Proposition 51: “Progress” with an Agenda
Prop 51 is a proposition to issue $9 billion in state bonds, with the goal to fund construction of new facilities for schools. Currently, this proposition has support from almost all sides of the aisle, with both the Republican and Democratic parties supporting the legislation. And for once, even companies and unions can agree on something. There are few that actually oppose the idea, and among those, is Governor Jerry Brown (a rather unpopular figure among conservatives).
The proposition itself is going to be undoubtedly expensive. While the bond will pay for important institutions, such as charter schools, it will cost the state a net $8.6 billion in interest alone. This, as the Governor has pointed out, is particularly troublesome, considering the state currently has a debt of over $471 million, and future pensions could cost the state a total of $74 million, an expense California has yet to account for.
The advocates of this bill cite infrastructure problems currently plaguing schools across California. This rhetoric relies heavily on the sting still felt by voters from the 2008 recession, when over $20 billion was cut from the education system, resulting in massive classroom sizes, especially in cities such as LA. So it’s not surprising that voters are rallying around this popular bill --- especially when both parties endorse it.
My problem with this proposition begins in it’s premise that the state needs more facilities. This isn’t necessarily true --- classrooms are largely full because California lacks the funding to maintain large numbers of teachers. In the fifth district court of appeals the case Robles-Wong v. California, the court found that the state would need 237,000 more educators to bring the state up to the average number of teachers nationally. While the court eventually ruled against the case, other statistics continue to haunt the question of the teacher shortage: over the next 10 years, nearly 100,000 teachers are expected to retire, and over half of our teachers are completely unprepared to teach common core. If California can’t hire enough teachers as it is, how can we expect new schools to? If the allocation of the spending isn’t bad enough, the proposition relies on the incorrect assumption that the number of students in the system is increasing. This is empirically false; studies confirm that school enrollment rates in California are actually decreasing, with the rate of enrollment by 2025 shrinking by 1.5%. Thus, the very premise of the proposition, in its design and assumption, solves nothing.
The second problem lies in the power the program would give state officials. This could, as many local public officials have expressed, become a cronyism problem, as state officials allocate funding based on political favors rather than need. It also begins a rather scary precedent for future school funding, taking away the power from local authorities, and giving it to state officials. While there is an argument to be made that the impoverished need state support, nowhere in the proposition is a pro-poor policy implied or stated. Furthermore, it is likely to add additional regulations and bureaucracy to an already nearly inaccessible system, a problem that favors elite schools, as those institutions have the resources and staff to fill out all the necessary paperwork for funds.
With rising housing prices correlated to a massive housing shortage, and drought conditions threatening the livelihoods of Californians, voters need to get their priorities straight. It is absolutely ridiculous that California is issuing massive sums of money, most of which won’t even go to the schools that truly need it, and expects the taxpayer to foot the bill while the state goes broke and neglects other important priorities. This proposition, in turn, will only favor large unions, construction corporations, and elitist educational institutions.
We need to prioritize. We need to vote NO.
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