The defeat of Prop 13—the school bond on the March ballot—has caused worry and concern, particularly among those of us who want more support for schools.
I think it’s a huge opening.
Prop 13 wasn’t really about schools. It was about school buildings, of which California has plenty.
What California needs is more education.
And this is an opportunity for the education lobby to pivot to a focus on funding actual education.
When school funding is in the news, we hear two things. A record amount of money is going to schools (still too little, and maybe not the national average), but school districts are cutting back on programs, and closing schools. You also might hear about retirement benefits for former teachers gobbling up more money, while student enrollments decline.
These narratives are rotten. But the great thing about this moment is that it’s possible to change the narrative—and offer more education in the process.
Multiple studies suggest our school funding should be 50 percent higher than it currently is. What is needed is a long-term campaign to get that money, and to emphasize that it will be spent not just “in the classroom” (a fuzzy political term about which there is now much cynicism) but on making our kids better educated.
New money should be drawn from tax reforms that include tax hikes and from putting limits on retirement benefits. And that money should be focused on extending the school year and the school day, and on offering more science, math, arts, foreign language, and special ed. California should be able to say it offers the most robust public education in the country.
Let that goal drive the spending. Teachers will make more as they teach more. But their rate of pay shouldn’t go up, especially after years of increases in teacher pay crowding out other expenses. Money for administration, buildings, and things that aren’t instruction should be strictly limited.
The pledge should be that more money produces more education. That fits the needs of students. And it would restore the trust of the public.