Let’s just get this out in the open… Many people, including teachers, are on the fence about Prop 30: either because they believe that Sacramento is wasteful and should make more cuts or because they do not think that we (teachers) should tax ourselves to pay for education. While I understand the basis of these beliefs, I do not think that they address the reality that if California wants to maintain a certain level of public services, then California needs to raise the revenue to pay to maintain this certain level of public services. Many of our districts have already made cuts so deep that school libraries, like the one at my children’s elementary school, have been closed. Over 600 students shut out of the library. My son came home for kindergarten last year and excitedly told me about a book he saw at the library that he wanted. And it only cost $6. He had mistaken the school’s book fair for the library. Do we really want to cut our schools even more?
California tax revenue has declined since 2008 and the Federal money that has helped fill in some of our budget hole over the past few years will not be available next year. Millions of home owners, including myself, have applied to reduce our property tax payments and are now collectively contributing significantly less in taxes. People are no longer pulling equity out of their homes to make large purchases and credit has become more difficult to get so people are not buying as many consumer goods which means sales tax revenues are still low. To address this, Sacramento has been making a lot of cuts, but many of these cuts aren’t felt by the more affluent, vocal, and politically active residents of our state. They are felt by our low-wage caregivers whose hours have been reduced and our senior citizens living in poverty. Cuts always visit the most vulnerable and least politically connected members of our society first which means these cuts are invisible to many of us unless we know someone that has been directly affected. But now the knife is being turned on the hearts on our communities: our schools. Now, the cuts will affect all of us.
Prop 30 will help generate tax revenue by having everyone contribute an additional few cents or dollars when we make purchases. Does anyone really want to pay more in taxes? I know I don’t! But when faced with the choice between having my shopping bill being a dollar higher or my children having an additional 3 weeks shaved off their school year, the choice is easy for me. Besides, I value education. (Why else would I intentionally choose a low-paying and often vilified job?) And I have no problem putting my money where my mouth is when it comes time to help pay for it. I think most of us have already forgotten that we had a slightly higher sales tax rate under Governor Schwarzenegger that quietly disappeared when its sunset clause kicked in. Prop 30’s proposed sales tax increase is so modest that it doesn’t even return us to that higher rate, and it also has a sunset clause. The bottom line is that California will either need to raise the money itself, or accept drastic cuts to education and public safety.
Prop 30 will also help generate tax revenue by slightly increasing the tax rate for the top wage earners in our state. I was hesitant about this part until I realized that most teachers are taxed at the same rate as movie stars. Some people argue that the top wage earners shouldn’t have their tax rate increased because they don’t even send their children to public school. So why, the argument goes, should they have to help pay for it? Simply stated, no matter how wealthy someone is, they still live within the California we choose to create. Does anyone really want to live in a poorly educated state where law enforcement agencies are stretched too thin? No matter how deep or shallow or full of holes your pockets are, all Californians benefit by ensuring we have educated and safe communities.
Prop 30 will help ensure that our schools and law enforcement agencies receive adequate funding which in turn will help retain the teachers and officers that California has paid to train. As a teacher, I have seen first-hand how many teachers have left California to take jobs in other states or, out of frustration with job insecurity and a lack of public respect, have left the profession entirely. California currently ranks 47th in per pupil spending while also ranking somewhere between 42-45 highest (depending on the source) in cost of living. And in a recent report released by the Dept of Ed (Pg 8), California is projected to face a severe teacher shortage because the number of college students entering teacher training programs has dropped by almost half. Hard-working, intelligent people will continue to avoid racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt to train for our profession unless California demonstrates it values the education of our population and is willing to treat educators as professionals.
A Yes Vote on Prop 30 is a Yes Vote for Education and Public Safety.
Written by Shane Parmely