As the fifth largest economy in the world, we’re well known for being an economically prosperous state. However, California ranks among the lowest in the US for the amount of money spent on each K-12 public school student per year. This inadequate funding seriously impacts the quality of education California students receive. To maintain a public education system that reflects our relative wealth, and our values, California needs to adopt a more progressive tax policy to better fund public education.
A school district’s funding dictates all aspects of the student experience. Competitive teacher salaries will draw better teachers to the profession and keep teachers from leaving. More education spending reduces class size and can bring more resources to schools, paying for essential art, music, and tech programs. Poorly funded schools particularly impact lower-income students whose families cannot afford to supplement public school education with outside tutors, trips, books, and enrichment classes which would otherwise be provided at school.
California’s poor education spending can be traced back to a 1978 ballot initiative, Proposition 13, which amended the Constitution of California to severely limit the amount that the state could collect in property taxes. Prior to 1978, property taxes were the primary generator of revenue for schools, and California’s schools were among the best in the nation. Now, they rank among the worst. Some districts, like Berkeley, have stepped in to raise local taxes to fund schools to try to make up some of the revenue that was lost, but it is not enough.
Since the passage of Proposition 13, the cost of living in California has become high, and for many homeowners, Proposition 13’s low property tax is popular. On the other hand, the average teacher salary is so low compared to living costs in California that many teachers cannot afford to live in the communities where they teach. Several education-focused nonprofits are working towards a thoughtful ballot initiative for 2020 that aims to repeal aspects of Proposition 13 that limit property taxes on businesses. The proposed initiative would wisely leave in place property tax limits on private residences while dramatically increasing education funding for the state.
California’s failure to properly fund education does not align with our progressive values. The money is there. All we need is to reform Prop. 13 so that more is invested in the biggest responsibilities of government: public education.