This past Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown officially kicked off his campaign to promote Proposition 30, the ballot initiative to raise sales and income taxes for public education.
This is not about any other issue...It's not about the environment, it's not about pensions, it's not about parks. It's about one simple question: Shall those who've been blessed beyond imagination give back 1 or 2 or 3 percent for the next seven years, or shall we take billions out of our schools and colleges to the detriment of the kids standing behind us and the future of our state?
But is anything ever simple about school finance? Where will the money go?
Officially, Prop 30 stipulates that all revenues will go to K-14 (elementary and secondary education and community colleges) and that they may not be used "for administrative costs," subject to an annual audit. Some have questioned if Prop 30 truly will fulfill the promise of new revenues for public education. But would it be any more comforting if it were certain that Prop 30's effect would be to provide local school boards with $50 billion+ in unrestricted new revenues? It will be up to local school boards to decide, for example, whether to use the money to hire new teachers or leave class sizes where they are and just increase compensation for existing teachers.
What with the high and rising cost of pension and retiree health benefits, districts may have no choice but to spend the funds on teacher compensation. That's what David Crane, a former high-ranking state economic adviser, has predicted will happen, absent any substantial reform before revenue.
If Crane is right, then Brown is wrong. The new revenues won't benefit the "kids" and "the future," but instead will go towards paying off the retirement benefits bill for services rendered long ago.