Polling looks good for Brown

It was a fine weekend for Jerry Brown. He should be elated with the first polling on his revised tax initiative. And the California Teachers Assn., a strong supporter of his first initiative, has come around to back the new version, too, and committed $9 million for the June and November elections. At least a piece of that’s expected to help Brown round up signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, though how much has yet to be disclosed.

Results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 1,500 registered voters show that 64 percent of voters back a temporary quarter-cent sales tax and higher income taxes on those making at least $250,000 ­– the compromise that Brown and the California Federation of Teachers agreed to earlier this month in merging their initiatives; 33 percent of those polled opposed it. Democrats were predictably for it (80-16) and Republicans agin (38-61); however, Brown did surprisingly well with independents, three-quarters of whom said they support the initiative, with 23 percent opposed.

Voters were told the money – $7 billion to $9 billion – would go toward public schools, community colleges, services for children and older adults, and local public safety, in line with the new initiative’s title (the School and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012) and summary. Brown can claim that because, while the revenue will go to the General Fund, a portion will go to K-12 and community colleges through Proposition 98, while $2 billion will support realignment, in which counties will permanently take responsibility for some social services and prisoners transferred to county jails.

The poll was taken in the days immediately after the deal between Brown and the CFT, but before the teachers union decided to stop collecting signatures for its Millionaires Tax, so pollsters asked about that one, too. CFT proposed a permanent, higher tax, though only for millionaires.

CFT’s initiative outpolled the hybrid tax plan 69-27, 5 percentage points higher. But business lobbies had already come out against CFT’s plan and may have waged war against it, so Brown’s tradeoff – sticking with a small sales tax and lowering the rates on the wealthy – could prove smart if business groups end up sitting on their hands.

“Jerry Brown may have pulled off a coup. By convincing the teachers to drop their initiative, he ends up with a compromise that still draws big levels of support,” Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, said in a statement.

The strong poll results on the initiative would appear to contradict Californians’ ambivalence about paying any new taxes. Asked whether the state’s $9 billion deficit should be resolved through a combination of taxes and cuts, as Brown proposed, or just cuts, 49 percent said do both taxes and cuts, while 45 percent said cuts alone. Apparently, respondents feel OK about taxes as long as they’re not getting the bill. (A full 80 percent also favor a $1 a pack tax increase on cigarettes, which is on the June ballot.)

That sentiment is reflected in the apparent opposition to the other tax proposal that may be on the November ballot, proposed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger and backed by the state PTA. It would provide $11 billion to K-12 and early childhood education by increasing the income tax across the board, though most families earning less than $50,000 would pay a negligible increase. It polls the mirror image of Brown’s new tax, with 32 percent in favor, 64 percent against. (Munger and the PTA face the challenge of explaining to voters that the increase will apply to their net incomes, after deductions, not to their gross incomes.)

The  endorsement of Brown’s merged initiative by CTA’s State Council of 800 delegates was expected, but critical nonetheless.

In a statement, CTA President Dean Vogel called the revised plan “a responsible and progressive plan that requires the wealthy pay their fair share in order to close the state budget deficit, restore funding to schools, colleges and essential public services and put California on the road to recovery.” He promised to work “with other labor unions and community groups to quickly qualify this initiative for the November ballot.” That implies that CTA will fork over some of the $4 million to $5 million it will take to get 1.2 million signatures by mid-May.

The State Council will meet again in June, at which point it could agree to additional spending on the November election.

PTA unites behind an initiative to transform and fairly fund our schools

This holiday season, one item at the top of wish lists for most parents is a public school system that delivers a well-rounded education for all students – one that prepares them for college, career, and adulthood. The future of our state and our economy depends on it.

Unfortunately, school budgets have been decimated by $20 billion in cuts in just the last few years. Essential programs for students have been eliminated or cut dramatically.

One thing I see and hear firsthand when I visit local communities throughout the state is that parents, educators, and community members have had it with these cuts.

In a recent survey, nine out of every 10 local PTA leaders and members rated “adequate school funding” as extremely important – the highest response by far to any policy issue. In particular, parents and PTA members believe more funding is needed to restore the arts, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and physical education; as well as to reduce class sizes and add back counselors, school libraries, and librarians.

Californians see something really scary happening: An entire generation of children is being denied the public education program they need to succeed in the workforce and in life.

We cannot let this happen.

That’s why the California State PTA is planning ahead for November 2012.

The November 2012 statewide ballot presents an opportunity we can’t afford to miss for our children. That’s when voters will have a chance to do something truly transformative for our public schools by passing the Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act, which was submitted to the Attorney General last week.

We’re urging everyone to unite around this measure, sponsored by the Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization. Here’s why.

First, the Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act is the boldest and most thoughtful proposal out there. It proposes to raise the most new money solely for K-12 schools and early childhood education programs – approximately $10 billion per year. Our state faces a number of serious challenges. This measure seeks to confront the most important of those: strengthening our public education system.

The new money must be used to improve students’ academic performance, graduation rates, and readiness for career, college, and life. The infusion of desperately needed resources will help schools restore and expand the educational program for all students, with more instruction in the arts, physical education, STEM, vocational and career education, and other courses that help keep students engaged in school and prepared for 21st century careers.

Funds can also be used to reduce class sizes; hire more counselors, librarians, and school nurses; or extend learning time through longer school days, a longer school year, or summer school – all components of a well-rounded education that have been cut to the bone in recent years.

Transparency and accountability

Second, the Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act proposes important reforms that ensure transparency, oversight, and accountability.

The new revenue will be placed in a trust account, and the Legislature will be prohibited from interfering with local schools and districts over how to use the funds. Local parents, educators, and staff in every school community, including charter schools, will be empowered to provide input into how the new funding is used, with local governing boards authorizing the decisions. Every school and district must report clearly on how the money is used and what outcomes are achieved.

This would be a powerful reform because it takes a giant step toward real local control – as well as meaningful parent and community engagement.

Third, the initiative will help close the achievement gap. In addition to enabling all schools to provide a more complete range of courses and academic support services, the initiative provides additional per-student funding to support low-income children and English language learners. Plus, 15 percent of the total revenue from the initiative will be targeted to expand access to early childhood education and preschool programs, which are proven to increase school readiness and help to close the gap.

To generate the needed revenues, the initiative relies on a broad-based, graduated income tax increase. Polls show that voters will support such a tax increase if they know the money goes directly to their local schools.

Californians understand that school funding has been cut too deeply. Our children cannot wait any longer for legislators to get their act together to address what our State Superintendent of Public Instruction has called a “state of fiscal emergency” for our schools.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the “fierce urgency of now.” The time is now for all of us to get behind a bold plan that will provide real opportunities and a well-rounded education for all students.

We owe it to them.

Carol Kocivar of San Francisco is president of the California State PTA. She has served as president-elect, vice president for communications, an education commission member, and on numerous committees with the California State PTA. A past president of the San Francisco Second District PTA, Kocivar has worked as a journalist, attorney, and ombudsperson for special education. 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