In towns and cities throughout California, something quite remarkable is happening. Parents and family members are organizing for the largest PTA fundraiser ever.
They are not selling gift wrap or candy or washing cars. They are organizing to support the Our Children, Our Future education initiative for the November ballot. This measure will raise $10 billion to $11 billion each year to restore education programs and services their children desperately need now. Critical funding would be provided on a per-student basis to every school site in the state. That’s every student, every school.
In the coming weeks, if your neighbor or friend or a parent from your local school comes up to you and asks “Will you sign our petition to support funding for our schools?” it is likely to be a PTA volunteer speaking up for children.
The stakes are high. According to State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson: “The deep cuts made to school funding – and looming uncertainties about the future – are driving school districts to the brink of insolvency. Plain and simple, our schools need new revenues to get back on solid financial ground.”
During the past several weeks, the PTA has helped train parents to get beyond mad and get organized. From San Diego to Orange County to the Bay Area to Sacramento and many points in between, PTA volunteers now have petitions in hand and are seeking signatures to support the Our Children, Our Future education initiative.
Why? Because parents have been seeing something really scary happening in California.
Per-pupil funding in California is 47th in the nation, lagging behind the national average by $2,580 – more than at any time in the past 40 years. Our state ranks dead last in class sizes – 50th out of 50 states – with the largest class sizes in the nation.
An entire generation of children is being denied the education they need to succeed in the workforce and succeed in life. On behalf of all these children, California State PTA decided we couldn’t wait any longer for the political experts in Sacramento to come up with a plan that truly puts children first.
Instead, we decided to help write the plan – the Our Children, Our Future education initiative – to make sure California is serving its most important constituency: our children and youth.
Working with the nonprofit Advancement Project, the PTA is supporting this initiative because it will start to restore – right now – the programs and services that have been cut out of our local schools.
As I travel the state, I see parents and the public embracing this initiative. The more they learn about it, the more they like the approach because they’re tired of fighting just to prevent deeper budget cuts. They want to take positive action to raise additional funding that will transform their local schools.
The initiative proposes to generate this new funding through a progressive, sliding-scale income tax increase that asks the wealthiest citizens to contribute the most. But Our Children, Our Future is not merely a “tax initiative” in the way that other proposals are. It is a bolder effort to begin reversing years of chronic underfunding and to truly transform our public schools.
Parents want their children to have a complete education – not shorter instructional time and larger classes, not the elimination of the arts and librarians, not schools that fail to provide counselors and physical education.
The PTA plan is pretty simple and easy to understand:
- Raise $10 billion to $11 billion dollars each year and put it in a trust fund;
- Target money for early childhood education and educational programs and services for K-12 schools;
- Send the money to every local school on a per-pupil basis;
- Give parents and the school community input on how the money is spent;
- Provide a clear list of what the money can be used for;
- Give the voters a chance to see how it works, and let them decide if they would like it to continue after 12 years.
This approach is significantly different from any other ballot option.
It is the only initiative that targets money exclusively for early childhood education and K-12 schools. In each of the first four years, it also pays education bond debt-service costs for pre-kindergarten through university school facilities. (Payment of the bond debt-service costs starting in its first full fiscal year will provide the state General Fund savings of approximately $3 billion per year.)
If I were writing a movie script the plot might be:
“Can PTA moms and dads out-hustle professional organizers and politicians in a campaign about the future of their children?”
We are committed to making this a story of triumph because that’s what this is all about – our children and our future.
Carol Kocivar of San Francisco is president of the California State PTA. The California State PTA has nearly 1 million members volunteering on behalf of public schools, children, and families. The PTA also advocates at national, state, and local levels for education and family issues. For information: www.capta.org. You can find more information about the Our Children, Our Future initiative at www.ourchildrenourfuture2012.com