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Thursday, Dec 7, 2023

COMMENTARY–Investing in Our Schools Is Good for Business

Proposition 26 on the March 7 ballot is a common sense, businesslike approach to investing in our kids, revitalizing our state’s school facilities and demanding even tougher accountability for local school bond funds.

Proposition 26 will let a majority of voters on each local district decide how much money will be raised for schools, specify how every dollar will be spent and require two separate independent annual audits to ensure that funds go strictly toward improving or building school facilities.

It is sound public policy that takes into consideration the rapid growth and many changes that have occurred in California in the 120 years since the current two-thirds majority requirement was imposed on local school bond measures. Times have changed and so must this archaic law.

School districts with overcrowded classrooms need to invest in solutions that not only address current demands, but also prepare for continued enrollment growth and further class size reduction. Districts with older facilities need to repair crumbling schools and equipment; and most schools need to wire their classrooms for computers and Internet access to prepare their students for the new economy.

Today, according to Education Week, California ranks dead last in students per instructional computer. Business leaders are deeply concerned that we must dramatically improve this situation so our children will be ready to take on the tasks of the next few decades.

Facts And Statistics

The facts and statistics tell California’s story:

– Our classrooms are among the most crowded in the United States

– Two million students attend class in portables, many of which do not have adequate heat, light or safety. That is one-third of all classrooms.

– Thousands of classrooms are in dire need of repair with 50 percent of California schools more than 30 years old.

– Seven new classrooms a day for five years must be built to stay ahead of the quickly growing student population. In 10 years, we will need 20,000 more classrooms , 87,000 if we wish to expand class-size reduction throughout the grades.

– Class-size reduction programs have demonstrated a positive influence on test scores, behavior and academic performance. Parents and business leaders alike want to expand it beyond the primary grades.

– Californians repeatedly and overwhelmingly say they want better schools, safer schools, smaller classes, and up-to-date books and technology.

– Local districts must pass local bonds in order to access their fair share of the $9.2 billion state bond, which requires matching bonds.

– Dozens of school districts would have passed their bonds with a simple majority, but the two-thirds requirement countered the will of the people.

No Wasteful Spending

To be sure, California voters are justifiably tired of wasteful spending. Business leaders in particular appreciate provisions of Prop. 26 mandating that no bond money may be spent on bureaucracy or salaries. They also favor the financial and performance audits, because this kind of accountability is essential to ensure that the funds will be spent as intended.

Sustaining California’s robust economic recovery requires long-term commitment by business and industry to keep their payrolls and tax revenues here, rather than looking for greener pastures in the many other states that recruit them vigorously and persistently. Good quality school facilities are an important part of keeping businesses here where they belong.

Proposition 26 is supported by a broad-based diverse coalition of Californians, including the California Chamber of Commerce, California Business Roundtable, California Manufacturers Association, Congress of California Seniors, California Teachers Association, AARP, California Business for Education Excellence, PTA and the League of Women Voters.

These groups know that investing in quality school facilities for our kids, and strictly accounting for bond funds, are sound business principles that correlate directly to a strong economy. So join business leaders across California and vote yes on Proposition 26 on March 7.

Our future begins now.

Karatz is the chair of the California Business Roundtable.


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