Californians will have an opportunity Tuesday to begin putting their public education infrastructure in better condition to meet the future.
The opportunity is Proposition 1A, the $9.2 billion bond issue for K-12 and public higher education. The money is needed--desperately. Many of our public schools are 40 and 50 years old, and it shows. In some classrooms, children and teachers have to move desks and set out buckets when it rains because of leaky roofs; at UCLA, Kinsey Hall, one of the original campus buildings that dates to the 1920s, has been rated seismically "very poor," which means it could be life-threatening in a major earthquake.
California--and its future--deserve better than that.
Of a total of $6.7 billion to strengthen, repair and rebuild K-12 education facilities, there would be $2.9 billion for new school construction, with local districts providing matching funds; $1 billion for new schools in districts that cannot provide matching funds; $2.1 billion toward rehabilitation of older schools and $700 million for class-size reduction.
Public higher education--the community colleges, the California State University and the University of California--would share the remaining $2.5 billion. They would use the funds to help improve seismic safety, provide for expected enrollment growth and modernize aging classrooms and laboratories.
The bond measure is a down payment on the repairs, retrofitting and other improvements our schools must have to keep up with enrollment growth, to ensure that students and teachers are housed in decent, safe buildings and to keep California leading the way in scientific innovation.
Support for Proposition 1A ranges across diverse groups. It is endorsed by the California Taxpayers Assn., the California Chamber of Commerce, the Congress of California Seniors and the California Teachers Assn. Even the opponents of Proposition 1A say the money is needed to repair our schools and accommodate enrollment growth--estimated at up to 100,000 a year in K-12. They disagree over the funding mechanism--not the need.
There is more involved in Proposition 1A than crumbling structures housing our young, however. We live, increasingly, in a global economy where education and technological prowess are required to create jobs and paychecks. If we want to keep California's economy growing, we must produce the educated citizenry that can compete not only with other states but other nations. We cannot do that by continuing to set out buckets because the schoolhouse roof leaks. Further, in an age where researchers are probing the molecular structure of the human cell and where superfast Internet2 can transmit the contents of an entire set of encyclopedias in about a second, we must provide our students with up to date laboratories and classrooms. Without the updating that Proposition 1A would make possible, they will fall behind--and so will our state's economy. Proposition 1A will help us to keep our educational infrastructure abreast of the requirements of today's competition.
The campaign for Proposition 1A is a campaign for California's future. The consequences of failure to pass the bond measure would condemn future generations to education amid more earthquake-vulnerable, deteriorated and obsolete buildings. In addition, it would limit their access to today's technology, with potentially disastrous economic results.