Big Hair, Building Blocks, and Ballots: Vote for Our Youth This Election Season

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Before Proposition 13 passed in 1978, which severely restricted property tax levies, California’s per-student spending on K-12 instruction was the 7th highest in the nation. By the mid-1980s when I was busying myself with lip gloss and how high to tease my hair, it had dropped to 20th, perhaps explaining why I bounced around 4-5 schools between seventh and ninth grades before finally settling into a parochial Catholic school. But I digress… In the 2014-15 academic year, when my daughter entered kindergarten, California’s per-student spending in K-12 had slipped to 29th in the nation (1). When spending estimates are adjusted for differences in the cost of living in each state, California’s ranking on per-student spending drops to an abysmal 41st in the nation (2). Even more sobering is the 51st ranking – yes – the very worst in the nation – in terms of teacher-student ratios in our K-12 classrooms, where we average 22 to 1, while the rest of the country averages 15 to 1 (3). The good news, however, is that things can kind of only get better from where we are now, which is the bottom. As we begin to understand the consequences of the declining birth rates discussed in the last blog post, we can leverage the projected slow growth of the population of school-aged children into the next decade, to position our state to make some significant investments in this diminishing resource now (4).

So what will California do to ensure its economic growth and vibrancy into the future? How will my daughter’s life trajectory be shaped by how our state prioritizes its children? Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed 2018-19 budget allocates funding increases for schools and community colleges, which includes $69 million to increase slots and reimbursement rates for child care and preschool providers, representing a 19% increase from 2017 spending (5). Indeed, education makes up the bulk of proposed General Funds expenditures in the budget (6).

Paying attention to and voting on propositions is one way to ensure investments early and often in our children and youth.

As of this writing, there are several active proposed ballot initiatives that are available for your review and comment on the State of California Department of Justice website. Several of these initiatives will have substantial impacts on funding for early care and education, either directly, or indirectly, through restrictive property tax measures. One such draft initiative that has been filed with the state and is currently collecting signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot is the California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act, which would close corporate and million/billionaire tax loopholes and restore $11 billion a year to K-12 schools, community colleges, health clinics, trauma care, emergency rooms, parks, libraries, and public safety – all of which represent investments in our youngest human resources.

You will have the opportunity to vote NEXT WEEK on ballot measures in the Bay Area that targeted at increasing access to and quality of early childhood education, with Measure A in Alameda County, Prop C in San Francisco, and Measures E & K in Richmond.

Paying attention to and voting on propositions is one way to ensure investments early and often in our children and youth. Once successful example of the effectiveness of propositions comes from our First 5 San Francisco partners and their decade-long stewardship of the Preschool for All (PFA) initiative. Under Proposition H, passed by San Francisco voters in 2004, First 5 San Francisco was charged with implementing the Preschool for All (PFA) program, which aimed to make available free, part-day, high-quality preschool to every four-year-old residing in San Francisco.

Funding for PFA under Proposition H was scheduled to sunset in 2015 unless extended by voters. At about the midpoint of PFA’s funding authorization, Applied Survey Research (ASR) was contracted by First 5 San Francisco to design an outcome evaluation study of PFA to examine its effectiveness. As an initial step in this process, ASR conducted a series of interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders to help identify the most important outcomes to measure in an evaluation of PFA. Next, a series of child assessments conducted in the fall of 2012 examined the effectiveness of PFA in preparing children for starting kindergarten.

Using a regression discontinuity design, ASR examined the development of some of the basic “building blocks” of school readiness skills in early literacy, mathematics, and self-regulation among students in 46 PFA preschool classes and 48 kindergarten and 7 transitional kindergarten classrooms across the city of San Francisco. For those students who had selected into a PFA program, strong evidence of improvements across early literacy, mathematics, and self-regulation was found, thereby making a strong case for voters to renew this effort in the 2014 ballot measure.

Indeed, with the passage of Proposition C in November 2014, voters elected to renew PFA funding for another 26 years! That’s a quarter-century of guaranteed investments in early education.

Indeed, with the passage of Proposition C in November 2014, voters elected to renew PFA funding for another 26 years! That’s a quarter-century of guaranteed investments in early education. Way to go, San Francisco! Now if only we could address the housing crunch that is pushing children and families out of the city – but that’s the topic for our next post (stay tuned).

First 5 San Francisco first began to offer PFA in four pioneering neighborhoods in 2005 and has since expanded to reach every corner of the city. Over the course of First 5’s stewardship of the PFA initiative, children’s preschool participation has reached historic highs, preschool programs have stepped up the quality of their curricula and teaching, and children are starting kindergarten with better academic and social skills. This work continues thanks to investments made possible by voter-supported propositions. Make your vote count too. 

You may think that these education-oriented ballot measures are only relevant to those who currently have kids or those who plan on raising children in the future. But as discussed in last week’s post, given the steep decline in replacement humans we will have coming up into the foreseeable future, investing in the fewer humans we have will enable us to accomplish more with less, and this will ultimately benefit us all, whether you played a direct role in raising a replacement child or not. This is not just about me and my kid, or them and their kids. This is about our collective future well-being as a state. With strategic investments in early education, we increase the odds that future generations of young children grow up with all the tools and supports they need to succeed so that we as a society can thrive. Don’t forget to vote.

Stay tuned! Upcoming posts in this series will explore how this topic pertains to health and housing.

References

1. Osborn, J., Fensterwald, J., Levin, M., Willis, D. (2018, May 17). States in Motion: Visualizing how education funding has changed over time. Retrieved from: https://edsource.org/2015/states-in-motion-school-finance-naep-child-poverty/83303
Note: Spending on “current instruction”.

2. Kaplan, Jonathan. (2017, January). California’s support for k-12 education is improving, but still lags the nation. California Budget & Policy Center Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: http://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/californias-support-k-12-education-improving-still-lags-nation/

3. Kaplan, Jonathan. (2017, January). California’s support for k-12 education is improving, but still lags the nation. California Budget & Policy Center Fact Sheet. Retrieved from: http://calbudgetcenter.org/resources/californias-support-k-12-education-improving-still-lags-nation/ 
Note: all rankings in this fact sheet include the District of Columbia.

4. Public Policy Institute of California. (2016). Retrieved from: http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_116HJ3R.pdf

5. Taylor, Mac. (2018). The 2018-19 Budget: Overview of the Governor’s Budget. Legislative Analyst’s Office. Retrieved from: http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2018/3731/budget-overview-011218.pdf

6. Public Policy Institute of California. (2018). Just the Facts: California’s State Budget: The Governor’s Proposal. Retrieved from: http://www.ppic.org/publication/californias-state-budget/

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