CALIFORNIA IS DUE FOR A SERIOUS conversation about how much money its schools truly need and where to get it. But Proposition 88, which would establish a $50 tax on parcels of property for schools, would do little to improve the schools or advance the conversation.
The amount of money Proposition 88 would raise is piddling compared with the state's school budget. The measure would set an uncomfortable precedent by having the state directly collect a property tax — something that has historically been the role of local governments in California. Worse, Proposition 88 could hurt future attempts to find more comprehensive solutions to school funding.
The parcel tax would raise about $450 million a year — less than 1% of what California spends on education and half of what schools receive from the lottery. The money would be used for several specific goals, including class-size reduction, better classroom materials and improved school safety.
Nice ideas all, but the schools would get less out of this money than it appears. The funds to lower class size, for instance, wouldn't be enough to reduce class size significantly. And what if a school that was safe wanted to use the money to hire qualified science teachers or introduce language programs for kids who didn't speak English? Under Proposition 88's restrictive rules, it wouldn't be able to.
Revenue from the tax, which would be levied on most parcels of land in the state, would grow slowly, rising only as development created new parcels. Inflation would outpace these gains, making Proposition 88 even less able to pay for the benefits its supporters tout.
It's true, as Proposition 88's supporters say, that California has long ranked toward the bottom of the nation in per-pupil spending and that every little bit helps. But at what cost? Voters may think Proposition 88 would provide the schools with all the revenue they need — and so they might be less likely to support more meaningful funding measures, whether local or statewide, in the future. For what little good it would do, and for what harm it could cause, Proposition 88 is not worth voters' support.