UC Berkeley’s Institute of Urban and Regional Development released a recent study weighing the pros and cons of Proposition 51 — a state ballot measure that supports the state funding construction and renovation in California elementary schools, high schools and community colleges.
If voters pass the California Public School Facility Bonds Initiative, the state will issue $9 billion in bonds to build new school facilities and modernize existing ones. According to the proposition, some California public schools are in need of significant renovation and pose serious health risks, including lead paint and asbestos concerns. Likewise, the study revealed a relationship between poor facility conditions and negative effects on those respective schools.
“Without state funding, there will be continued widespread underinvestment, which will be disproportionately experienced by low-income students,” said Jeffrey M. Vincent, the co-author of the study, in an email. “However, we also found that Prop. 51 doesn’t achieve the best results with regard to adequacy and equity compared to other options.”
The measure is supported by numerous elected officials, political parties, educational organizations, business associations, unions and school districts throughout California. Arguments in favor of Prop. 51 emphasize the benefits of improving educational facilities, from addressing health issues to helping California residents find good jobs, thereby improving the economy.
Prop. 51 has met with opposition, most notably from Gov. Jerry Brown. In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Gov. Brown called the measure a “blunderbuss effort that promotes sprawl and squanders money,” arguing that the money would not be evenly distributed among schools that most need assistance.
Additional arguments against Prop. 51 include the increased debt as a result of the measure. California’s current debt is $400 billion, as stated in the official voter information guide. According to the California Taxpayers Action Network, California currently makes debt payments on statewide school construction bonds of $2.7 billion per year. Prop. 51 would add $500 million per year to that amount.
Christine Staples, president of the Berkeley PTA Council, acknowledged the need for additional state-sponsored educational funding in different parts of California, stating that public schools have “suffered deeply” in recent decades.
“While Berkeley public schools have been able to make up some of the deficits in state funding through our educational parcel tax and bond measures, much of the rest of California has not fared well,” Staples said in an email. “(Prop. 51) should help restore some equity to our schools.”
The California State PTA has publicly stated its support of Prop. 51. Berkeley Unified School District has not endorsed the measure.
Vincent noted that it is “a tough choice for voters” since there are many schools across the country in poor conditions.
“Upgrades to schools are desperately needed,” Vincent said. “But is Prop. 51 the best way to do that?”