Sunday, April 17, 2005

The emotional impact of Prop 13

Surprised to find that Rand, of all institutions, recently came out with a landmark study with damning evidence that public education in CA is truly the worst in the nation. I think we all knew it intuitively but Rand did the heavy lifting and put it all together.

And why does public education stink in California? Most cite the combined impact of Proposition 13 and the Serrano decision, detailed much better in this Merrow documentary. The enormous loss of funding from Prop. 13, which cut back property tax levels gets the most notice. More in this LAT piece.

Lately, I'm beginning to think the emotional impact of Prop. 13 has been just as huge. Call it public apathy but that's just part of it. Prop. 13 sucked life out of local interest in public education, which is true especially in the areas where parents have fewer resources, such as time and money. Also in that LAT piece:
Having lost so much autonomy and responsibility to Sacramento, local communities no longer bear as much accountability. What has suffered in that bargain, Lo says, is the commonweal. "That spirit of real participation, citizens going in personally and talking among themselves and to people in their community and to their elected leaders and trying to figure out solutions—much of that has been wiped out by Prop. 13. I think Prop. 13 helped to change people's sense of what politics is. As [President] Kennedy said, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.' . . . Prop. 13 was a watershed because through Prop. 13 [the mind-set] became, 'What can the government give back to me? What's my refund check going to be like?' "
If you want more money for your local public school, you now have to go to Sacramento. This is a huge barrier. It's just too hard, too costly, too daunting of a task for the average community, let alone an average person.

The loss of spirit, of commonweal, towards our schools is only exacerbated by the rightwing noise machine, which has tilted public opinion insidiously over the last decade. The mantra boils down to this: no more taxes. The conservative politicians running for office must sign oaths they will not raise taxes, else be tarred and feathered.

The real solution is long term: we must get more education friendly politicians in office here in California.

As for the short term: call your local state legislators. If they aren't on board, bug them.