California Voters Reject Pair of Ballot Measures

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 15, 2003 2 min read

Californians may have shaken up state politics by voting last week to boot Gov. Gray Davis from office, but they maintained the status quo when they voted on two ballot initiatives that many educators think would have hurt education.

Both measures—Proposition 53 and Proposition 54—were defeated on Oct. 7 by votes of 64 percent to 36 percent in favor, based on preliminary returns.

Proposition 54 would have greatly curbed public agencies’ collection and use of individual data on race or ethnicity. (“Outlook Uncertain for California’s Prop. 54,” Sept. 24, 2003.) Proposition 53 would have set aside money from the state’s general fund for building highways and other infrastructure.

Educators and education groups spent a considerable amount of money and energy fighting Proposition 54 in particular.

Dean E. Vogel, an executive officer of the California Teachers Association, said the $1.2 million that the National Education Association affiliate spent opposing the initiative was worth it. Proposition 54 would have prohibited schools from collecting the kind of information they need to address academic-achievement gaps and testing issues, he said.

“Tracking the ethnicity of students helps us make determinations of where we are doing well and where we are not,” he said.

Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, said he wrote op-ed pieces and met with groups “up and down the state” about how Proposition 54 would have made it harder to meet the needs of some student groups. “When somebody is aggressively trying to hurt the system, you play defense,” he said last week.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who had run as a candidate to replace Gov. Davis, a fellow Democrat, in the recall election on the same ballot, cited the failure of Proposition 54 as a “dramatic victory” in a speech while acknowledging his own defeat for the governorship by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Mr. Bustamante spent more than $4 million out of his campaign war chest fighting the ballot measure. Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger also opposed Proposition 54.

Diane Schachterle, the campaign coordinator for the efforts to pass Proposition 54, attributed its loss to “distortion and misrepresentation” by its opponents.

She said that Ward Connerly, the member of the University of California board of regents who had sponsored Proposition 54, would likely try again in three or four years to get a similar initiative on the ballot.

‘Sleepy’ Issue

Speculating on the defeat of Proposition 53, Kevin R. Gordon, the executive director of the California Association of School Business Officials, said: “There wasn’t much information out there. If voters are confused about a ballot measure, they tend not to take a risk and vote no.” His group opposed the measure.

But Dan F. Pellissier, the chief of staff for Assemblyman Keith Stuart Richman, a Republican who co-sponsored Proposition 53 with Democratic Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla, gave another reason. “It was difficult to get the public’s attention on an issue as sleepy as infrastructure,” he said.

Proposition 53 would have taken 1 percent out of the state’s general fund for infrastructure, starting in 2006, and steadily increased the percentage to 3 percent.

School groups differed over whether “infrastructure” included school buildings. They feared the measure would indirectly put a greater strain on K-12 state aid.

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