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Staff Blog

Let's Fund our Schools

Arman Kalyani

“But the Dark cannot claim what Light does not surrender.”-  C.L. Wilson

            I grew up a pretty normal life. I went to a public school up until fourth grade. Upon testing 9th in the state in mathematics, my mother who immigrated to the United States from her native land of Turkey, was jubilant to send me to a private school so that I could grow into my full academic potential in a setting which she didn’t have the chance to have in her homeland. I attended fifth and sixth grade at this private school. The latter portion of my middle and high school life was spent in public schooling.

Going from private to public school revealed to me a major difference between the two. There wasn’t nearly the same attention and resources given to each student. This wasn’t due to a lack of effort from my teachers or the campus workers. This was because of ongoing budget cuts to the education system and a constant dwindling of resources at their disposal.

Having this experience really showed me the monumental importance of getting California back on track.  This is a quote from the California Budget and Policy Center report on the state of California education spending, “In 2014-15, California ranked 42nd among all states in spending per K-12 student, after adjusting for differences in the cost of living in each state.” When considering the fact that California is the richest state in America, this is unacceptable to me.

This is why I decided to get involved with Evolve California. I want to fight to make sure that every student, regardless of their social conditions, gets the quality education that they deserve. The way to do that is to reform Prop 13! With the appointment of Betsy DeVos to the Secretary of Education, this is more important than ever. She is in favor of privatizing education and has shown a clear record of disdain for public education throughout her career.

When you couple this with the threats from the Trump administration, including cutting California’s federal funding, it is now more important than ever to make sure California can provide for itself. That means reforming prop 13 and making corporations pay their fair share in property taxes!

Why I Believe in Public Education

Sarah Barsky

            I have a passion for public education because it has done a lot for me, my family, and my community. I have been in the public-school system since second grade and am about to graduate from a public university. My grandmother was a grade school teacher for nearly thirty years and my mother and uncle both graduated with their master’s degrees from public universities. My family owes a lot to public education and I’m grateful every day that I was fortunate to receive a decent education.

Before transferring to a university I attended a community college, as it was more financially viable for my family. There I worked in the student government and got to know students from all walks of life. It was there that I met people, many being the first in their family to attend college, who were working so hard to earn their degrees while also having to support a family. I met many people who were trying to better their lives but sometimes unable to continue due to cost.

            While I respect the public-school system, it is not without its faults. Due to budget cuts and tuition hikes from lack of funding, our public schools are suffering. My high school classes were overcrowded and my books were falling apart at the seams. In community college, all of my classes were impacted and required expensive books. The educational system has suffered cut after cut in funding and over time these problems have compounded. While students are paying more in tuition to cover these cuts the quality of that education has still gone down because there just isn’t a reasonable amount of state funding.

            A large part of the funding problem comes from restrictions on property tax reassessment. Now, due to Prop. 13, most of the funding for local programs such as schools are frozen in an outdated tax code. The burden to provide for the community through taxes relies mostly on homeowners rather than fairly distributed amongst all types of property ownership. It is unfair to place a burden on only part of the community when it affects all of the community.

            The reason I chose to intern at Evolve was to help reform Prop. 13 so that the people I met, and the countless others like them, can have the same opportunities to get an education without having to worry about the cost. In such uncertain times when Trump is threatening to further cut our federal budget and DeVos threatens the integrity of the education system, we need an ace up our sleeve. Now is the time for large corporations to start paying their fair share in property taxes. I intern at Evolve because I think that education shouldn’t be old books and crowded classrooms. I chose to get involved because I think that public education is a worthy cause to champion. I chose to take action because investing in education is an investment that will pay the community back threefold.

Sarah Barsky is a senior at the University of California-Berkeley and a campaign intern at Evolve.

Pouring Rights and the Cash-strapped University

Hiba Khurshid

As a student of public schools all of my life, I have seen how the lack of funding has affected schools, with teachers taking pay cuts, the elimination of career centers, and art and music funding being virtually non-existent. At San Francisco State University where I’m currently a student, the lack of funding has pushed the administration to enact pouring rights -- giving Pepsi Inc. or Coca Cola the exclusive right to sell, advertise, and promote their products for eight to ten years in exchange for a significant amount of money. The University will get a one-time minimum donation of $2 million and an annual fee of $125,000. Where the money would go is still under wraps, inaccessible to students as it is a part of contract negotiations.

Students have multiple problems with this: first and foremost the process started without the authorization of the Associated Students, and sparked a protest by the students earlier this month during a presentation by Coca-Cola. President Leslie E. Wong has been very secretive, and non-transparent about the whole agreement. The process violates the shared governance that has been established on campus. Second, the chosen company will have 80% of all shelf space on campus. This is in direct contradiction with the resolution agreed on by all CSU campuses to have 20% Real Food by 2020. The pouring rights agreement on campus will limit students’ healthy drink choices on campus. It would also give control of beverage choices to the company that it would go to.

The last issue with the potential pouring rights agreement, is that a private corporation is being invited into a public institution with advertisements and promotions. This is part of a trend of the privatization of public universities and corporate partnerships that provide universities with much-needed cash. Would we be in this situation if the state provided enough funding for the university? Why should students have to sacrifice their shared governance and their health to attract corporate money to a public school?

Students have called for a Town Hall with President Wong, scheduled for early November. President Wong has not agreed to attend yet, but his office is trying to put something together so students can have their voices heard.

P/C: Open Truth Now and Real Food Challenge at SFSU Facebook Page

P/C: Open Truth Now and Real Food Challenge at SFSU Facebook Page

The Legacy of Jerry Brown and Prop. 13 – A Simple Choice

Michael Bornstein

This week, while speaking at a national real estate group conference, Governor Brown said that he was not willing to fix the commercial property tax loopholes in Prop. 13 because “There is a lot of complexity.”  He also said he was not willing to reform Prop. 13 because he wanted to only fight battles he thinks can win. We could not disagree more.

Taxing commercial property at current market value is not complex. It is the system used by every place in the country – except California. The simple truth is that because some large commercial property owners are paying deeply discounted taxes based on 1975 assessments, everyone else has to pay more – 9 billion more.

Prop. 13 has long been regarded as the “third rail” of California politics, but this simply is no longer the case. A majority of Californians is consistently in favor of making large commercial property owners pay their fair share for our schools and public services. According to an October PPIC poll, 55% of likely voters support reforming the commercial side of Prop. 13. This does not mean reform will be easy, but taking on the task of changing our property tax system has never been more necessary.

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

In 1978, then-Governor Jerry Brown opposed Prop. 13 calling it “a fraud and a rip-off.” Voters supported limiting taxes on residential homes, not realizing that Prop. 13 also included a loophole for commercial real estate. Back then, California schools were considered the best in the nation. Today, our public schools have been decimated by decades of budget cuts.

Voters overwhelmingly support increasing funding for K-12 and higher education. It is unfair to ask Californians to pay higher taxes when some commercial property owners are getting a 9 billion dollar public subsidy. It’s time that we make a structural change to our property tax system so we can start adequately funding our schools.

Second chances in politics are rare. It will be a tough fight, but Jerry Brown has three years to correct his greatest public policy failure. Regardless of all his other accomplishments, Jerry Brown’s legacy will be judged by his success (or failure) to fix Prop. 13 and restore California as a leader in public education.

The Importance of Funding Education: An Interview with Veronica Ramirez

Daniel Hagen

After hearing her powerful public testimony at Assemblymember Phil Ting’s Prop. 13 hearing on July 10th, we reached out to University of San Francisco student and campaigner Veronica Ramirez to share with us what education means to her, and why we need to close the corporate loopholes which have devastated public spending for decades.

Q: Would you like to tell me a little about yourself; your family, what you are studying, and what you want to do with your degree?

Veronica: I grew up with my parents, older sister, and younger brother. Since I can remember, my parents have always told us that getting an education is essential and that we should use that knowledge to strive for our goals and dreams. I was studying psychology, but after I was involved in a campaign in San Francisco, I realized that I wanted to study politics. I want to change something about the world we live in and find a way to make it a better place.

Q: What was it like growing up with public education in California, could you describe your classroom experiences?

Veronica: At first, it was amazing. We had class discussions, group projects, field trips, recess, art time, music. Everything. I loved all of my teachers. We had about 20 students or less in each class, so they not only remembered my name, who my parents were and how I was doing in class, they knew my likes and dislikes, my passions, my strengths and weaknesses. They knew who I was and they cared. I knew that they really cared not only for my education, but for me, as a person.

Q: What is it like to study in an overcrowded classroom in school?

Veronica: In middle school I still had great teachers, and they knew me by name and how I functioned in class, some of what I liked and didn’t, but the care didn’t rub off the same. Then came high school. I had one class with over 50 students in it. My freshman and sophomore years I was miserable, I had my friends, but the teachers just knew me by school performance - what my grades were - they didn’t know me. I had to fight my last years to stand out from the crowd of dozens of students, and I was able to teach my teachers who I was, but it was an uphill battle. There were so many students that went through the system not feeling like any of their teachers gave a damn about them.

Q: How did you first hear about reforming Prop. 13?

Veronica: I heard about it when I started working  with Working Partnerships USA. We were on the Make it Fair campaign, and after researching it, being trained and understanding how negatively commercial property tax loopholes were affecting the state, I realized, like thousands of other people, that we have to reform Prop. 13.

Q: Governor Brown recently announced that California has a budget surplus this year, and that the economy is recovering. Why do you think we need to reform Prop. 13 now if we have enough funding?  

Veronica: The economy is recovering, yes, but how much? Can we really settle with having barely enough money to put into education? The budget is not enough, it has not been enough for years, and going slightly over the budget is definitely not enough. Those children in crowded classrooms, with limited school supplies, old textbooks, lack of sports, art, and theater; they do not have a surplus of funds. I did not have a surplus of funds at my schools. Parents constantly had to give money to a system that should be free, the children had to fundraise to help the schools programs. As I got older, the programs were cut down more and more, until some of them went away. And it’s a shame because that’s the school system my 10 year old brother is living in right now. There is a problem, the schools need money, and by reforming Prop. 13, money that is being kept within corporations will finally flow into the state.

Q: I know you’re involved with Working Partnerships; from your experiences there, what kind of impact have budget cuts had outside of the classroom?

Veronica: Going door-to-door in various neighborhoods, you hear stories. People telling me about parks being demolished and used for commercial buildings, not being able to put their kids into any sports because they don’t have the money, parents struggling to work and find childcare for their children because afterschool programs are almost nonexistent. Personally the one that hit me the hardest was when this woman mentioned the libraries being closed half the week, with very limited hours. My brother has to deal with this, and it hurts. It hurts that one of the tools that helped me develop a passion that has now brought me all the way to a 4 year University, is almost gone.

Q: What would you, or your friends who rely on financial aid, do if it was cut any further?

Veronica: Honestly, if financial aid was cut, none of my close friends would be able to go to school. They simply do not have the money. I mean, I’m barely making it; I had to borrow money from my uncle and sister and get a private loan just to pay off last year, apart from the fact that I was also working a full time job for a few months, had 2 federal loans, two scholarships and two grants. If financial aid was cut down any more than it already is, I would have to drop out of school too.

Q: As you know, decades of post-Prop. 13 budget cuts from Sacramento have decimated education funding in the state. Our campaign to reform Prop. 13 to make big corporations pay their fair share of property taxes will restore around $9 billion in education and public services funding. What do you think California should do with that revenue? What would a fully funded public education system mean to you?

Veronica: Libraries, schools, parks, fire-fighters, community programs, all of that needs funding now! We can’t keep waiting for more schools and libraries to shut down, for more tools to be taken away from the little citizens that matter most. It would mean that the same amount of money is spent on each child in the state, and that what is spent on them is enough to give them lectures, sports, art, theater, computers, books, everything that they need to become well-rounded. Children will become us, can we really place on a limit on how much should be spent on our future? We simply can’t. Thank you.

Veronica Ramirez is an activist with Working Partnerships and is currently studying Political Science at the University of San Francisco.

Make It Personal Series - "A Crime Against Humanity"

Jeffrey Pu

As part of an ongoing series, we’re posting personal stories that from our supporters about why Prop. 13 reform matters to them. Our story today comes from Robert, who calls attention to the impact underfunding schools has on students and society.

"I am an educator working in the trenches of the Bay Area community college system, and everyday I deal with young people of color who have been "written off" by our education system. There has been no money to nourish them as educated, responsible, committed members of our culture. Some have died during my watch, or been imprisoned. We must fund our schools and save our children. It is a crime against humanity to stunt a child's potential by offering them substandard schooling."

Robert -- Oakland, CA

If you have your own personal story on why you believe Prop. 13 needs to be reformed, share it here!

“Make it Personal” Series – CVS & the 99 Year Lease

Jeffrey Pu

As part of an ongoing series, we’re posting personal stories that from our supporters about why Prop. 13 reform matters to them. Our story today comes from Bobbie who talks about how the commercial loophole has devastated local schools in the East Bay.

“When I heard that CVS bought out our local Longs Drugstore in El Cerrito Plaza, I also learned that CVS structured the deal to take advantage of a 99 year lease from the family-owned Longs that would enable them to keep their property tax at 1976 levels. Between 2006-2012, our district schools had to cut PE, Art, Music, and advanced math programs, as well as increase class size for K-12. We had 34 kids in our girls' 4-6th grade classes, and sometimes over 42 kids in the middle school classes. This is directly attributable to not having enough money coming in from property taxes, and I think to myself, shame on CVS for squeezing out additional profit by taking it away from our kids. And shame on Longs for selling (out) this way.”

Bobbie – Kensington, CA

If you have your own personal story on why you believe Prop. 13 needs to be reformed, share it here!

Making it Personal

Jeffrey Pu

Having organized around this issue for over 2 years now, we sometimes get lost in the policy details, facts and statistics of it all, and forget why working for Prop. 13 reform truly matters.  A while back, we asked our members to submit personal stories highlighting why Prop. 13 reform was important to them.  Getting personal stories from our members helps remind us of the human impact that lack of funding has on our families, schools and communities.

In an ongoing segment, we will be sharing some of the personal stories we have received from everyday people explaining why they want commercial property owners to pay their fair share.

Our first personal story comes from Evolve super-supporter Kim Wayne:

"Everything you [Evolve] talk about is true in both Pleasanton and Oakland, the two places I have lived: library hours are fewer, class sizes have increased, and teachers provide supplies. I heard that CVS bought out Long's without changing some paper work that would have increased their taxes. True? I don't know. But I do know it's time for corporations to pay their fair share!"