Opinion

March 3: Voters will decide on $15 billion for schools

Students at their graduation ceremonies at UCLA. (Photo: Joseph Sohm, via Shutterstock)

Voters may be surprised to find Proposition 13 on their March 3 ballot because they recall the 1978 vote on another Proposition 13. But be assured: This year’s Prop. 13 has nothing to do with the well-known tax-cutting measure and everything to do with the future of the state.

Proposition 13 is the strongest statewide school bond measure in California history, providing $15 billion to make educational facilities safe for students. It places a priority on fixing fire, earthquake and other life safety issues.

Prop. 13 would provide $6 billion to California’s public higher education system.

It just happens to have the same number as the tax-cutting measure because of the way the Secretary of State assigns numbers to ballot measures: The numbers are reset to the number 1 one every 10 years, and that leads to the number 13 appearing on the ballot again.

Adding to the potential confusion is another measure, headed for the November ballot that proposes to change the tax-cutting measure. But that is not what voters will be determining on the March 3 ballot.

Instead, the Proposition 13 on the March 3 ballot is a measure that won nearly unanimous support in the state Legislature and has continued to draw bipartisan support, including from our organization of California public higher education system alumni. The proposition also has the support of a broad-based coalition of business organizations, teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters and military veterans.

Proposition 13 would provide $6 billion to California’s public higher education system, divided equally among the Community Colleges, University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. It would be the first bond measure since 2006 to provide significant money for higher education infrastructure.

Proposition 13 would make another $9 billion available to repair dilapidated classrooms, remove mold and asbestos, replace unsafe drinking water systems, repair broken toilets and make the many other repairs needed to ensure the state’s pre-K-12 schools are safe.

For these students, Prop. 13 is essential to their safety and their ability to learn.

The ballot measure contains robust taxpayer accountability measures that strictly limit administrative costs. It also mandates independent performance audits of any project it funds, and it requires public hearings to get public input on projects.

Because rundown buildings are most often found in poorer districts, the bond measure includes key reforms to ensure school facilities spending is more equitable so funding is invested in districts that need it most.

This funding is critical to our future because California is projected to be about 1.1 million college graduates short of what our state’s employers need over the next decade. This means our economy could face another major downturn if we don’t address the workforce skills gap now.

The sharp decline in state funds for capital investment in California’s four-year universities and colleges during the Great Recession left them with a backlog of deferred maintenance. Today, many students in California’s public higher education system find themselves inside seismically deficient classrooms and laboratories and shut out of certain courses because of the limited available class space.

At UC Davis, for instance, student Adam Hatefi described “overcrowded classrooms forcing students to sit on the floor; crumbling walls and peeling paint; broken projectors, screens and lights in our lecture halls.”  At UC Berkeley, student Varsha Sarveshwar, reported on a seismic assessment that found that 68 of the campus’ buildings posed a “serious” or “severe” risk to life. “Many of these buildings are a second home to us students,” she wrote.

For these students, Proposition 13 is essential to their safety and their ability to learn. It includes safeguards for higher education expenditures to be used to make buildings safer, and it requires campuses that receive Prop. 13 funds to develop five-year plans to expand affordable housing for their students.

California has a world-class public higher education system that has given us the educated workforce we need to support one of the world’s largest and most vibrant economies. To keep our economy strong and protect our young people, please invest in our future by voting yes on Proposition 13.

Ed’s Note: Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a Republican and former California state senator and Assembly member from Orange County, and Levine is a Democrat and former U.S. Congress member and state Assembly member from Los Angeles.


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