Let’s talk taxes

Duane Campbell is a professor (emeritus) of bilingual/multicultural education at Sacramento State, the author of Choosing Democracy: A Practical Guide to Multicultural Education and blogger at www.choosingdemocracy.blogspot.com

California, like most states, needs additional revenue to fund schools and to invest in the future. Our public schools are in crisis—and they are getting worse. Their decline is a direct result of massive budget cuts imposed by the Legislature and the governor in the last four years. Total expenditures are down by more than $1,000 per student. The result is massive class-size increases. Students are often in classes too large for quality learning. Supplementary services such as tutoring and art have been eliminated. More than 14,000 teachers have already been dismissed and thousands more face layoffs.

California schools are now 47th in the nation in per-pupil expenditure and 49th in class size. Our low achievement scores on national tests reflect this severe underfunding.

The economic crisis of 2007 to the present—caused by bankers and their lobbyists—made matters worse. The state took in some $30 billion less in taxes, and thus had less to send to the schools. School budgets have been cut by some $10 billion.

The question for the anti-tax advocates, the California Chamber of Commerce—and ultimately for California voters this fall—is this: Can the economy prosper with a poorly educated workforce?

California grew and prospered from 1970 to 1994, based upon a well-educated workforce. The wealth that funds our current highways, parks, universities, community colleges and jobs is based upon past public investments. Then, in the period between 1994 and 2008, more than $10 billion in corporate-tax cuts were passed, making the current economic crisis much worse.

California suffers from a decade of disinvestment in education and in infrastructure. Instead of continuing our state’s once proud commitment to public education, today anti-tax forces have imposed a “Mississippi model” on our children and our schools.

California needs to invest in roads, bridges, telephone lines, communications systems, parks, clean energy and quality education. These are the down payments that make prosperity possible. Republican opposition to any new taxes ignores the undeniable historic fact that prosperity depends upon having a viable educational system and a well-functioning infrastructure.

As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”