By Delaine Eastin – OpEd in the San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, April 22, 2009 -- The first several generations of Californians were led by visionaries committed to the education of our children. They built the finest public college and university system the world has ever seen, as well as investing generously in K-12 education. California grew rich because the return on our education investment was so extraordinary.
But the policymakers in Sacramento have long since lost their way. Look to the upcoming special election ballot for further evidence: Propositions 1D and 1E, which both harm children and reduce our state's already diminished commitment to the safety, health and development of our young people.
Passage of either Prop. 1D or 1E would represent a rare example of voters taking away programs and services they had previously deemed vital.
How so? A decade ago, in November 1998, the people of California used the initiative process to invest in children's health and preschool by passing Proposition 10. That measure increased taxes on tobacco products and directed most of the revenue to early childhood development, because the research clearly shows that what is provided in terms of health and education from birth until age 5 is a powerful determinant of success in later life. This is when connections and pathways that will last a lifetime are made. Indeed, researchers at UC Berkeley and Stanford note that 80 percent of the gap in fourth-grade reading ability between Latino and white students is present at kindergarten. Proposition 10 passed because most Californians sensed the lack of courage, vision and heart in Sacramento, and jumped at the chance provided by a brave Californian named Rob Reiner, who led the effort to bring the issue directly to the voters. Proposition 10 created First Five of California, an umbrella for a wide range of services that support the very youngest of our citizens with health care, immunization, child abuse prevention and access to preschool.
Now lawmakers want you to permit them to steal that money from the youngest among us to bail out the mad spending and tax cutting they have been engaged in over the last few years. And to make matters worse, they would also take the money that has gone into educating children about the dangers of tobacco, despite the remarkable success of anti-tobacco education efforts over the past decade.
Proposition 1D is a cowardly act on the part of the Legislature. The same crowd, who exempted yachts and private planes from sales taxes for years, and who this year added billions of dollars in tax breaks for business - including $500 million over five years for Hollywood - now wish to steal health and education money meant for our future leaders.
It is bad public policy to cut back now, or any time, on the health or education of young people. If you want this state and our nation to compete in the global economy, then look to Europe, Japan, Israel and China and note that those nations are committed to preschool for all.
Similarly, Prop. 1E takes aim at a range of services for another long-neglected population: people with mental illness. Voters passed Proposition 63 in 2004 to guarantee new and expanded mental health services, paid for by a tax on the wealthiest citizens (a 1 percent surcharge on income above $1 million).
The people recognized that Sacramento had failed to deliver on a decades-old promise to provide adequate mental health care in the community after the state mental hospitals were closed. Voters kept the promise that legislators had broken. The investments made possible by Prop. 63 are just now starting to pay off, but legislators see only a pile of cash that could help them paper over this year's deficit. So they ask voters to let them steal nearly a half-billion dollars from these new programs with Prop. 1E.
In the end, a budget is a statement of values. The budget of a family, a city, a state or a nation speaks to the values of the people therein. California should rebuild its education system, not cut it. California should value its children, not foreclose on their future.
Please tell Sacramento No and No Again on Propositions 1D and 1E.
Delaine Eastin is the former California superintendent of public instruction.