The Achilles’ heel of Arnold’s Prop. 49

Susan Swanson recently received a master’s of science in recreation administration from California State University, Sacramento

Proposition 49 promised to provide access to after-school care for all California children. It now appears that poor children will be short-changed. Many low-income schools may be unable to participate in the program because poor schools lack the funds for the required 50-percent local match.

One million of California’s highest-risk children currently do not have after-school care available to them, leaving them without adult supervision. Furthermore, the need is expected to increase dramatically. Californians believe that providing after-school care for children while their parents are at work is an idea whose time has come. In November 2002, 56.6 percent of voters approved Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Program, making this the first state in the nation to endorse public funding for after-school care.

However, most Californians are unaware that the public funding is for seed money only and, as such, is inadequate to establish or sustain the program, particularly in low-income areas.

The Proposition 49 campaign emphasized helping working parents by keeping children safe, preventing crime and improving learning. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor, a gubernatorial candidate and the chief sponsor of Proposition 49, contributed $1 million from his personal funds to promote the initiative. He proposed that this universal after-school program be funded from growth in state revenues, not by higher taxes. In retrospect, this expectation for funding is too good to be true.

The Achilles’ heel of Proposition 49 is its flawed funding mechanism. It promised a popular program without providing the tax base for adequate public funding. Proposition 49 is to provide seed money out of surplus from the General Fund in amounts ranging from $50,000 to $75,000 per school. It requires a 50-percent local funding match and relies heavily on private donations. With the downturn in the national economy and California’s current budget crisis, there is no surplus in sight.

The program was to begin in fiscal year 2004-2005, but the legislative analyst’s office indicates that it is unlikely to be implemented until 2006-2007 at best, depending on an economic recovery. At that time, upper- and middle-income schools will be better able to provide the required matching funds and generate the necessary supplemental funding.

Unfortunately, children in low-income schools that lack these resources could be left out. Odds are that Proposition 49 will stumble, leaving the one in five California children who live in poverty without an after-school program.