Proposal for 'culture coupons' chided

Despite having to close a projected $338 million shortfall by imposing service cuts and layoffs, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget includes a new $375,000 initiative to give $75 vouchers to sixth-graders for cultural learning.

Newsom, however, is having a challenging time convincing members of the Board of Supervisors to approve the program and a $1.4 million so-called Baby Savings Bond program.

Last week, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee unanimously voted to shoot down the funding for the baby funds and has voiced opposition to the voucher program.

The committee is scheduled to make final budget decisions today.

Luis Cancel, director of Cultural Affairs for the Arts Commission, which would oversee the program, said the vouchers would allow sixth-graders to pay for things such as admission fees to museums, artist workshops and dance classes.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, the chair of the budget committee, was critical of the proposal.

“There are much greater needs than culture coupons,” McGoldrick told The Examiner. “Young people who already exist here from babies on up to 18-year-olds are in dire need of help right now.”

The commission estimates 3,353 participants in the upcoming fiscal year with about $251,000 in vouchers. Startup costs, including a Web site and graphic design, and a full-time staff member, bring the program to a total cost of $375,000.

The commission also indicated its interest in expanding the program to seventh-graders in the subsequent year.

Last week, the committee nixed funding for Newsom’s Baby Savings Bond, his proposal to sink hundreds of dollars into a fund for each new baby born in San Francisco. The kids would later be able to redeem the money for college or first-time homeownership.

The Mayor’s Office was still hopeful that the programs would be funded.

“We have until Thursday and we hope that they will come to their senses,” Newsom’s spokesman Nathan Ballard said. “Investing in children’s future is a priority for this mayor.”

McGoldrick, however, had a different view.

“They sound more like public-relations sizzle than actual substance,” he said.

Also in the budget is $250,000 for Newsom’s new S.F. Promise program, which he announced last year, that would provide sixth-graders with academic support.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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