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ELECTION RECOMMENDATIONS

No on After-School Plan

October 17, 2002

Proposition 49 is loaded with as many illusions as the movie blockbusters starring its famous sponsor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. But its potential to hurt essential services and create budget fiascos is much less entertaining.

The actor / bodybuilder / political hopeful would like voters to believe that they can nearly quintuple spending on after-school child care without raising taxes or cutting into other programs. New state revenue would pay the $550-million-a-year tab, Schwarzenegger says.

No one would argue with the desirability of safe, high-quality child care. Its cost to the state is another matter. All school districts could apply for funding. Each school would get $5 a child per day but would have to match that with $2.50 a day from private or district sources. State funding would be capped at $50,000 per elementary school or $75,000 per middle school, with some additional grants available for large schools and before-school child care.

So far, so good. But Proposition 49 would lock in yearly funding for its programs from the state general fund, almost regardless of the economy, the budget situation or other pressing needs. Despite Schwarzenegger's assurances that other state programs would not be harmed, Proposition 49 funding could be cut only in times so bad that guaranteed core public education funding also would be suspended -- which has never happened, even with this year's dismal budget. And even in a year that bad, Proposition 49 funding could be cut only by the same percentage as overall public education -- not slashed more deeply to preserve public education.

Children do need after-school programs, but they also must have classrooms, food, medical care and safe streets. This strong-arm measure would put one benefit ahead of all others in perpetuity.

Proposition 49 also would fall far short of its own promises. Supporters say it would reduce juvenile crime. Yet the act does not help high schools, whose students are the most likely to get into after-school trouble.

The matching-fund requirement is a disadvantage to large, urban districts like Los Angeles Unified, where the need is greatest. Wealthy districts with private fund-raising arms would find it easier to go after the state pot.

Schools also could contract with off-campus organizations to provide the after-school programs. This could mean pumping millions of public dollars into the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club and other private groups to do what they're already doing.

In an unusual development, at least two legislators, one of them Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Fred Keeley (D-Boulder Creek), recently withdrew their endorsements, saying that the bruising budget battle this year made them realize the damage Proposition 49 could do to the state. Other legislative endorsers say they are giving the measure a more careful look. Good idea.

Nice goal, lousy plan. Send it back to the script doctors; vote no on Proposition 49.

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