Social movements are rarely fully formed. It takes a while for the percolating to reach full boil. But that is what is happening with the struggle for public education. We saw it last year as teachers in one Republican controlled state after another, states where there are little to no collective bargaining rights for public school employees, went on strike to demand full funding for public education. The mobilizations in the streets have continued with an epic strike in Los Angeles, a strike in Oakland, and other cities across the country.
These actions have resonated not only with teachers and classified education workers but with parents and students as well. And no wonder why. Even in California, which has the 5th largest economy in the world, education funding is grossly inadequate. Even with the $6-9 billion a year brought in by Props 30 and 55 and the minimums assured by Prop 98, California still ranks 43rd in the nation in per pupil spending and 45th in class-size average.
Most schools in California have overcrowded classrooms, counseling loads that make it difficult for students to get needed advice about courses, insufficient textbooks, poorly maintained technical support, inadequate numbers of custodians and the list goes on and on. In big urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco, educators and classified workers find it difficult to rent much less buy a home.
Those working in schools have reached a tipping point and are now demanding full funding for education and the resources they know their students need. But to fully fund education also means not diverting funding away from community control. As part of that effort, they are pointing to runaway charter school expansion and lack of accountability, like the millions profited by Clark and Jeanette Parker of Fresh Start Charter schools in Southern California, as a major problem. Charters, whether good or bad, syphon money away from in-district schools thereby hurting the majority of students. California law which sanctioned one hundred charters schools when they were authorized by the state in 1995, now has over 1300.
From incubators of innovation which inspired the first charters, they have now become big business with powerful lobbying arms financed by a few wealthy elites, capable of spending tens of millions in school board races and beyond just to ensure friends in positions of power. In fact, charter operators like K-12inc, which are traded on Wall Street, take much needed funds out of schools and community and into investors hands.
But the Los Angeles and Oakland teachers’ strikes have had a major impact in potentially changing the power dynamics in Sacramento. Now a handful of bills, including a moratorium on charter school expansion, are making their way through the state legislature. It’s one of the main reasons teachers and their allies will be coming to Sacramento on May 22 to demand funding and to stop the corporate take-over of our public school system.
In addition, inadequate school funding is the motivation for teachers and classified workers to support the Schools and Communities First Initiative that has qualified for the November 2020 ballot. This initiative will change a loop hole in the law which allows corporations who have been around since pre-1978 to avoid paying property taxes based on fair market value.
Real estate interests and anti-tax organizations are likely to miseducate voters that such a change will drive businesses out of the state and will result in throwing people on fixed incomes out of their homes. Nothing could be further from the truth. This initiative leaves in place protections for homeowners and only requires legacy businesses to pay based on fair market value. In fact, most small and newer businesses do pay property taxes based on fair market value and would benefit by this initiative by creating a level playing field.
Passing this initiative can raise an additional $11 billion dollars a year to go into schools and needed community services and begin to restore educational funding to pre-1978 levels.
Our children and our students can no longer wait for promises of a quality public education. Passing the Schools and Communities First initiative and requiring charter school reform is the best way we can ensure that all of California students get the education they deserve.