I was lucky to grow up in the golden era of education in California. As a result, I have had the good fortune to benefit from great teachers. On November 6, voters have the opportunity to provide desperately needed funding for children in public schools by voting “Yes” on Proposition 30 and “Yes” on Prop 38. A “No” vote would continue to defund the society we have lived in for the past 50 years and more, leaving children without the education they need to create a better future for themselves.
When I was a junior at Granada Hills High School, my friend Roald saw me walking on campus a day or two before the school year ended. He told me that Mrs. Horvath, our English Composition teacher, asked him to tell me that she wanted to see me. I was worried because we had already turned in the last writing assignment, and we had taken the final exam, so I had no idea why she would want to see me, unless it was to tell me bad news. I walked apprehensively to her classroom. She was sitting at her desk in the back of the room with the ceiling lights off to stay cool in the hot June weather. I told her Roald said you wanted to see me. She asked me where I wanted to go to college. I responded matter of factly, “UCLA.” I always assumed I would go to UCLA because that’s where the students I knew went who had the grades. I moved to the United States from Guatemala when I was four years old. My parents and older sister did not go to college. I didn’t know anything about any other school. Mrs. Horvath told me I should apply to Stanford. I said I don’t know where that is. She told me. She also said I should apply to UC Irvine because it had a new medical school, and I was interested in being a doctor. I said thank you and left, relieved that college was all she wanted to talk to me about.
Mrs. Horvath was a great teacher in many ways. She went out of her way to advise me about where to go to college because of whatever potential she saw in me as a 16 year old boy. As a result, Mrs. Horvath changed my life.
In the fall of my senior year, I applied to Stanford and Irvine because that’s what Mrs. Horvath told me to do. I was admitted to both. In April, I cut classes on a Friday and drove to Stanford for Freshman Admit Day to help me decide where to go to school because I had never visited the campus. I drove up the 101 freeway by myself in my mother’s Volkswagen bug, took the University Avenue exit, and drove through Palo Alto to the end of University Avenue. I saw the sandstone gates of Stanford for the first time, with a mile-long corridor of palm trees along Palm Drive leading to the gold and tile mosaic façade of Memorial Church, framed by green foothills, blue skies, and white clouds. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. I said to myself right then and there, “This is where I’m going to college.”
I had more great teachers in college. I studied the history of Western Philosophy with John Mothershed, a silver-haired professor who wore gold wire-rimmed glasses and gray flannel three piece suits. I became a philosophy major, with him as my advisor, because every question I had ever wondered about growing up as a Catholic boy was covered in his courses and readings. I went to Stanford Law School, where I studied with Prof. Anthony G. Amsterdam, who among many other things has been a great teacher, scholar, and the architect behind the movement to abolish the death penalty through the courts. Everything I have ever done as a lawyer has been influenced by Tony Amsterdam.
I’ve had two lives: my life before Stanford, and my life since.
I have had a great education with great teachers because California taxpayers paid for them. My parents could not afford private schools, or tutors, or tuition for college and law school. When I graduated from high school, California had one of the top public school systems in the nation. The state also paid my college tuition through the California State Scholarship program, and for my law school education through the California Graduate Fellowship program. (Both programs ended years ago.) I have paid back in taxes over the years multiples of what the state paid for my education. More importantly, I cannot separate my education from who I am. My education is priceless.
Things are different today. California ranks second in the nation in spending cuts for public education per pupil in the past five years, $1,100, second only to Alabama. If Prop 30 or 38 do not pass, and the state as planned cuts $6 billion more, that will reduce spending per pupil by $441 more. California will have the distinction of being number one by far in spending cuts per pupil since 2008, cuts totaling $1,546. And if the federal sequester or “fiscal cliff” kicks in in January, the spending cuts per pupil will grow even more.
Please vote “Yes” on Prop 38, “Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment and Bond Reduction Act.” Prop 38 would increase income taxes for most Californians to raise funds primarily for schools and early childhood education. See this link for more on Prop 38.
What if both propositions pass? The one with the most votes will go into effect, although there may be some disputes over some provisions.
Are there any reasons to vote “No” on either proposition?
Opponents of Prop 30, which is backed by Governor Jerry Brown, say the governor and legislature should have made the hard choices necessary to raise taxes and cut spending without pawning off that responsibility on the taxpayers.
Opponents of Prop 38, which is backed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, who has paid over $31 million to support the proposition, say it siphons off support for Prop 30 and confuses voters.
Then there are the vitriolic attacks, as summarized in the L.A. Times: “Teachers are lazy and their union bosses are greedy . . . Legislators are drunken spenders, school districts are inept, students are brain-dead and parents are asleep. So the hell with all of them, say the grave-dancers, even if the truth is that California students have made significant gains in recent years. . . . ‘Ask your illegal alien buddies to kick in the money,’ said one reader.”
Only 46% of registered voters support Prop 30 as of October 25, a drop of 9% over the past month, and 42% oppose it. Just 28% of voters support Prop 38, down from 34% in September. That is heart breaking in terms of what it means for the future of our children, and what we value as a society. There is no Plan B if 30 and 38 fail.
The bottom line: Neither measure is perfect. That’s not the point. Let’s not make the children pay for those mistakes.
Vote “Yes” on 30 and “Yes” on 38. If you want to vote for only one, vote “Yes” on 30. For the sake of the children and their education and teachers.