Commentary: After the rejection of the parcel tax, how we can all convince Los Angeles voters to reinvest in public education
Layla Avila, Katie Braude, Alex M. Johnson, Seth Litt and Ana Ponce | June 14, 2019
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We know that Los Angeles voters believe in the importance of education.
In 2002, nearly 64% of voters approved Measure K, which authorized $3.35 billion for school repairs and renovations. Six years later, voters overwhelmingly approved Measure Q, the largest local school bond in state history that allocated $7 billion for facilities. Additionally, Angelenos voted “yes” on two additional bonds in between that led to the construction of more than 130 new schools and has dramatically decreased overcrowding and busing.
But this month, Measure EE, the proposed parcel tax that would have brought an additional $500 million to our city’s public schools over the next dozen years to pay for more educators, received only 46% of the vote despite the backing of many political, educational and civic leaders.
This tally is a clear sign that voters refuse to believe money alone will solve he challenges facing our education system.
This perspective has the potential to make a slow-moving crisis even worse. Right now, only two out of five L.A. children—the vast majority of whom are students of color and come from low-income households— can read at grade level. Without smaller class sizes, more nurses, librarians, and counselors, we’re asking our teachers to do more and more with less. This is especially true in the vast majority of the city where communities have been underfunded and overlooked by a system that funds schools in South L.A. and East L.A. as if they were the same as schools in Westwood.
But the backers of Measure EE now have to regain the trust of voters so we can ask them for future support. To do that, we must be honest about where we are, must show we can work together, and must present an inspiring and bold vision for how more resources will transform education and opportunity for all children in the city.
There are signs that some of this is already happening. In the weeks leading up to the vote, district and union leaders who recently sat at opposing ends of the bargaining table went on a media tour together, asking for support. At a press conference following Measure EE’s defeat, a coalition of community leaders, educators, and elected officials came together to say they would continue to push for more funding.
Nobody talked about their differences but instead focused on how they would continue to work together to get the children of Los Angeles the resources they need.
But what we still don’t have is a coherent vision for public education in Los Angeles that will inspire students, parents, and the electorate.
How do we do that?
First, we need full school-level budget transparency, so parents and community members understand how the money meant for children’s education is being spent. That means understanding how much schools actually spend. Superintendent Austin Beutner has frequently talked about how important this is, and those of us in education need to work to help people understand how the district’s complex budget works.
Most importantly, we need a bold vision for education. Our schools need to prepare students for a multi-cultural, technologically advanced society where they are not just the users of technology but the builders of technology, where they are averting climate change disaster, where they can separate fake news from facts, and where they can lead cities, states, nations, nonprofits and Fortune 500 companies.
This kind of education allows students to be critical thinkers, to have choices in life, to be better prepared for opportunities that give them a real shot at joining the middle class.
We also need to continue to find school models that are working, either here or elsewhere, and replicate them as best we can. We need to acknowledge that some children have access to world-class opportunities — but most children do not. The best local schools often meet very specific needs within their communities. For example, King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science was created specifically to help students in South L.A. become medical professionals and is now one of the best and most popular schools in its area.
Let’s make sure that all our students have the opportunity to attend a King/Drew in their neighborhood.
We saw district leaders, charter leaders and union leaders pushing toward the same goal during the Measure EE campaign. That must continue. It’s up to us as educational and civic leaders, community members and parents to do the hard work to show voters that their previous faith in public education wasn’t misguided and that their future trust is deserved.
The children of Los Angeles are counting on it.
Avila is the executive director of Education Leaders of Color, Braude is the executive director of the non-profit organization of Speak UP, Johnson is a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education, Litt is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Parent Revolution, and Ponce is the executive director of the nonprofit organization Great Public Schools Now.