Friday, June 09, 2006

why Prop 82 went down.

The failure of Prop 82 to pass in California this past Tuesday was the result of a set of suckily converging factors. Had it passed, Prop 82 would have funded universal pre-school for every four-year-old in California through an income tax increase on the state’s wealthiest one percent.

It got creamed, though. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  1. Following years of questionable ballot initiatives, and a completely unnecessary and costly special election last November, Californians have developed a deep, lovingly nurtured grudge against the propositions in general. More and more voters simply vote no on every proposition in an effort to discourage people from bringing them to the ballot. I don't agree entirely with that philosophy, but there's no doubt that it's an inherently flawed system that's getting worse as more people with money and agendas enter the fray. Prop 82 was one of the genuinely good laws that, unfortunately, became a casualty of that legitimate resentment.
  2. Rob Reiner has a reputation as a politically unsophisticated Hollywood liberal meddler. I’m not convinced that reputation is really deserved. He’s got a niche, just like Harry Belafonte and Charlton Heston. But the opposition used every opportunity it could to refer to Prop 82 as " the Reiner Act," until it started to seem like he was hijacking the legislature.
  3. Prop 82 was billed not as an increased funding initiative for preschool programs, but as a “universal” preschool program. That opened it up to the same familiar barrage of attacks that greets all proposals dealing with universal coverage of any kind: handouts to the middle class, failing to focus resources on the most needy, threatening private providers, etc.
  4. This proposition involved taxing rich people, for no reason save their income. Good night.

This all sucks, because like I said it was a good law. It would have affected less than 1% of California taxpayers. It addressed the critical issues in the preschool crisis (teacher training, school construction, underserved areas). And it is a crisis, which our electeds, unlike in other states around the country, were completely dragging their feet on -- so it's actually a fairly legitimate use of the ballot initiative. I'm sure it'll be pursued in Sacramento now.

One last (obvious) thing: Voters seem to feel that pre-school, unlike kindergarten, is not worthy of public funding to make it universal – despite the fairly indisputable evidence that pre-school leads to better reading skills, lower dropout rates, higher incidence of matriculation, decreased crime, etc. It matters, and like kindergarten, pre-school represents a critical social investment that affects every member of any community. That’s why most industrialized countries have universal public preschools as well as universal public K-12 (or equivalent).

But not the U.S. Instead, preschool, like health insurance, college education, and affordable housing, has become a luxury item reserved for folks with money.

I have confidence that eventually, California will follow Illinois, Florida, Oklahoma, and Georgia in providing universal preschool. And I hope it'll be through legislation, so the Gap CEO Don Fisher and his crony all-star team can spend more energy finding tax loopholes and less hiring actors to play gentle, pragmatic, authoritative school principles (ethnic minorities preferred).

1 comment:

sarah said...

Amen, brother!