A way to fund schools

Make it easier for school districts to raise parcel taxes

One of the central features of Gov. Jerry Brown’s school-funding proposal is to give inner-city schools more money by taking it from suburban schools. His intention is good, but he wants to rob Peter to pay Paul, and that’s bound to foster resentment.

There’s a better way: enabling school districts to raise their own tax revenues.

That would require a change in the voter threshold for approval of parcel taxes. Currently they require two-thirds approval for passage, but there is movement in the Legislature to lower that requirement to 55 percent, the same threshold now in place for construction bonds.

It’s not a perfect solution. Parcel taxes are intensely regressive. Every parcel is taxed the same, whether it houses a shopping mall or a rundown cottage. But parcel taxes are all that is available, and lowering the threshold would give school districts—all of which have lost librarians, counselors, art and music programs and more in recent years—a possible way to rebuild.

Inner-city residents would benefit because so many of the parcels in their neighborhoods have absentee owners, and suburban residents would have an easier way to invest in their local schools.

We’re not arguing that school districts raise taxes, although we note that California is ranked 49th among the states in per-pupil funding. What we’re suggesting is that communities be given the option to vote on parcel taxes in a way that enhances democracy while improving schools. Requiring two-thirds approval gives a small minority the power to thwart the wishes of a large majority. That’s why we support lowering the threshold to 55 percent.