Jeff Camp

Jeff Camp

Nearly half a million of California’s voters are teachers. Like other voters, they will soon have to decide how to mark their November ballots. They will certainly scratch their heads over Propositions 30 and 38, competing measures that would ease the damage of four years of steady budget cuts.

Should teachers vote for Prop 38, which would bring significant new money to each school and provide funding for preschools? Or for should they vote for Prop 30, which would bring less money to education – but has the backing of the governor?

The California Teachers Association (CTA), the state’s largest teachers union, has committed to support the governor’s measure, and has officially taken a neutral position on Proposition 38. But as the CTA’s top leaders fan out to campaign this month in lieu of their usual quarterly meeting, one has to wonder if their hearts will be in it. When it comes to sustaining funding, either measure would do for the moment, and Prop 38 would establish a longer period of commitment.

A puzzling choice: Prop 30, Prop 38 or both?

A puzzling choice: Prop 30, Prop 38 or both?

The CTA’s State Council is an elected body of nearly 800 representatives that normally meets four times a year. State Council members are union members with sufficient interest in union issues to take time out for this sort of thing, elected by those with sufficient interest in union issues to vote. It’s a big group. Usually, the State Council convenes in the ballroom of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, a cavernous 26,108-square-foot space that may be the only meeting space in the state large enough to accommodate it. For perspective, only two parliamentary bodies in the world have more members than the CTA State Council: China’s National People’s Congress (3,000) and the United Kingdom’s House of Lords (827).

Making decisions in such a large body is no easy task. Because it is so large, the CTA State Council can only meet occasionally. Its meetings are often raucous, and divisions show. Nimble changes in position are out of the question.

When the State Council set its neutral position on Prop 38 in the summer, the politics of the moment were quite different. The issue at the time was whether to support the governor’s ballot measure or to support yet another measure promoted by the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), CTA’s friendly competitor for union affiliation. Supporting three measures was unthinkable, and there was doubt at the time that Prop 38’s backers would put forward the money necessary for a serious campaign. When the time came for a vote, the State Council chose to cast its lot with the governor.

Usually, the California State PTA aligns with the CTA on ballot questions, but in this case they have not done so – the State PTA supports only Prop 38, as does Education Trust-West. Meanwhile, the campaign for Proposition 38 is proving quite well-funded after all, with a war chest of about $30 million to make its case to voters.

The governor sees Proposition 38 as an unfortunate distraction. He wants voters to pass Proposition 30, which aside from four years of help for the General Fund also includes constitutional “realignment” provisions that would permanently shift some of the responsibility for public safety, health, and social service programs from Sacramento to the counties.

Voters with an appetite for detail can revel in the similarities and differences between the measures by studying the well-crafted comparison sheet created by Mary Perry. However, many education-related organizations including the California School Boards Association, Children Now, and Educate Our State, have endorsed both measures. This position seems to be gaining traction. In a nod to “When Harry Met Sally,” Educate Our State is calling on California voters to support both measures. They call this a “yes! yes!” position. [Note: The link is for mature audiences only.]

The most emotionally packed arguments in the campaign for Prop 30 relate to the disturbing prospect of automatic “trigger cuts” to education. If Prop 30 fails, the education budget will automatically be cut, and those cuts will be passed to school districts. Backers of Prop 38 call this “hostage taking.” If passed, Prop 38 would leave the Legislature with plenty of capacity to fill gaps.

In all the back and forth about which ballot measure does a better job, it is significant to note the extent of agreement: (1) there is a pressing need for additional funding to educate California’s children; and (2) a voter initiative is necessary to obtain it. These two measures are quite different, neither is perfect, and certainly there will be plenty of unintended consequences. But most advocates are burying their differences in the interest of passing something rather than nothing. If neither passes, the trigger cuts will take effect, and the odds of a rescue from Sacramento’s lawmakers seem remote.

Once upon a time, initiatives were imagined as an unusual “safety valve” to allow voters to serve as legislators of last resort. But the structure of California government has stood this imagined model on its head. Initiatives can pass with a well-funded campaign and a simple majority vote. Legislation is harder. Bills involving money must pass two legislative bodies by a 2/3 vote in each, and then secure the signature of the governor.

(For background on why California’s funding for public education has fallen so far behind the rest of the United States, go here.)

Jeff Camp is the primary author of Ed100.org, a primer on education reform options in California. He co-chairs the Education Circle of Full Circle Fund, an organization that coordinates small teams of volunteers working in support of great nonprofit organizations that need a little help to get to the next level, whatever that may be. A visual summary of Ed100 can be found at here .

 

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  1. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    Certainly I have reservations about both of them. But money is better than not money and either or both are better than the status quo. Yes, I am very worried about the maintenance of effort provision. Our district will do the best it can to do what is right for the kids to the extent that oversight from the county, the state, and whatever other lawyers are looking over shoulders allow. (The good news is that … Read More

    Certainly I have reservations about both of them. But money is better than not money and either or both are better than the status quo.

    Yes, I am very worried about the maintenance of effort provision. Our district will do the best it can to do what is right for the kids to the extent that oversight from the county, the state, and whatever other lawyers are looking over shoulders allow. (The good news is that I don’t think the people in Sacramento know how to find us. 🙂 🙂 🙂 ) As I read it now, prop 38 could potentially require our district to lay off classroom teachers because we have maintained class size reduction all along, and they want us to buy new people with their money. Districts that let their first grades go to 31 will obviously be well served.

    I suppose part of me is optimistic that money is money and end-runs will be found by all the clever business people for districts trying to do the right thing… or maybe there will be lawsuits “clarifying” it in our favor… but I hate relying on that. I wish people would just take the time not to write their propositions stupidly in the first place. 🙁

    Replies

    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      LOL! ah, the advantages of the rural lifestyle.. 😉

  2. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    Navigio, certainly either of them are better than nothing and I intend to vote for both. As I read the initiative, we can only use the money for new teachers, not to keep the ones we have. Our district has made the choice to keep class sizes small (~20) and to keep a longer than required school year - and our staff has too, by forgoing pay raises and taking pay cuts to maintain that. 38 … Read More

    Navigio, certainly either of them are better than nothing and I intend to vote for both.

    As I read the initiative, we can only use the money for new teachers, not to keep the ones we have. Our district has made the choice to keep class sizes small (~20) and to keep a longer than required school year – and our staff has too, by forgoing pay raises and taking pay cuts to maintain that. 38 doesn’t realize we’ve been deficit spending already to meet some of their goals.

    What our district “should” be doing, apparently, is gaming the system and leaving positions unfilled until after the election, so they can be “new”. We’re not: the kids need those services now.

    As much as I understand that 38 would like the legislature to keep our funding level before its new funds are applied, I don’t see how it does that legally or practically. As I read it, the onus is on districts and we don’t control our revenues. I feel like Munger et al crafted this to thwart irritation with LAUSD et al, with little appreciation for the other 900 districts in California who maybe don’t operate the same way.

    Please, explain to me how I am wrong. 🙂 I want very much to be wrong.

    Replies

    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      Hi El. Let me try.. :-) Prop 30 has already been attacked as doing nothing more than backfilling teacher pension obligations. I expect this is one reason it's having problems. If 38 had allowed using its money to give teachers raises, its approval rating would clearly be even lower than it is now. So i think that restriction was a political reality. While I agree we are going the wrong direction on teacher pay, … Read More

      Hi El. Let me try.. 🙂

      Prop 30 has already been attacked as doing nothing more than backfilling teacher pension obligations. I expect this is one reason it’s having problems. If 38 had allowed using its money to give teachers raises, its approval rating would clearly be even lower than it is now. So i think that restriction was a political reality. While I agree we are going the wrong direction on teacher pay, the alternative is going to actually be worse. Prop 30 does nothing but maintain the cuts that were implemented this year already. Even with it, cuts next year are going to be be catastrophic, so the idea that it will help you achieve what you say prop 38 wont let you achieve I think is wrong. In other words, prop 30 doesnt get you anything that prop 38 cant. In fact, probably just the opposite. That doesnt make 38 perfect, but someone I once knew told me the perfect is the enemy of the good (admittedly I hate that saying because it means sacrificing one’s ideals).

      When you say you can only use the money for new positions, are you saying this because of the limitation that the money cannot be used to backfill offsetting cuts by the district? Smaller class sizes is something mentioned specifically in the text as a valid use for these funds. Doing that clearly means hiring or maintaining teachers. I absolutely agree with you on the problems associated with trying to enforce this offsetting funding restriction, and to be honest, I have the same reservations. The only saving grace for me is I get to decide whether the bully is in sacramento or in my local board room. I’m close enough to kick my local people in the shins. The state legislature could care less what I think, and even I can’t throw rocks that far. My guess is there will be lawsuits needed to clarify the use of funds questions as it relates to how the districts make cuts in the face of increasing funding. But realistically, I think it’s either that or no money at all. That doesnt mean being able to decide whether to forgo raises, it means losing those teachers altogether.

      One irony with our current cuts in the context of seniority, is that we are raising the average teacher cost for every teacher we lay off. I now know HR people who now spend a significant amount of time doing nothing but trying to convince experienced (and more expensive) teachers to retire. So regardless of how districts are closing their budget gaps, I dont think anyone is doing so in a way that benefits kids. My guess is most districts will have to make cuts next year anyway, even if 30 does pass. But 38 will at least allow you to offset or even exceed those cuts. A couple times in the past year I have suggested trying to keep track of how various districts are dealing with their budget crises. I do think knowing what districts are doing would have been great input into the drafting of any initiative that wants to place restrictions on how funds are used. But of course, America was not in class on the day ‘proactive’ was on the vocabulary test..

      At a general level, CA needs structural reform anyway. If prop 30 fails, it will be something that has to happen in a different way to avoid the state going under. In other words, there is the necessity for somewhat of a logistical backstop for the state. In contrast, I think legislators and voters have proven there is no analogous backstop, from a funding perspective, for public education. Rather, the ‘backstop’ for public education is private school. There is nothing (other than public will, of which there is little) prohibiting the state from simply continually decreasing funding for public education until it is able to ‘afford it’ by forcing more and more kids into private schools. I think charters are actually the stepping stone in that direction, but they may not be not fast enough.

      So I guess I dont necessarily disagree with you. But I also dont think that prop 38 deserves to be criticized for doing things better than prop 30, but as not good enough as the proposition that should have existed. At this point, we only have these two to choose from. 🙂

  3. Navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

    El, 38 money can be used on teachers, just not to increase their salaries as part of a negotiation. The idea of forcing the state to maintain funding is to avoid reductions that are intended to offset the gains provided by 38. The legislature has a habit of doing that.
    Also, fwiw, 38’s funds are allocated using a weighted formula.

    Regardless, I am surprised anyone would rather not have either of these measures pass right now.

  4. Paul Muench 4 years ago4 years ago

    Yes, too bad the legislature can’t make this happen. I would like to see a coordinated approach between increases in spending and plans for weighted student funding. Given WSF can significantly alter the distribution of funding its not clear I know what I’m voting on. When that’s the case I tend to vote no just to avoid the general mess propositons can create.

  5. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    From my point of view, for all the talk about local control and local accountability, the writers of Prop 38 sure did tie our local hands.

  6. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    The problem with Prop 38 is that we don't need *new* money, we need *old* money: money for the general fund. If we have trigger cuts and then prop 38 can't be used to pay for the teachers we'd have to cut to meet the trigger (we already cut everything else; we kept small class sizes and a 180 day year) and it can't be used to restore the administrators we already cut... it's hard … Read More

    The problem with Prop 38 is that we don’t need *new* money, we need *old* money: money for the general fund. If we have trigger cuts and then prop 38 can’t be used to pay for the teachers we’d have to cut to meet the trigger (we already cut everything else; we kept small class sizes and a 180 day year) and it can’t be used to restore the administrators we already cut… it’s hard to see how we would be able to use that money to appropriately meet the basic needs of our kids.

    Begging your collective pardons, but

    “Allocations from the California Education Trust Fund are intended to provide pupils with additional support and programs beyond those currently provided from other state, local, and federal sources. Beginning in the 2013-14 fiscal year, LEAs shall make every reasonable effort to maintain, from funds other than those provided under this act, per-pupil expenditures at each of their schools at least equal to the 2012-13 fiscal year per-pupil expenditures, adjusted for changes in the cost of living.”

    How the heck are we supposed to keep our per-pupil expenditures the same if our per-pupil income is cut by another 8%… on top of the cuts we’ve been enduring for the past 5 years?

  7. Navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

    The sad part is the CTA reps I've heard have not been telling the truth about either proposition. And they have been making the rounds talking to teachers. The irony is that prop 38 passing will surely mean more teachers than prop 30 passing and when you present it that way local bargaining units get confused about why CTA is backing 30. The CCSA is also backing 30 but probably more because they feel like … Read More

    The sad part is the CTA reps I’ve heard have not been telling the truth about either proposition. And they have been making the rounds talking to teachers. The irony is that prop 38 passing will surely mean more teachers than prop 30 passing and when you present it that way local bargaining units get confused about why CTA is backing 30. The CCSA is also backing 30 but probably more because they feel like they owe brown politically rather than because it’s what’s best for schools and kids. I saw a sacbee story a couple days ago that showed support for both measures has slipped, with 30 getting dangerously close to that 50% line. I don’t really understand how that can be happening. I hope it is not because of confusion being generated about both propositions.

  8. CarolineSF 4 years ago4 years ago

    Both, because the top priority is beating back the notion that less government, less infrastructure and fewer public services are a good thing, and that "you're on your own" is superior to "we're in this together." (No one who claims to believe that "less government" and "fewer services" is a good thing believes that about the services from which he or she personally benefits. No one.) Read More

    Both, because the top priority is beating back the notion that less government, less infrastructure and fewer public services are a good thing, and that “you’re on your own” is superior to “we’re in this together.” (No one who claims to believe that “less government” and “fewer services” is a good thing believes that about the services from which he or she personally benefits. No one.)