In 2013, California Needs to Make Education a Top Priority

What Got Us in This Mess? Is There Hope for the Future?

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In 2013, California Needs to Make Education a Top Priority

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COMMENTARY | Responsible for the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education, Governor Edmund G. Brown helped our junior colleges and universities to become some of the best in the nation. He believed in education and acted on those beliefs. Something happened between the '60s and today. This year, my hope for our state is to fix our broken educational funding system.

Why are we in this mess? It began as an initiative to protect homeowners from ever-rising taxes. Proposition 13 passed in 1978 capping property tax to 1 percent and limiting yearly increases to 2 percent until the property sells. Less funding for schools was inevitable, as the majority of school funding came from local property taxes. Since then, amendments to the state constitution helped ensure school funding in California.

School funding is now primarily state-funded -- only 20 percent comes from local property taxes. And, there's the rub. The state receives its money from taxes -- income, sales and corporate taxes. With an on-going recession, there is less money flowing into the state coffers and much less filtering down into schools.

Now, let's fold in the effects of the housing crash in this poor economy. Foreclosures lead to fewer homeowners and those left find their homes worth less than they paid; homes are reassessed, and taxes are lowered. The results are that Californians are spending less per student because there is less money to contribute. Sadly, our per-student spending is 47th compared to all other states.

Due to the reduced funding of our schools, colleges and universities have had to raise their fees significantly. In fact, our University of California system increased tuition 73 percent from 1994 to 2012. Rising tuition, cuts to programs and courses are preventing some from entering colleges and many from completing their education. Frustrated and fed up, students protested resulting in the infamous UC Davis pepper-spraying ( video ) incident--a sad illustration of how desperate the situation is.

It appears that the tide may be turning for the better. Californians voted in Gov. Jerry Brown's Prop 30 that is expected to generate billions from short-term income and sales tax increases. As a Sacramento native and a child of the '60s who benefited from the educational advances Edmund G. Brown created, my hope is that his son can hit the reset button for others to be able to experience it as well. Future leaders, teachers, and doctors need quality, affordable education.

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