Californians Cast Votes for Fixing K-12
THE message implicit in Tuesday's drubbing of Proposition 82, the universal preschool proposal, was simple and direct: fix K-12 first.
If we can't lift our basic public school system out of the doldrums, we have no business adding another year of education and creating another bureaucracy to maintain it.
By most measures of quality, California's school system continues to rank near the bottom among the 50 states. Adding a year of preschool at a cost of $2.4 billion per annum isn't going to help much if K-12 remains broken. Fix it first and then we can consider a public preschool system.
After all, the existing preschool network, including private as well as publicly funded schools, isn't broken, opponents of Proposition 82 say.
What that means for the vision of actor/director Rob Reiner and supporters of Proposition 82 remains to be seen. About 65 percent of California's youngest children already attend day care or preschools.
While conceding defeat, Reiner called on opponents to support the idea of public preschool. But the loss was resounding. Sixty-one percent of California voters opposed the initiative. Yet, most local ballot measures funneling money into building or renovating K-12 schools passed, so it wasn't an anti-tax turnout.
Some say 82 lost because it raised taxes and didn't channel benefits to the neediest Californians. The latter may have turned off some liberals, while conservatives hate talk of more taxes — even if aimed only at the wealthiest among us — or a new state bureaucracy.
After all, the rationale went, $2.4 billion a year wouldn't significantly bump up preschool attendance, and a formal system would be hard to scrap once established.
Of the victors we ask: Would the same measure pass if the money went to secondary education, as opponents said they would prefer? And, would it pass if the money was aimed at preschool for low-income children, who studies say would benefit most from it?
Some voters were turned off by families who already pay for preschool getting it free. Proposition 82 also required preschool teachers to get bachelor's degrees and made them part of organized labor.
Private and public preschools already exist in California, with federal and state funds helping children from lower-income households to attend. Hope for advancement is tied to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earmarking $100 million in next year's budget for preschools, and advocates in 13 counties, including San Mateo and San Francisco, implementing publicly funded programs.
Advocates argue that studies show preschools are a good way to help students from marginal backgrounds start on a level playing field, stay in school and graduate.
But if the K-12 school system that comes afterward doesn't measure up, it may not matter.