Funding schools is everybody’s responsibility 

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The money to fund schools in California has to come from somewhere, and a recent poll shows that people in the state agree education needs funding — they just don’t want the cash to come from their pockets.

The state of education in California is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The state served more than 6 million K-12 students in the 2010-11 school year at its roughly 9,900 public facilities, according to data in a Public Policy Institute of California survey that was released Thursday. The number of students makes California’s public-education system the largest in the nation.

The size of the system does not translate into success. The state ranked near the bottom in math and reading scores for fourth- and eighth-grade students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. And spending for K-12 education in California is also woefully low. The state ranked 37th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in spending in the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates report that was released in December.

According to the PPIC survey, the majority of people in the state acknowledge that funding for K-12 education is too low. Sixty-three percent of adults believe the current level of funding for local public schools is not enough. For adults with kids in public schools, that number jumps to 66 percent.

The issue now facing public-school funding is that it has the possibility of increasing or being cut drastically. Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget would increase funding for K-12 schools, especially those in low-income areas. The caveat is that voters need to approve temporary increases in the state sales tax and a tax on upper-income earners. If the tax does not pass, the budget proposal calls for multibillion-dollar education cuts to be made immediately.

Also proposed for the November ballot is a competing initiative that would increase the income tax in the state on a sliding level by income. The money from that tax would bypass the state and go straight to schools.
Most people in the state do not want funding for California schools to decrease, according to the PPIC poll. Seventy-eight percent of likely voters in November oppose deep cuts to education, a swath of the population that crosses party lines, according to the PPIC.

But when it gets to raising money for education, the supermajority splinters. When asked directly about Brown’s plan, 54 percent of likely voters said they would approve his tax increases to prevent the cuts. That is a far cry from the 78 percent who disapprove of cutting funding.

Which of the taxes people support diverges even further when not associated directly with the cuts. Sixty-five percent of likely voters approve hiking taxes for the upper-income earners in the state. But when it comes to a sales tax — a levy that would affect everyone — the support for an increase stands at just 46 percent. The support for local taxes to finance local schools is also weak, according to the PPIC poll. Just 51 percent of likely voters say they would support such a parcel tax.

We acknowledge that all of the problems in the California education system cannot be solved by just throwing more money into the system. There are more reforms that need to be made. But deep funding cuts cannot be absorbed by our schools, which have already faced years of cutbacks.

Voters in this state do not want less money to go to education, but there has to be an understanding of where money for education comes from — taxes. The PPIC poll shows everyone wants spending, but they clearly want the money to come from someone else, such as the upper-income earners. All people in California need to take responsibility for the state of education, and pitch in to prevent devastating budget cuts.

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