By CAROLE SELIGMAN
SAN FRANCISCO-California public schools, having sunk to the bottom in national indicators of school quality (such as student-teacher ratio, per-pupil funding, etc.), now face another attack in a war to dismantle public education entirely. The attack is called Proposition 38.
Because California’s initiative process has been usurped by ultra-right-wing capitalists, the proposition was placed on the ballot by Silicon Valley millionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper. That is, he paid out a large chunk of change to pay petitioners to gather signatures to buy his way on the ballot. And they did.
Of course, when folks signed the initiative they thought they were signing to improve the schools. Now, teachers unions and other organizations representing working people and their kids are forced to spend their hardearned resources to defeat this pernicious measure.
What would Prop. 38 do if passed? According to the California Teachers Association, the huge teachers union with close to 300,000 members and the main opponent of the measure, Prop. 38 will cut funding to public schools-which means fewer textbooks, fewer teachers, and more overcrowded classrooms.
Prop. 38 will cost at least $3 billion to California taxpayers and not one dime will be used to improve neighborhood schools. Prop. 38 creates unregulated private voucher schools that receive taxpayer money but can make financial decisions in secret and are not required to have their finances audited. These voucher school operators are not required to have any training or experience educating children, and voucher school teachers do not need a credential or a college degree.
Prop. 38 provides $4000 vouchers to those who claim to “home school” their kids, but provides no means to monitor them. It will provide $4000 vouchers for the 700,000 students who are currently already enrolled in private schools. This alone will cost the taxpayers nearly $3 billion.
CTA charges that “paying for these vouchers and the new bureaucracies created by Prop. 38 will require either a tax increase or a cut in vital services, such as public safety, child care, or transportation.”
A strong argument against the measure is that the private schools-not the parents-will choose which students can attend. This will allow for all kinds of discrimination not allowed in public schools by law. Voucher schools get public money, but are allowed to reject children for almost any reason, including gender, religion, language, ability to pay, or academic or physical ability.
Public education has been under siege for many years. It was one of the biggest victims of the economic recessions and cuts in public services since the early 1970s. California is a prime example of this. During the 1960s California was known nationally for the high quality of public education-in particular, the huge system of public community colleges, state colleges, and state universities.
Since the 1960s, while California war industries, agri-business, Silicon Valley, and other large capitalist holdings prospered, all public services sustained cutbacks. Currently, new prisons in California are being built faster than schools.
Desperate economic conditions in Mexico and wars in Central America caused massive waves of immigration to California and the necessity to provide education services to large numbers of children who spoke languages other than English. The schools needed more funding, more expertise, more highly trained teachers, but the California and federal governments were providing less.
During this period, wealthy California went from a public education system near the top nationally to one that compared to poor Southern states in education funding and class size.
Right-wing politicians blamed the situation on the teachers, the unions, and the immigrants. Liberal politicians wooed the teachers, the unions, and the immigrants by pretending to be their friends, but continued the same policies of underfunding that hurt the schools.
Unfortunately, the teachers unions continued to support Democrats and tried to substitute that support for carrying on an independent struggle for the schools. The union even refused (except for fine sounding resolutions) to conduct a fight for the most important school quality issue-reducing the size of classes.
When a small measure to reduce class size in California’s kindergarten through third-grade classes was finally enacted a few years back, the teachers unions couldn’t even claim the credit. Now, there is a crying need to reduce class size in the rest of public education, grade 5 through college. This is an issue in which teachers’ and students’ interests are inseparable.
Until the teachers unions take on the campaign for smaller classes and really carry on a serious fight to win this reform, we will face hairbrained schemes like Prop. 38 and serious attacks on public education over and over again. VOTE NO ON PROP. 38!