School Choice & Charters Opinion

Annotating the News: Proposition 13, Imprisoned Youth, Election Politics

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — April 25, 2014 3 min read
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Rattling the Proposition 13 Cage

In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrats in the state legislature triggered dramatic reform in the way districts and schools will spend education dollars. But the income side of the state’s education budgeting remains trapped in the 1970s. More than half of all state revenues spent on schools come from income taxes, and these vary sharply in boom and bust economic times. Schools have to compete for those revenues with all other activities paid for out of the state’s annual general fund budget. Property taxes were sharply limited by the 1978 Proposition 13 to 1% of a property’s purchase price with only a 2% increase in that valuation allowed annually. As a result property taxes only account for 23% of state revenues spent on schools. Put it all together, and California consistently ranks in the bottom five states nationally in money spent per pupil on K-12 education adjusted for regional cost differences.

One proposal for changing that is called “the split roll": leaving the Prop 13 limits in place for residential properties, but letting school districts and other local governments lift those limits for commercial properties. Proposition 13 also allows (See Jennifer Bestor’s advocacy based on the inherent inequity in a property tax system that charges businesses wildly different amounts for similar properties, and which deprives schools of a reliable and stable source of income.) A recent Field Poll surprised us by showing two-thirds majorities supporting the split roll. It’s likely that majority would shrink in the face of opposition during an initiative campaign, but that poll might embolden supporters of increased education funding.

Substandard Education for Imprisoned Youth

In the United States, more than 70,000 school-aged youths live in prison. More than 10,000 of those live in California. A recent report by the Southern Education Fund shows that they’re are not getting much of an education: “This report examines federal data on youth in custody and provides powerful evidence that students in the juvenile justice system are getting a substandard education at a time when they need a good education the most. In fact, the juvenile justice systems may be doing more harm than simply failing to provide effective education. They contribute to alarming recidivism rates in which young people in trouble can’t put their lives back on track. Students are placed in the juvenile justice system most often for minor offenses and then continue to lose ground; only a small proportion of the students for which there is data complete as much as a single course.”

However, there is evidence that Los Angeles County may have turned a corner following a 2010 lawsuit. As Teresa Watanabe reports, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which is in charge of educating juveniles in detention facilities, has expanded its efforts, including an award winning “Road to Success” project-based learning program.

And the number of incarcerated youth has declined 46% since 2006 in L.A. County. Locking up minor offenders has proven ineffective, and at $10,000 a month, costly.

Education Politics Heating Up In An Election Year

As the deep economic crisis subsides in California, unemployment inches down, and budget surpluses replace deficits, education policy is getting more attention from California politicians. As we noted above, in 2013 Gov. Brown led the enactment of major school finance reform, and he counts that accomplishment as a major part of his case for reelection this fall.

But Democrats in the state legislature are not standing pat. For example, with the support of the California Teachers Association, Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) has introduced legislation that would give school districts more say over who sits on the governing boards of local charter schools. No surprise: charter school advocates are resisting.

And the best funded Republican candidate for governor, Neel Kashkari, has begun to spell out his proposals for K-12 reform, which push for more charters and more local control, as well as an increased focus on vocational education and job training.

By David Menefee-Libey and CTK

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