by Karla Robinson | Staff Reporter, Neon Tommy: the online publication of the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism http://bit.ly/TNh4mb
October 7, 2012 | 12:50 a.m. PDT :: The two tax initiatives on the November ballot in California seeking to raise money for education have divided teachers from parents as the two camps look at what's in the fine print, leaving one expert to call the schism a missed opportunity that might do no good for both sides.
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One proposition denies raises to teachers, but could bring more money into classrooms. The other removes the possibility of catastrophic budget cuts this year.
Both the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have thrown their support behind Proposition 30, the initiative backed by Gov. Jerry Brown that looks to increase the state’s sales tax and income tax.
“We support Proposition 30 because it’s the only initiative that will prevent $6 billion in budget cuts this year and will begin to invest billions in new funding for our schools down the road," CTA President Dean E. Vogel said in a press release this week.
On the other side, the California State PTA supports Proposition 38, the opposing initiative that the organization collaborated on with sponsor Molly Munger; it looks to increase educational funding beyond current levels for preschool through high school.
“We do have differences of opinion,” said Scott Folsom, a member of the PTA board of managers. “It’s an argument that we’re having, and we’re saying that we need to increase funding to public education; we don’t want to hold it at the current levels.”
Although Prop 38 would increase funding to education and gives local officials more say in how the money is spent, there is one aspect that could be seen as a setback for teachers: no increased salaries.
The money raised by Prop 38 "is to be decided at the school site how it’s to be spent within certain constraints," Folsom explained. "It can’t be used to raise teacher salaries but it can be used to hire back people who have been laid off; it can be used to bring back programs like arts education and music, programs that have been eliminated in the past. It can be used to reduce class size."
There's also another reason teachers might be more inclined toward Prop 30. If Prop 30 doesn’t pass, education will be subject to trigger cuts, which Folsom says is a tricky political move and it essentially pits the initiatives against one another.
“Unfortunately, the governor and his team in pushing Prop 30 has presented their argument as ‘it’s one or the other’ and have built that into the legislation, trying to create [a situation] that they both can’t succeed,” Folsom said in a phone interview.
For some people - Brown included - having two initiatives is thought to be counterproductive by confusing voters and making it less likely for either proposition to pass.
“I think the biggest problem for the governor is he would strongly prefer a single initiative on the ballot. The presence of two initiatives muddles the message,” said John J. Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. “Voters will see more than one tax measure and think that there is a concerted effort to raise their taxes ... and some voters might react by just saying no. That’s a problem.”
Folsom said his camp tried to work with the governor to move forward collaboratively.
"That did not happen,” he said.
Now, PTA and CTA are on opposite sides even though the organizations tend to align on such issues; nevertheless, the divide hasn’t created a standoff between teachers and parents as some might think.
“We don’t see CTA as being a player. CTA is purely endorsing the governor’s initiative,” Folsom said. “It isn’t a fight. This is not a fight between parents and teachers. And anybody who says it is, is just trying to manipulate the politics.”
Folsom said there is an “unfortunate contest” between the two proposals, when either passing would be a good thing for different reasons. The official PTA position is yes on 38 and no stance on 30, but Folsom says he’s heard teachers and parents alike tell him they plan to vote for both - a plan he personally advocates.
“The trouble with the ‘vote for both’ message is that you’re asking people to vote for two tax increases and that’s a lot to swallow,” warned Pitney. “A lot of Californians simply don’t believe the dire predictions of what will happen if there isn’t a tax increase. First of all, they don’t trust a lot of what is coming out of Sacramento and second, they believe a great deal of money is wasted.”
As it stands now, neither side has publicly supported the idea of voting yes on both initiatives so the either-or debate continues. But don’t expect to see parents lining up against teachers at the nearby elementary school.
“It’s not so much fighting against each other as each trying to make its own case,” Pitney said. “I don’t think it’s so much animosity at the organizational level as a missed opportunity to act in concert.”