As pressure builds in California to increase funding for public schools, a new poll shows that a majority of likely voters are in favor of raising taxes on wealthy corporations and individuals to boost education funding.
Six in 10 California voters say they would support a possible 2020 ballot initiative that would raise at least $11 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges, according to a California School Boards Association poll released last week.
Respondents were polled on their opinions on a hypothetical ballot measure that would increase income taxes on corporations making over $1 million by 5 percent and increase the personal income tax for earners making more than $1 million by 1.5 percent.
The school boards association has launched a Full and Fair Funding campaign in an attempt to convince the Legislature to raise school funding per student in California to the national average by 2020 and to the average of the top 10 states by 2025.
Poll respondents were told that funds generated by the initiative could be used by K-12 school districts and community colleges in a variety of ways, including student services, technology, arts and music education, or to attract and retain teachers. Most of the tax revenue (89 percent) would be allocated for K-12 schools, with the remaining 11 percent going to community colleges.
The poll, which was based on 1,021 telephone interviews, also showed that 77 percent of likely voters said schools are in “some need” or “great need” of additional funding, about the same response to a similar question in a 2018 poll commissioned by the association.
“Doing more with less is no longer an option,” said Emma Turner, president of the California School Boards Association. “Today’s students need to be prepared for a world that is more complex, more global and more technological than ever before. Yet California ranks at the bottom for nearly every measure for school funding and staffing. That is unacceptable.”
The California School Boards Association is not yet planning to put the measure on the ballot. According to Troy Flint, a spokesman for the association, the organization is waiting to see if the state Legislature increases school funding in the 2019 legislative cycle.
If lawmakers do not raise funding significantly — at least $12 billion annually, Flint said — then the association plans to start gathering signatures to get a ballot measure on the 2020 ballot with wording similar to the one described in the poll.
“We are looking to the Legislature to make significant progress in substantially increasing school funding this legislative session,” Flint said. “If it fails to do that, then we will give every consideration to a ballot measure for the November 2020 election. All of the polling we have done at this point indicates strong support for a measure to raise $11 billion for schools and gives every indication that such a measure would pass if it were on the ballot.”
Several proposals to increase funding for schools — which Gov. Gavin Newsom said already consume 45 percent of the state’s general fund — are already on the table. The most definite is an initiative that has a qualified for the Nov 2020 ballot that would overhaul Proposition 13, which limits property taxes to no more than 1 percent of full assessed value. The initiative would increase taxes on commercial properties and if approved by voters would raise between $6 billion and $10 billion annually. Forty percent of those funds would go to K-12 schools and community colleges.
In addition, Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, along with several other East Bay lawmakers, earlier this this year introduced legislation that would raise the income taxes on about 2,000 of California’s most profitable corporations. The rate would be largely determined by the size of the gap between what the companies pay their CEO and their workers. However, it is far from clear whether this measure would become law, as similar ones have not made it out of the Legislature in the past.
Flint disagreed that placing another measure on the ballot might make it more difficult to convince voters to approve the “split roll” initiative to reform Prop. 13.
“We think it’s important that California schools get to the national average and beyond,” he said. “Split roll alone won’t get us there, but we don’t see that as a rival measure because it has a different focus. The measure [in the poll] is exclusive to schools.” In a split roll, “you’re taking maybe half, in the most optimistic scenarios, to go to schools. It’s a different measure.”
Gov. Newsom has acknowledged that California lags behind other states in its education spending.
“We’re still 41st in the nation in per-pupil funding,” he said in February in his first State of the State address. “Something needs to change. We need to have an honest conversation about how we fund our schools at a state and local level.”
At the same time, he has not indicated what measure, if any, he would support to generate more revenues for that purpose.
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