A Proposition for Better Student Performance?

SACRAMENTO – The special election of May 19 is less than a month away and the California Teacher’s Association (CTA), the state’s most powerful union, is spending a lot of money to pass Propositions 1A and 1B. The measures, however, do nothing for education except make a complicated system more complicated.

The CTA has contributed $5.3 million to the campaign and was the first to launch “Yes on Prop 1A” radio ads. These begin by saying a yes on 1A and 1B will “bring sanity and stability to the budget process” and “it will help protect against higher taxes. . . bring short term revenue and long term budget stability.” Really?

According to an estimate from the state’s Legislative Analyst, Proposition 1A will extend taxes from two years to four years. The new budget put forth in February included a sales tax increase to 9 percent, a rise in the vehicle licensing fee from .65 percent to 1.15 percent, and an increase in income tax by .25 percent. If the propositions pass these tax increase will end in 2013 instead of 2011.

How is this protection against “higher taxes” as the CTA states? More important, how is this helpful to student learning?

The CTA is in favor of the measure because of the new requirement this initiative will set in motion. Prop 1A and 1B work together to ensure the state would have to give education funding the $9.3 billion that was to be cut over the next five to six years. The Secretary of State’s analysis noted, “Regardless of the state’s financial situation, these payments could not be suspended by the Governor.” The propositions guarantee that the state will increase K-12 funding every year by 1.5 percent, which is today $1.5 billion. When necessary, the money can be taken out of the Budget Stabilization Fund also known as the Rainy Day fund to ensure schools get the promised amount.

The cherry on top is that under proposition 1B, K-12 funding will be guaranteed every year to meet or exceed the previous year’s budget. The calculations would be based on the 1988 Proposition 98—now based on the each year’s current economic trends. The Legislative analysts has concluded that the education payment plans in Prop 1A and 1B will in the long term cost the state billions of dollars, most likely more than currently anticipated.

Californians should understand that education spending bears little relation to student achievement. Consider Saugus Union Elementary School District, with 14 percent English language learners, an Academic Performance Index (API) of 848, and receiving more than $14,000 per student. Fountain Valley Elementary School District, with roughly the same number of English language learners, 11 percent, receives $9,500 per student but earned 864 on API— 16 points higher with $4,500 less.

Grant Joint Union High School District in Sacramento County, with 72 percent socio-economically disadvantaged students, receives $14,402 per student, with 647 on the state API. Azusa Unified in Los Angeles receives less than $10,000 per student and serves 79 percent socio-economically disadvantaged students, yet produces an API score of 653.

Operational and educational costs differ for a variety of reasons, but the consensus of education researchers is that California’s method of education funding is complex and ineffective. New propositions that create more restrictions may benefit teacher unions like the CTA but are not likely to boost student achievement.

Instead of increasing the complexity of school financing, California should simplify things—let education funding follow the child to any school of his or her choice. This system is working in countries like Sweden, and it can work here.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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