters Bought In  
The supporters of Proposition 38 said its goal was to make primary and secondary school education a priority again in California. It would guarantee funding for each pupil given directly to each public school in order to restore the previous losses from budget cuts and to improve results in education. This does not include accredited online colleges.

Proposition 38 also prohibited politicians in the legislature in Sacramento from using that money for other purposes. And they could not use this new money to replace current school funding, in order to divert those funds elsewhere. Decisions about spending these tax dollars would be made locally in conjunction with the community. School districts would have to set annual goals for educational improvement for its schools. They would need to report to the public whether or not the goals were achieved.

The Other Side 
Arguments against Proposition 38 were obvious. If a taxpayer earned as much as $17,346 annually, he or she would face a tax increase. In difficult economic times, this is not a popular idea.

Opponents of the proposition claimed this influx of funds to the schools in tax dollars would carry no specific requirements to improve student performance in any way. They claimed that there would be no specific mandate to improve schools or a way to dismiss bad teachers.

Those against the proposition believed that too much of the money would go into funds for school administrators and teachers in the form of pension money and benefits, and not enough would be spent on students’ needs.

In light of the fact that 24% of students in California currently do not graduate from high school, the argument was that this tax increase would merely pour more money into a failing system without requiring improvements or changes to this system.

Opponents also objected that the tax increase could not be altered in any way for twelve years, even in a case where fraud or waste had been proven, without another vote.

Keeping Hope Alive 
However, there is some hope for supporters of public education in California. Although Proposition 38 did not succeed, an alternate plan called Proposition 30, strongly supported by Governor Jerry Brown was approved by the voters on the same ballot.

This initiative will raise about $3 billion for public schools and community colleges by taxing an individual’s income over $250,000. It will also increase the sales tax by a quarter-cent, a tax hike that will be shared by everyone. This measure will raise $6 billion for education and should also balance the state budget.

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