Proposition 39 Second grade teacher Sally Stump instructs a class of students at Rancho de la Nacion Elementary School in National City. (Misael Virgen U-T)
~By AFT Guild VP Kelly Mayhew
As I eagerly welcomed my new students into my classrooms at San Diego City College this year, it was hard for me not to reflect on the nightmare scenario of just a few years ago when we had to turn people away because we didn’t have enough funding to offer all the classes they needed.
This November, we have an opportunity to prevent the nightmare scenario from happening again. We must pass Proposition 55 because unless we maintain the current income tax rates on the wealthiest Californians, our schools and colleges will lose nearly $4 billion a year, sending them back to the days of deep cuts to classes, programs and services.
Between 2008 and 2012, during the Great Recession, California locked out 500,000 students from its community colleges, delaying the fulfillment of their goals and shattering their dreams.
The San Diego Community College District and our students felt that pain. We lost $33 million, almost 10 percent of our actual operating budget. Almost 400 much-needed faculty positions were left vacant, resulting in thousands of classes cut, which meant turning away over 20,000 students, all at a time when they needed education and retraining the most.
Since the San Diego Community College District is the single largest workforce trainer in San Diego County, these cuts directly affected the region’s economy by not training the workforce in the numbers necessary for our community.
Beyond our local region, the budget cuts forced community college districts across the state to dramatically increase tuition rates, cancel summer and winter sessions, and reduce the number of classes offered. It took students an extra year or two or three to complete their training, transfer, or to graduate. Community colleges also had to eliminate essential services necessary for students to succeed, like library hours, counseling and tutoring.
And, of course, community colleges weren’t the only ones suffering. I am the mother of a public school student, so I witnessed firsthand our K-12 schools being cut to the bone. Tens of thousands of teachers and staff, like library aides, bus drivers and janitors, were given pink slips. Class sizes increased. Programs like art and music were slashed. Teachers took furlough days — decreasing the number of days of instruction for our kids.
Our local schools and colleges are just beginning to recover from those years of devastating cuts, thanks to Proposition 30, passed by California voters in 2012.
In San Diego, the funding restored in recent years has allowed the SDCCD to hire more than 140 full-time faculty, restore thousands of class sections for students and reinstitute the summer sessions and an intersession.
We have been able to welcome back tens of thousands of students. And we are making progress with new programs for students, including a pilot bachelor’s degree program and new workforce training initiatives.
We have been able to stop the bleeding, but the healing is a fragile process. Most districts are back to 2011-12 enrollment levels but returning to pre-recession levels of access — that promise of the California Master Plan for Higher Education — will take years, and only if we pass Proposition 55 this fall.
Proposition 55 is not a new tax or an increase; it simply maintains the current income tax rates on the wealthiest Californians for 12 more years: individuals earning more than $250,000 and couples earning more than $500,000 a year. Proposition 55 directs funds specifically to K-12 public education and community colleges, while also allocating funds to health care for low-income children and their families. You should note, too, that the money will be spent in our classrooms and on our students, not administration, because there are strict accountability requirements built into the proposition.
Budget forecasts show that unless we extend the taxes on the wealthy, which would continue to bring in an average of $8 billion in annual revenues, our public schools and colleges will lose nearly $4 billion and our state budget will face a deficit of more than $4 billion in the first full year alone.
Clearly, now is not the time to turn back. This is the time to move California forward. We have a proven pathway with Proposition 55, the Children’s Education and Health Care Protection Act of 2016. California’s future depends on an investment in our students to enable them to achieve 21st-century technical expertise, citizenship skills and academic success.
Let’s not let them down.
Please vote yes on Proposition 55 this November to help all of our students thrive.
Mayhew, Ph.D., is a professor of English at San Diego City College.
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