News

For California schools, 2020 could prove historic

Two students at a crossing in the Mission Beach area of San Diego. (Photo: Conchi Martinez, via Shutterstock)

California public schools will be getting a big infusion of cash — a very, very big infusion —  if voters approve an unprecedented trifecta of  multibillion-dollar measures aimed at next year’s statewide ballots.

First, there’s a $15 billion plan, financed by bond borrowing, for construction projects for K-12 and higher education. Gov. Newsom  signed the bill and placed it on the March ballot.

Second, the California School Boards Association is pushing its “Full and Fair Funding Measure,” which would generate $15 billion annually for public schools. The measure would increase taxes on corporate income over $1 million by up to 5 percent, and increase personal income tax on annual earnings over $1 million by 2 percent and over $2 million by 3 percent. The initiative, which has not yet qualified, is targeting the November 2020 ballot. There is speculation in the Capitol that this measure may become the subject of legislation next year, allowing the Legislature and governor to place it on the ballot.

In the 1970s, California ranked in the top five states in the nation for per-pupil funding and student outcomes. Yet now it ranks near the bottom.

Finally, the Schools and Communities First campaign is circulating a property tax reform measure that would generate $4.5 billion a year for K-12 schools and community colleges as well as $6.5 billion for local governments. It, too, is aimed at November 2020.

This initiative would rewrite California’s  controversial Proposition 13, which voters approved in June 1978. It would lift property tax caps on commercial and industrial properties while retaining caps for residences. However, the campaign is revising the measure to include more property tax protection for small businesses and to ensure that all school districts receive equitable funding. Now the campaign is collecting signatures to qualify the revised measure for the ballot.

David Kline, a spokesperson for the California Taxpayers Association, questioned the need for new taxes when the state is experiencing a record surplus of $21.5 billion. He added that more taxes are not good for anybody.

“Our cost of living is already so high in California,” he said. “Consumers will face even higher costs for everything they buy because the tax would be passed on.”

But Troy Flint, a spokesperson for the California School Boards Association, said California’s public schools are still woefully underfunded. The state ranks 38th in per-pupil funding, paying only about $10,281 per student as compared to the $20,540 per student paid by top funder Vermont.

“Our measure addresses the neglect of our school system,” he said.

In the 1970s, California ranked in the top five states in the nation for per-pupil funding and student outcomes. Yet now it ranks near the bottom, though the state boasts the 5th largest economy in the world.

Recent increases in school funding have only put the schools back where they were before funding was drastically cut during the last recession in 2008.

The state faces steep challenges educating its 6.19 million public school students as 58 percent are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch and 23 percent are English learners.

“Everybody benefits from strong public schools,” Flint said. “They are the foundation of a healthy society and a strong democracy.”

The California School Boards Association believes that the initiative is its best option to restore funding since other strategies haven’t worked, including working with the Legislature and a court case. In 2016, the California Supreme Court declined to hear Robles-Wong vs. the State of California. In that case, the association and other plaintiffs argued that the state’s school funding system violated the state constitution by denying all students access to an education that prepared them for the work force and full participation in our democracy.

Recent increases in school funding have only put the schools back where they were before funding was drastically cut during the last recession in 2008.  “The last decade, we’ve treaded water,” said Flint.

If the measure passes a “split roll” will be created with one set of taxes for residential property owners and another for business property.

Gov. Newsom’s budget allocates $103.4 billion for K-12 education, a record high. “The only logical conclusion is the current tax structure is doing a really good job of providing for government programs,” Kline said.

The Schools and Communities First initiative, if approved, would be the first time Proposition 13 has been changed since its passage.  Proposition 13 limits property taxes for both homes and businesses to 1 percent of the property’s taxable value and prohibits the taxes from going up more than 2 percent per year until the property is sold. In this way, property owners who have held on to their land for many years often pay much lower taxes than new buyers.

If the measure passes a “split roll” will be created with one set of taxes for residential property owners and another for business property.

Supporters of the Schools and Communities First initiative say a reform of Proposition 13 is long overdue. “For 40 years, California’s novel approach to taxing commercial and industrial property has starved funding for schools and local communities, disadvantaged small and startup businesses and exacerbated our housing crisis,” they noted.

The California Taxpayers Association and others have formed the group Californians to Stop Higher Property Taxes, which warns that if the split roll passes, property tax protections for home owners will be removed next.

The group’s website also points out that Californians already pay the highest income and sales taxes, and have the highest utility costs in the nation. “This is not the time to raise taxes again,” the website said.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: