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Staff Blog

Filtering by Category: Higher education funding

Why I Am Here

Swetha Pottam

My family emigrated from India when I was three years old to provide better opportunities for my sister, my brother, and myself. When I was eight years old, I got into Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, a public charter school located in Southern California. It was open only to select students who made the cut. It was due to the tireless efforts of my parents that I got into this school. I would continue to attend that school until I graduated from high school, ten years later. After Sherman Oaks CES I went to San Francisco State University; I have spent my whole life in public education.

Being at the same school for nine years, I saw how budget cuts affected us. At first I was only in classes with twenty to twenty-five students, but as time went by the student-to-teacher ratio got much bigger. Soon my classes were seating thirty to forty students. I saw art classes and after school programs either get slashed or start charging money. My science teachers asked their students every year for donations to do lab experiments. This money used to come from the district, but due to lack of funding, they had to find another way. Since students from all around Los Angeles would come to my school, bus transportation was essential. There was a time when the district was thinking about withdrawing bus transportation from our school, which incited a panic in all of the students and parents who depended on the bus. I saw struggling students unable to get the help and tutoring they needed. Luckily for me, I was able to get help from my family, who could afford the additional tutoring that I needed. But not everyone is able to do that. That’s why I am with Evolve, because I believe that everyone deserves the same chance I had.  

I saw how the costs of higher education was putting a financial strain on my family. My siblings were not eligible for financial aid, which is only open to citizens and permanent residents. It wasn’t until it was my turn to go to college that we gained permanent resident status, thus opening financial aid to us. I had hoped that college would be better funded, but I know too many students who struggle to find the classes they need and go into debt because of rising tuition costs. I know students who struggle to make ends meet and how that directly impacts their education. I believe that education is a human right and that it is the key to success. I believe in fully funding our schools by making corporations pay their fair share. And that is why I am with Evolve.

My Battle with Public Education

Baleigh McCuskey

I am a direct product of public education. However, I consider myself one of the lucky ones; one of the few who learned how to work the system instead of falling victim to it. I grew up in a rural community north of Reno, NV and I attended public schools from kindergarten all the way through high school. My dad is a teacher at the high school I attended and my mom worked as the registrar at my high school before moving to the district office. My sister and brother attend public school. None of us had the luxury of attending private schools. That is just our reality.

As of 2016, the state of Nevada dropped to dead last in the education ranking in the United States. Growing up in Nevada’s public education system, I could see why. My schools were all overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed. My dad always worked the afterschool programs and summer school so that we had enough money to cover our extracurricular activities. The system was a mess. All of us students were told that this is what it was like. We were told we were never going to get out of Reno, let alone Nevada, because we would never be able to match the education other people were receiving in other states.  I saw almost every student from my high school choose to go to the local state school and local community college if they didn’t choose to drop out or go into the military.

After watching this vicious cycle for years, I decided I was not going to fall into the trap. I learned what steps I needed to take to get out, and I did all of them. I signed up for the honors track, took 11 college classes while in high school, and graduated valedictorian of my high school before being accepted to Pomona College, a top ranking private institution in Southern California. I thought that I had done it, that I had beaten the statistics. I thought I was never going to have to struggle to get through the education system again.

Fast-forward to today, where I am halfway through my college career. Today, I think about the disparities between public and private education more than I ever have. Going to a school like Pomona, it is very clear who attended private schools versus those of us that didn’t. I see kids everywhere breezing through college because they had the resources beforehand to feel comfortable in the environment I had been thrust into. They don’t go to professors’ office hours. They don’t struggle to read the texts we are given because they have been doing this for years. However, I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone into office hours only to hear the words “you should have learned this in high school” repeated to me over and over again. Hearing these words, I always felt embarrassed to admit I went to public school, so we didn’t learn anything this advanced.

Talking to other students from public education at my college, I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. All of us from the public education system feel at a disadvantage and embarrassed when put in these situations. What’s worse is that we should not feel this way at all. What I have found is that public education systems in every state are putting students at the same disadvantages. I joined Evolve to combat this feeling of inadequacy. Despite what the new administration and Betsy DeVos think, a majority of students in this country rely on public education. It is a system that was made for the majority, not the elite minority. However, that notion seems to have been lost in recent times. I am working with Evolve to bring resources back to public education, and to show students that their education is still important to a majority of the population, even if the President cannot count himself in that majority. No one should ever be embarrassed about being part of the public education system and Evolve is working to make sure future generations will never have that feeling.

To fix California's colleges, reform Prop. 13 by taxing corporations more

Robert J. Birgeneau

Year before last, Evolve reached out to the former chancellor of UC Berkeley, Robert Birgeneau, to discuss his thoughts on how Prop. 13 has decimated funding for higher education in California.  After learning more about our campaign, he offered to support our efforts by writing an op-ed piece, which is posted below. Now more than ever, his words ring true.

This year's very public showdown between Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano over raising UC's tuition ended in a compromise that in no way addressed the real issue: Where will the money come from to keep the state's world-class public colleges and universities competitive in the long term?

As Napolitano and Brown squabbled over how much the state could afford to pay into UC's coffers, they expressly avoided the real solution to public education's money worries: Reform the commercial side of Proposition 13 so the state can raise more revenue. California could raise $9 billion a year for education and public services if commercial property taxes were reassessed regularly. And note: Such a reform would not affect Proposition 13's protections for homeowners.

The governor, and many other politicians of both parties, considers reforming Proposition 13 to be a third rail: Touch it and die. But Californians simply cannot afford to accept this any longer.

Many people do not realize that the famous 1970s "taxpayer revolt" proposition applies not just to residences and homeowners but also to commercial properties and corporations. In fact, it has given commercial property owners more significant benefits than homeowners.

Since the measure's passage, commercial properties in California have paid a progressively decreasing share of property taxes, a source of revenue that accounted for most of our state's budget before Proposition 13. Today, many of the wealthiest corporations in the state still pay taxes based on the values of their properties in 1975. Chevron alone saves more than $100 million a year in property taxes while, per square foot, Walt Disney Co. pays eight times less than the average California homeowner.

And while corporations take advantage of excessive tax breaks, students, their families and their communities bear more of the burden of paying the increasing cost to educate a growing and diverse state. Ironically, these same corporations often complain about the limited supply of high-quality college graduates.

Much has changed since the 1970s; at that time, the Master Plan for Higher Education's vision of tuition-free universities was a reality, the number of institutions of higher education in the state was growing rapidly and California ranked in the top five states for K-12 per-pupil education spending. Now, we are facing a projected shortage of college graduates, UC tuition has doubled in just one decade due to the drastic cuts in state funding and we rank 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending. Student tuition and private philanthropy surpassed the state's support for the UC system long ago.

But what has not changed are the property taxes paid by some of the largest and most profitable commercial enterprises in the state.

Affordable, high-quality education has immense social, political and economic benefits. California's colleges and universities prepare the state's workforce, do basic research and foster innovation — all crucial for economic growth and business success. Corporations must invest more in the education system that benefits us all; they must pay their fair share.

That means California must doing what virtually every other state in the country does: regularly reassess commercial properties at fair market value.

As more and more students vie to attend the UCs, the Cal States and our community colleges, and as we strive to recover fully from the economic downturn and to reestablish California's education system as the gold standard, we should stop allowing corporations to underinvest in our students and our future.

More than 700 elected state officials, and, according to polls conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, the majority of the state's voters agree. Sacramento and Gov. Brown: You must tackle Proposition 13 reform.

Robert J. Birgeneau, a physics professor at UC Berkeley, was chancellor of that campus for nine years.

This article was originally published in the Los Angeles Times on November 2, 2015.