Speak UP Endorsements: November Ballot Propositions

Speak UP endorsements were voted on by a committee of our members and finalized by a vote of the Speak UP board. All members committing to a minimum of monthly volunteer hours were invited to join the Issues and Endorsements Committee and participate. If you would like to join the committee, please become a Level 2 or 3 member by clicking here and sending an email to info@speakupparents.org with “Issues and Endorsements” in the subject line.

Prop 55: YES Prop 58: YES Prop 57: YES Prop 51: NO

Proposition 55 -- Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare: YES, QUALIFIED

If you are feeling a bit of déjà vu (and frustration) over Proposition 55, you are not alone.

It was only four years ago that our California schools were on the brink of financial disaster, and the Los Angeles Unified School District was doing the unthinkable – preparing families for state budget cuts so severe that they would require a reduction in the number of school days.

Proposition 30 passed in 2012, imposing a seven-year tax increase on the highest earning Californians, in addition to a one-quarter cent increase in the sales tax, with the vast majority of funds going directly to K-12 public education (89%) and community colleges (11%). At the time, Governor Jerry Brown heavily promoted Prop 30 and promised that it would be a temporary increase to weather the storm.

Given the dire situation at the time, parents mobilized and helped to get Prop 30 passed, despite the fact that it was once again, only a Band-Aid for our serious public education funding problem. Even with Prop 30, California’s per pupil spending continues to hover near the bottom of national rankings.

So here we are again, only this time the proposal includes some notable changes:

·      Prop 55 extends the income taxes for 12 additional years, but not the sales tax.

·      The California Legislative Analyst’s office estimates that only half of the funds raised by Prop 55 will go to schools and community colleges. The rest will be allocated to Medi-Cal and increased budget reserves and debt payments.

Some have argued that it is dangerous to have so much of our schools’ revenue dependent on a tax stream that is closely tied to the stock market and overall economy. The highest earners typically see the greatest drop in income during a downturn, making this revenue more volatile than general income taxes or sales taxes. This becomes more of a concern with the expiration of the Prop 30 sales tax at the end of 2018.

It’s also frustrating that this fix is being marketed heavily as a way to keep our schools whole, when only half of the revenue goes to public education. Furthermore, a big chunk of the state’s education spending goes toward rising employee retirement costs that will not directly benefit kids currently in school. Prop 55, once again, will serve to maintain the status quo, without addressing the fact that the state and our school districts continue to spend funds that they do not have, while refusing to create a consistent and reliable school funding system that puts children first.

Finally, it is interesting that Prop 55 (like Prop 30), specifically bars spending for school administration. Why is it that these funds can be used for teacher pensions, but not those of district superintendents, district employees, principals, assistant principals and other administrators who run our schools? While we recognize that major financial and operational changes are necessary at all levels and do not believe LAUSD should be adding bureaucrats as its enrollment declines, we also know that schools cannot operate without solid leadership and support.

So given this, how can we support Prop 55 (albeit, with hesitation)? Most Speak UP members are parents with children currently in our public school system. In addition, we are dedicated to the mission that every child deserves a great education. So while we realize that LAUSD is headed toward potential financial collapse unless it cuts its budget, and Prop 55 may merely stave off the inevitable, we also know that our kids’ schools need more funding to survive and thrive.

Herein lies the dilemma. We are parents who know that we absolutely need fundamental changes in the way our schools are funded and operated. For us, it is extremely frustrating to continually relive Groundhog’s Day, and then to have no choice but to vote for short-term fixes that fail to address the underlying problems.

Furthermore, the only body that can address the issues of most importance to parents – consistent and stable funding, teacher dismissal policies, reasonable and sound pension reform, school autonomy – is the California Legislature. Unfortunately, the State Senate and Assembly are happy to cater to special interests and punt these decisions to the electorate, leaving us to scratch our heads, hold our noses and vote. All the while, the futures of more than six million California K-12 students hang in the balance.

The bottom line is that our schools do need more funding, and without it, kids will suffer harm.  We can’t in good conscience oppose a measure that will benefit kids. So we urge you to think about the kids and vote yes, even if it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Proposition 58 – English Proficiency, Multilingual Education: YES

Nearly 20 years ago, voters, fueled in part by anti-immigrant sentiment, passed Proposition 227, which banned bilingual education in California unless parents specifically requested it. Prop 58 will overturn that ban, giving schools more flexibility to help California’s 1.4 million English Language Learners advance academically in their native languages so they don’t fall as far behind as they work to become fluent.

Prop 58 will also make it easier to create more of the wildly popular dual language immersion programs, such as the Mandarin Immersion programs at Broadway and Braddock elementary schools.

In an increasingly globalized economy, the benefits of a bilingual education are indisputable, and many parents are demanding that their kids learn more than one language, starting at as early an age as possible.

Opponents of the measure are worried that California will return to a time when English learners were relegated to Spanish-only classes without parental permission. 

But let’s face it: Prop 227 did little to help English Language Learners become fluent in English. For many years, the rates of reclassifying these students – or moving them to English proficiency – were so abysmal that the U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights launched an investigation of Los Angeles Unified School District in 2010 and called for an overhaul of how these kids were educated.

We believe that teachers and schools should have the flexibility to use the latest and most effective methods to teach their students, which research shows often includes a bilingual approach. Prop 58 also preserves parent power by requiring schools to provide intensive English instruction if parents request it and to offer any specific English learner program requested by enough parents at a given school.

We are also optimistic that the new state accountability system, which evaluates schools in part based on how many English Language Learners are reclassified as fluent speakers, will help prevent kids from falling through the cracks.

Prop 58 is supported by the state’s teachers, school boards, the state PTA, the California Charter Schools Association and the governor. We urge Speak UP members to vote yes, too.

Proposition 57 – Criminal Justice Reform, Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing: YES

 While Prop 57 is not directly connected to education policy, we believe that its implementation would have a direct impact on stemming the so-called school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately affects low-income children of color.

In 2000, Proposition 21 created a new way for youth as young as 14 to enter the adult criminal justice system. Prop 21 allowed district attorneys to determine, in a procedure known as “direct file,” whether or not to try juveniles as adults. Previously, judges made the determination in a hearing that afforded the defendant’s counsel the opportunity to present evidence on a client’s behalf. Since 2000, the number of youth tried as adults has increased dramatically in California. More than 10,000 14-17 year olds have entered the system as adults since 20003. There is also a significant racial disparity. Even after adjusting for the disproportionate number of youth of color arrested for serious felonies, Latino and black youth are twice as likely to be direct filed as their white counterparts.

Prop 57, among other reforms, would put the decision of whether to try children as adults back in the hands of judges, who will have more information and evidence to reach their decisions. Judges also use well-established procedures that take into account the youth’s environment, experiences with trauma, and ability to rehabilitate.

“The pernicious part of direct file is there is no hearing,” Barry Krisberg, a criminologist at UC Berkeley told KPCC. “There is no evidence. There is no record. Somebody in the back office of a prosecutor’s office decides to try a youth as an adult, and there’s not too much that can be done about it.” 

Prop. 57 will also make this process fairer by presuming youth should remain in juvenile court unless proven otherwise. Speak UP believes this aligns with our kids-first mission.

The consequences are enormous for the youth who end up in the adult system.  California’s youth justice system was designed to address the unique needs of youth. It is focused on rehabilitation, education and providing new opportunities. Young offenders in the youth justice system are far less likely to commit new crimes than youth who are tried as adults. Those who end up in the adult prisons are 34% more likely to recidivate and eight times more likely to commit suicide than those in youth facilities.

Prop 57 contains other provisions that are equally important for criminal justice reform by moving the state toward policies that advance rehabilitation and community safety. Prisoners who are serving terms for non-violent offenses will have incentives to participate in rehabilitation and educational programs, which will allow them to file for early release. Many studies show that people are less likely to return to prison when they have access to rehabilitative programming while incarcerated. People of color bear the overwhelming brunt of our failed juvenile and criminal justice policies. Prop 57 will help foster family and community safety by returning rehabilitated, skilled adults to their communities, who can then become productive role models for youth.

Our juvenile justice system can be a last chance for a new start for our most vulnerable youth. While it is far from perfect, it provides opportunities for education, job training and mentoring that can turn around the lives of the kids who land there. Frankie Guzman is a compelling example. A lawyer who once spent years incarcerated in California’s juvenile camps, Guzman says that he was able to access educational programs that had a long-term impact on his life. “Having all these opportunities to go to school, college, law school, have a career like a lawyer, is largely in part because I was able to be prosecuted as a juvenile,” he told KPCC

Governor Jerry Brown and many district attorneys support Prop 57.  Speak UP urges a yes vote on Proposition 57.

Proposition 51 – School Bonds, Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities: NO

There’s no question that our crumbling K-12 school facilities need improvement, and Prop 51 authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds to fund new construction and modernization. However Prop 51 is poorly crafted legislation and violates Speak UP’s core values of equity, accountability and local control.

There’s no mechanism in Prop 51 to ensure that the money from these bonds will go to the schools that need it the most. It’s first-come, first-serve so the most broken classrooms may never get fixed.

Prop 51, funded by the construction industry, also lets developers off the hook for paying their fair share of school facilities. As long as state bond money is available, local districts cannot require developers to pay more than half the cost of the new classrooms needed to serve residents of a new development. Taxpayers and parents should not be forced to shoulder more of the burden so developers can increase their profits.

We believe school districts are better off passing their own bond measures and requiring developers to pay higher fees. Local control over the process will save time and money because districts will not have to go through as many as 10 separate state agencies to obtain bond funding.

Ultimately, LAUSD School Board President Steve Zimmer should be leading the way and taking responsibility for fixing the district’s aging facilities – something that has not happened during his tenure on the board.

Finally, before we build new facilities, we’d like to see a change in the management of existing facilities so classrooms can be allocated equitably between charter schools and district schools in an era of flat enrollment.

Right now, under the leadership of Zimmer, who has publicly opposed the law that calls for charters to share equally in public school facilities, LAUSD would rather allow its buildings and classrooms to sit empty and fall into disrepair rather than allow charter schools to occupy them.

For these reasons, we cannot support Prop 51. We urge our members to vote no.