Oakland, California (EastBayDaily) — Educate Our State, the 50,000-strong, parent-led, volunteer statewide organization committed to improving public education in California, announced that it received clearance from the Attorney General to circulate an initiative to protect school property taxes. This initiative will return $7 billion every year in local property taxes allocated to schools back to schools, and prohibit the State from taking schools' property taxes to pay its own debts. It specifically addresses an omission in Proposition 1A, passed in 2004 by 84% percent of the voters, which protects the property taxes of every local government agency except schools. The initiative raises no new taxes or fees, and will bring more transparency to school and state funding.
“Handing over a growing stream of schools’ share of property tax revenue to pay state obligations is like stealing from school children,” says Katherine Welch, Educate Our State board member and a proponent of the measure. "The state has been able to bury its poor financial decisions in ‘education.' Most voters have no idea this is happening. Most elected officials have forgotten that $7 billion of annual General Fund 'spending on education' is, in fact, replacing school revenues they've diverted. Enough is enough. Parents are taking matters into their own hands, launching this November 2014 ballot initiative to increase the stability of school funding.”
Over $7 billion dollars a year — a quarter of local property taxes allocated to schools — are currently used to pay California’s non-education-related debts. This can particularly harm districts that support the state’s underserved children. For the last ten years those children have been losing stable local funding, in exchange for funds – or, even this year, an I.O.U. – from the state.
San Mateo County is the extreme case. Each district that cannot pay for all of its base per-student budget from its own property tax revenue (Ravenswood in East Palo Alto, for example) finds all its property tax revenue taken to satisfy the state’s debts. This leaves the district base budget 100% dependent on unstable revenue from California’s notoriously volatile general fund — and subject to the deferrals that have built the Wall of Debt. Los Angeles County sees half of its local property taxes allocated for education, $2 billion, diverted in this way: representing over 20% of its total local property tax stream.
Many counties overstate the amount of property tax that goes to fund education on their websites, so voters cannot educate themselves about the issue. San Francisco, which reports that 34% of property taxes go to fund education, actually pays only 18% of its property tax to its schools and community colleges. In Alameda County 41% is reported going to schools; but only 27% of local property taxes get there. In Contra Costa, 49% is shown but only 37% actually arrives. This inaccurate reporting exists in over a dozen major counties.
Ballot initiative supporter and former California State Superintendent of Schools Delaine Eastin understands we need to fix these issues if we are ever to return California to the leadership position in education it once held. "Our state constitution says the first priority for state government shall be the education of children. Sadly, that has not been the practice in Sacramento. We are number ONE among the states in per prisoner expenditures but 49th in per pupil expenditures. The state government has, quite frankly, been treating the money owed to children under the constitution as a piggy bank. The result has been an educational train wreck with many broken promises to our future generations. This initiative will simply give our schools a protection for their property taxes that cities and counties asked voters to provide, and that they received, ten years ago. It has worked for cities and counties and will work for schools," stated Eastin.
“How can we help schools with no new taxes or fees? By getting them the revenue that was allocated to them. California educates the largest number of children in the United States with fewer dollars, resources and support than most other states in the nation," said proponent Jennifer Bestor. “Though the net effect of the initiative is revenue neutral, it is literally siphoning off more and more stable revenue (local property taxes) that was destined for the schools. Parents cannot throw enough bake sales to provide enough funding for our schools’ most basic needs.”
"When Sacramento takes money from schools to cover its own debts, poor children and their communities are hurt the most. This initiative will return billions in local funding to our classrooms, provide much-needed transparency in the spending of our property tax dollars, and prohibit politicians from cheating our most vulnerable children to pay their debts in the future. We are proud to support this common-sense reform and believe California voters will be as well," stated William Koski, Professor, Stanford Law school and Director, Youth and Education Law Project (YELP) at Stanford.
California statistics are dire by any measure. California is 51st (yes, that’s worst) in students to teacher (nea.org), students per librarian (cde.ca.gov) and students per counselor (counseling.org) – by a large margin. Until we accurately represent the funding we are sending to our schools we are never going to be able to improve public education.