Educate Our State (EOS) and Educate Our State Leadership Center (EOSLC)
In 2014 we continued our local outreach and embarked on two statewide campaigns to build awareness of the many ways the state siphons money from our public schools. We acted on the statewide ballot initiative we filed in late 2013 and we also filed opposition to Proposition 2 in July. For a band of busy volunteer parents, it was a productive year! Educate Our State continues to play a critical role in uniting the voices of parents, students and concerned community members to give public education a voice at the statewide level.
From January through April of 2014, in response to the filing of our first statewide initiative in November of 2013 (The Protection of Local School Revenues Act), hundreds of volunteers across the state gathered thousands of signatures, held numerous outreach events, and educated voters. The initiative, if it had qualified and passed, would have returned $7 billion (and growing) every year of property taxes allocated to schools, which have been secretly diverted the last ten years to pay state obligations. This initiative would have afforded schools’ share of property taxes the same protections all other local property tax allocations received from Prop 1A in 2004.
While this initiative was revenue neutral, it would have ensured that schools received their share of stable, local property tax revenues,while increasing the transparency and accuracy of county reporting of tax allocations. This would have made a big difference to schools and to our state, as they repeatedly see their state funding not arrive on time and are often forced to borrow funds or cut programs to make ends meet. The initiative has its own website, created by one of our board members, www.YesForEducation.org; you can also see how this impacts your local community here. Throughout the spring, school boards across the state passed resolutions in support of the initiative. Powerful videos, a cartoon and other collateral were also developed to support this effort.
Unfortunately, despite these valiant endeavors, our all-volunteer signature gathering effort was not able to qualify the initiative for the ballot. As this was our first attempt, we were uncertain if we would be able to raise enough funds and recruit enough volunteers from the busiest people on the planet (parents, teachers, and others) but we knew it was CRITICAL to drive home this wonky and important issue, and to educate when and where possible.
When it was clear that the volunteer effort via signature gathering would not qualify the initiative for the 2014 ballot, we sent thousands of letters to the governor and local legislators, made hundreds of calls, and visited every legislator’s office in Sacramento, to educate them in an attempt to get the legislature to put it on the November 2014 ballot -- all to no avail. Over $7 billion every year in property taxes allocated to schools continues to be misreported as going to schools in all but three counties in the state, where they are also diverted but accurately reported.
We will continue to educate on this point, as the diversion will continue to grow to even more dangerous levels as the economy recovers and property values rise.
In May, EOSLC co-hosted a San Jose Mayoral Candidates Forum on Education with the Santa Clara County Board of Education, Working Partnerships USA, and People Acting in Community Together (PACT), which gave community members a chance to hear candidates’ ideas on public education in the community. In September, we held the only State Superintendent Forum in Northern California, co-hosted again with the Santa Clara County Board of Education. State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and Candidate Marshall Tuck discussed their visions for public education in California. The video of the forum is available on the EOSLC website here.
Over the summer hundreds of supporters called the Governor’s office, this time asking to stop legislation severely limiting local school district reserve levels. We were not alone; many legislators and other education advocacy organizations lobbied heavily to prevent this legislation. We were acting to stop a law that will go into effect now that Proposition 2 (the Rainy Day Fund) has passed. This law forces 94% of California school districts (all but those with already strained financial reserves below the scant minimum threshold) to divest most of their local reserves (their rainy day funds) if even one dollar goes into a new state-controlled ‘school reserve fund’ (the PSSSA).
Many saw this law as fiscally irresponsible (the state does not pay schools on time, and reserves are the only thing that saves school districts from borrowing additional funds to meet payroll while the state delays their payments) and morally offensive (given that it strips school districts of decision-making control over their own revenue at a time when the state says it supports increased local control and when the state is also shifting significant additional expenses for state-dictated teacher pension costs onto local school districts).
Despite the wide support to reverse this reserves legislation, powerful special interest groups and support from the governor meant this reserves legislation remained intact and became law with the passage of Prop 2. In July, EOS filed an opposition argument to Proposition 2 with the Secretary of State. Though we expected to be one of many in opposition, political power being what it is we were the only group to oppose the Proposition on the ballot (you can learn more about Prop 2 and our opposition on our very informative website, 2BadForKids.org).
As expected, the Governor raised $15 million to tell voters that Prop 2 ‘protects schools’. Our $8,000 campaign to inform the electorate about Prop 2’s deceptive claims was out-shouted. We painted our cars, handed out postcards, made lawn signs, sent letters to the editor, engaged in public debate, and were interviewed by media. Without our opposition, the media and voters would have been unaware of the violation of Prop 98 in Prop 2 or the attached local reserves legislation. As a result of our opposition and our extensive research, many other organizations opposed Prop 2 and our concerns were noted in many major newspapers’ analyses of the measure, and as a reservation with those that did endorse.
Our fourth fall conference, Camp Educate, supported by the San Francisco Foundation, was held in September in Burlingame and featured Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian sharing his tips for successful advocacy, as well as engaging and interactive sessions on problem solving consultancy, engaging your community, and successful tips for mobilizing support. It is by bringing together leaders all over the state, year after year, that we will begin to help communities realize that until we give public education a voice in Sacramento, the state will continue to put kids last. That’s just how the system works, regardless of the interests of local legislators.
If you question if this is the intention of our state, let us all remember, and quote as often as possible, Article XVI, Section 8 of the California Constitution: ‘From all state revenues, there shall be first set apart the moneys to be applied by the State for support of the public school system and public institutions of higher education.’
At the end of October we held our third fall luncheon at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco. Several hundred guests came to hear inspiring speeches from Professor Bill Koski of Stanford Law School and Director of the Youth and Education Law Project, and former California State Superintendent Delaine Eastin. Both electrifying speeches can be viewed on our website under Media/Videos or by clicking the previous sentence highlights.
We are currently planning our next steps, which will likely be driven by actions in Sacramento as well as what is happening in local districts. We are distressed by the frequent violations of Prop 98, the minimum school funding guarantee that has become a ceiling for school funding, and a victim of Sacramento shell games. In addition, 2007-08 is the last year for which Proposition 98 guarantee certification was completed. That is to say, seven fiscal years have elapsed in which the state government has been unable or unwilling to fully certify that it has met its obligation to California schools under the Constitution. We also know if we are distracted by the many missteps at the state level, it makes it difficult to move forward. We will continue to do our best to manage the balance between clean up and progress, so any step forward is an authentic step forward for the children of California.
We would love your ideas for how we can move the needle for education funding and effectiveness and build our collective voice in Sacramento at the same time. We welcome your engagement - as a student, parent, grandparent, teacher, citizen. It will take all of us to build the political will to repair public education in our state. Though we have struggled to win our battles this year against wealthy special interests secretly designing legislation to take funds from our public schools, we are building the capacity to win long term for our children and our state. We are grateful to have you on our side. Please reach out to us here or here (510)500-5147 if you can spare a few minutes or a few hours. It all matters to our children and our state. Thank you.