By Susan Solomon
We’re all well aware by now how the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered our education system. Still, it is quite another thing to be watching this change unfold from a school administrator’s seat. From my perspective as the President of the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), I can say without question that the challenges our district now faces daily are unprecedented.
Our teachers, who are already strapped for resources, are scrambling to adopt new and effective ways to teach remotely while our children are learning in a completely foreign environment. What’s more, the systemic inequalities that affect our low-income, black, and brown students have been exacerbated by this pandemic. It’s estimated that learning loss due to COVID-19 school closures will be greatest amongst these students.
We need to act fast to address the impact of COVID-19 on our school system, especially as it relates to our black and brown students disproportionately bearing the brunt of this crisis.
That’s where Proposition J comes in, a local measure that fixes a legal loophole to continue an essential source of funding for San Francisco schools without increasing taxes.
In 2018, voters passed Proposition G, a parcel tax that created vital funding for our schools that the district can’t access because of ongoing litigation. Prop. J would replace Prop. G to ensure access to funds that will support our students and teachers through the pandemic and beyond.
Prop. J will generate nearly $50 million a year for the school district. This money can solely be used to improve SFUSD and provide the resources our district needs during COVID-19.
The funds will be spent to: improve teacher salaries, increase staffing and funding for high-needs schools, increase staffing and program funding at community schools, invest in technology for digital learning, and ensure our schools have the tools to provide a safe, high-quality education to all students.
Prop. J will also invest in our teachers’ professional development, as well as computer science and technology programs so that all SFUSD students are set up to succeed after graduation.
The funds collected by Prop. J cannot be touched by the state or federal government and will be monitored by an independent oversight committee to ensure the money is being allocated as promised.
Lack of funding hurts our students and schools
California consistently underfunds schools and underpays teachers, as one of the bottom ten states nationwide in per-pupil spending. On top of that, SFUSD is facing a budget deficit.
This underfunding creates problems in our school system that are heightened by the pandemic.
Teachers are not being paid a livable wage despite being essential workers, schools in black and brown neighborhoods lack the resources to serve their students during this crisis, and black and brown families don’t have access to the tools they need for their children to succeed in remote learning.
Black and brown students are less likely to have the devices and internet they require to participate fully in remote learning, further widening the achievement gap between them and their white counterparts.
The future of SFUSD
The COVID-19 crisis has shown us where we continue to fail our black and brown children. It has proven that teachers and local schools play an essential role in our community; they help students learn, socialize, and stay active while their parents work.
Our schools and teachers need our support now more than ever.
I’m hopeful we can take the lessons we are learning from this pandemic to better serve all of our children.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about local ballot measures that affect our schools. And please, vote Yes on Proposition J!
Susan Solomon is president of the United Educators of San Francisco.