From one of the best systems to one of the worst - how reduced taxation starved Californian schools of cash

Janet Downs's picture
One argument used to justify private sector involvement in education is that it reduces the burden on the taxpayer. This is what Californians did in 1976 – they voted in a referendum for tax breaks and the “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation”, known as Proposition 13, was passed. This inadvertently cut state funding to schools.

Today, schools in one of the richest states in the richest countries of the world are in crisis. TES (10 February 2012 – not available on line) reported how California had slipped from being one of the best systems in the US to one of the worst. State funding only covers essential “academic” subjects – anything else, sport, music, drama, even school librarians, has had most of its support cut. Californian state education relies on principals, teachers and educationalists to keep it functioning. Parents are expected to contribute to their children’s learning and to become involved in fund-raising – but even in wealthy areas such as Burlingame in San Francisco, the Burlingame Community for Education Foundation (BCE) worries about donor apathy.

In poorer areas the situation is even worse. It is assumed that teachers will assist their students’ educational needs – this can range from $350 to $1,000 pa. Demoralisation among teachers is so high that half leave the profession with five years.

The funding crisis has had other consequences – the increasing involvement of the private sector. TES gives the example of the Foundation for Excellence in Education formed by Jeb Bush (brother of George “). The non-profit charity claims to be “An education system that ensures each and every student achieves his or her God-given potential for learning and prepares all students for success in the 21st century economy”. Its mission is “to ignite a movement of reforms, state by state, to transform education for the 21st century.” All very laudable until one discovers that this “reform” will be facilitated by a link up with Wireless Generation, a Murdoch-owned company providing software, assessment tools and data services. Murdoch was a keynote speaker at an education summit in October 2011 organised by Bush.

Alliances between not-for-profit charities and businesses which provide services to schools can lead to education being run for the benefit of business not education. Of course, schools can and do purchase resources and services from business but contracts can be broken if the school is not satisfied. However, if the organisation running the school has a cosy relationship with a particular business that sells goods or services to schools, or has a trading wing, then neither would want to break this mutually beneficial relationship.

Remember, when profit-making firms become involved in education, it’s not altruism, it’s an investment.

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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 10:36

The governor of California's schools expenditure increased by 11.8% this year (from fiscal 2011-12 to 2012-13).

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 11:21

Ricky - expenditure on education in California may have increased but it is still woefully insufficient. There isn't enough revenue coming in through taxation to pay for state provided services which include education.

"California schools need more resources. The limit on property taxes enacted by Proposition 13 in 1978 severely decreased overall school funding. When we account for cost of living, California ranks 45th in per-pupil funding. New York spends 50% more than California for each child in public schools. California needs to spend as much or more on its children’s education as the other states. As we improve the system for all students, we must eliminate the disparities in revenues between different districts and different schools."

Your figures are rather like Bumble the Beadle congratulating himself for allowing an increase in the meagre gruel to the workhouse inmates.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 12:24

There isn’t enough revenue coming in through taxation to pay for state provided services

Mmm.... had you followed my link, you would have seen that California's tax revenues were up by 7.7% on last year.

And last year's tax revenues were up 11.3% on 2010.

As you yourself note, Proposition 13 was passed in 1978 (when Jim Callaghan was PM in Britain).

Back then, California's schools got 60% of their income from local taxes, 34% from the State budget and 6% from the Federal government. Since then the whole way in which California's schools are financed and run has changed. nowadays around 67% comes directly from the State, 9% from Federal government, and only 22% from local sources.

It may well be the case that California spends less on education than you might like. But it does seem a bit daft to blame a tax cut made 34 years ago. Particularly when that tax cut helped fuel an economic boom.

You appear to have made the mistake common on the left of assuming that because taxes are cut, revenue goes down. Actually, very often the opposite happens.

After the 'tax revolt' of which Prop13 was a part, California's economy really took off. California outperformed the US generally during the 80s. Between 1983 and 1989 Gross State Product increased at an average annual rate of 5.1%, as opposed to a national GDP rate of 3.6%. Personal income in California rose at triple the rate of the national average. Employment soared and unemployment almost vanished. Not surprisingly, the state's coffers were filled with gold and public spending went up to levels never seen before.

As I say, you may be right about the schools budget being too low. But you are wrong about the reasons.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 17:20

Ricky - if you had followed my link to Just Schools, whose website is produced by the University of California Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, wrote:

"The limit on property taxes enacted by Proposition 13 in 1978 severely decreased overall school funding"

Proposition 13 was not a one-off tax cut. It was a vote to cut property taxes from an average of 2.6% to 1% (TES 10/2/2012). TES explained that as this proposition was from "the people", it "holds greater sway in the State capitol and cannot be undone by legislature. Tax revenues more or less dried up and have not flowed since."

If tax revenues are rising then this is a mere trickle and not enough to fund education (or much else) adequately as the link to Just Schools shows. Your contention that "the state's coffers were filled with gold and public spending went up" is not supported by evidence from UCLA.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 15/06/2012 - 17:33

Mitt Romney, possible Republican Presidential candidate, believes the fall in California's state education system is all down to those pesky unions (the ones whose teachers are subsidising education by buying resources or giving extra time for free). The Young Turks beg to differ:

Yes, I know the Young Turks is a liberal Internet news and political commentary programme and in Ricky's eyes that makes them as suspect but they make some valid points.

Chester Bellucci's picture
Sun, 17/06/2012 - 07:10

Sister, The fundamental issue in California was class. The struggle for a class orientation was also particularly important in Detroit, which has a long legacy of class politics.

By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), and other organization around the Democratic Party, call for “home rule” of Detroit. Their aim is to subordinate the working class and thereby maintain the political stranglehold of the parties of big business.

The Socialist Equality Party campaign is not like other campaigns. Its purpose is to build a political leadership in the working class.

The working class has to take power and reorganize society in the interests of social need. The SEP are running not primarily for votes, but for the political mobilization of the working class. The changes they seek will not happen through elections. They will be realized through the working class.

The SEP organizes workers across the country. Such work has to be independent of the official trade unions, which are aligned with the Democratic Party and have participated in the attack on the workers they claim to represent.

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