In a recent piece commenting on the Public Policy Institute of California’s latest poll, Fox & Hounds editor Joel Fox raised an important question: “How do we educate voters to the actual working of government so that they can offer wise thoughts to pollsters and cast educated votes in elections?”

In other words – how can we make sure that Californians are equipped with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions?

When asked about improving schools, respondents to PPIC’s April poll on Californians and Education had what Fox called an “understandable reaction” and opted to add more funding for education. But would respondents to the poll have answered differently to questions regarding school improvement if they knew how much the state already spends on schools?

It turns out that Californians aren’t entirely up to speed on how much the state budgets. This is why, in 2005, Next 10 launched the nonpartisan California Budget Challenge. The easy-to-use, interactive, web-based tool was created as a public service to help educate and engage Californians on the tough choices involved in building the state’s General Fund budget.

According to another recent PPIC poll, the majority of adult respondents (44%) chose K-12 education as what they felt should be the state’s highest spending priority but, when asked to identify in which area they thought the state actually spent the most, only 16% of all adult respondents correctly named K-12 public education as the top recipient of funding.

This is the disconnect the Budget Challenge seeks to address. At a time when civic engagement and concern for public affairs seems to be at a high, it is important that the public has the opportunity and resources to be informed and engaged in the decisions that affect them most. In the 2017-18 iteration of the California Budget Challenge, after learning about how the state funds various expenditure items – including K-12 education – a majority of users actually chose to keep K-12 education funding as-is, rather than increase or decrease spending.

This year, Californians are facing possible threats to federal funding that could have significant impacts on the state’s budget, and at the same time, the state is seeking to close a $1.6 billion deficit while protecting our highest priorities. Recently passed transportation bill, SB 1, will provide the state’s budget with new critical transportation infrastructure revenue, but comes with a fuel tax increase. Each change to the state’s budget comes with trade-offs.

In order for California voters to meaningfully engage in budget discussions, they need resources to help better understand these trade-offs. In addition to questions about education spending, users of the Budget Challenge tool also have the opportunity to weigh in on matters related to healthcare, criminal justice, and income tax, as well as topical proposals such as additional funding for affordable housing. With each budget choice, users are given the opportunity to learn more about the pros and cons of each decision, including who would be impacted by the decision, and then see how their choice will impact the state’s deficit with a responsive “budget meter.” At the end of the Challenge, one can send their completed budget to their local state representatives to let them know what their priorities are for the allocation of state spending, or to share on social media to encourage their community to take the Challenge themselves.

To-date, more than 540,000 Californians have taken the Challenge. Local governments, non-profits, educators, and other groups are using it regularly to educate Californians on budget issues. Next 10 has also worked with assembly members and local politicians across the state to help host town hall meetings to directly engage constituents in the budget process using the interactive tool.

By providing a nonpartisan source of information to help inform Californians about what goes into generating the state’s annual General Fund budget, Next 10 hopes the California Budget Challenge can provide one tool to help bridge the disconnect that Joel Fox identified.

Today, more than ever, it is important for voters to feel individually informed, engaged, and empowered to weigh in on the decisions made by their government. I encourage readers to visit today to get informed and build their own California Budget ahead of the 2017-18 fiscal year deadline June 15th.

Noel Perry is a businessman and founder of Next 10, a nonpartisan nonprofit think tank in San Francisco that produces the California Budget Challenge website. Next 10’s California Budget Challenge is available at