With less than three weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election, the California Teachers Association this weekend mobilized teachers, elected officials and other supporters to boost voter turnout on behalf of two ballot measures — Propositions 55 and 58 — that will have a direct bearing on schools and community colleges.
According to CTA estimates, over 1,000 teachers and other school staff walked precincts Saturday in several communities from San Diego to Santa Rosa on Saturday, joined by a slew of elected officials who are supportive of public education and allied with the teachers union, including Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendón. There will be a similar mobilization on Sunday.
“Public schools face a destructive $4 billion cut to public school education funding if Prop. 55 doesn’t pass,” CTA president Eric Heins said at a kickoff event in San Jose Saturday.
Many of those speaking out on behalf of Prop. 55 were motivated by the specter of the brutal budget cuts inflicted on schools and community colleges during the Great Recession as a result of the state’s budget crisis.
“We know that without Prop. 55 we will backslide, not just on education, but on other services and the safety net important to many Californians,” Rendón said.
Backers of the initiatives face the hurdle of getting voters’ attention in an electoral season that has been completely dominated by the most contentious presidential campaign in memory. In addition, they must help voters make sense of a hefty state ballot that has 18 statewide propositions, as well as a slew of local measures, often on highly complex policy issues.
Proposition 55 will extend what was supposed to be a temporary tax increase on high-income taxpayers. One drag on support for the measure is that Gov. Jerry Brown has remained neutral on it. Four years ago in promoting Prop. 30 he promised voters that the tax increase would end in 2018. “I said it was temporary when I started, when I got Prop. 30 passed — and I think I’ll leave it there,” he said in May when he released his revision of this year’s budget.
The CTA made amendments to the initiative to take into account some of Brown’s concerns, including changing the original version of the initiative that did not funnel some of the funds it would raise into the “rainy day” reserve funds that Brown has been trying to build for the state.
The changes were not sufficient to get Brown’s backing. But even without it, the most recent polls suggest that Prop. 55 has a majority of voters’ support.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, another backer of Prop. 55, said that without the tax extension, public education would face “devastating cuts,” and predicted that without it there would be “chaos in our schools.”
Polls also suggest that Prop. 58, which will essentially repeal a hugely controversial “English only” initiative approved by voters in 1998, is headed for a substantial victory. There is no organized opposition to the initiative.
At the same kickoff event Saturday, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, said students who know more than one language have a “competitive advantage” over monolingual students in a global economy. “We are not competing with other states, we are competing directly with other world economies,” said Lara, who authored the bill that the Legislature placed on the ballot as Prop. 58.
One notable absence from the slate of propositions promoted this weekend was Prop. 51, which would authorize the state to float billions of dollars in school and community college construction and renovation bonds. The CTA has not taken a position on the initiative and has not contributed funds to get it passed. The initiative is opposed by Brown, and its fate at the ballot box is uncertain.
The most recent poll on the measure administered in mid-September showed that a plurality of voters — 47 percent — support the measure, but it had yet to garner the majority support it will need for approval on election day.