The last boom years for California public education were in the 1950s and 1960s, when enrollment climbed steeply and school construction climbed right along with it throughout the state. Nearly two decades later, many of the state’s college laboratories are out of date. University campuses as well as public schools are again squeezed for space as a result of another boom in which record numbers of students are once again entering universities and classrooms from kindergarten through high school. Voters can help provide both classroom space and more modern laboratory equipment by approving two education bond issues on the November 8 ballot, Propositions 78 and 79.
Proposition 78 would authorize $600 million in bond sales to finance construction and renovation projects at campuses of the University of California, California State University and California’s community colleges. Population growth alone justifies a massive construction program. The UC system expects to enroll another 30,000 students by the end of the century, while Cal State expects its enrollments to increase by 34,000 students; community colleges anticipate another 400,000 students by then.
Not only must the higher education system accommodate new students, it must also adapt to new technology. If California is to continue to produce graduates who rank among the best in the country, its colleges must have the computers and scientific equipment with which to experiment and learn.
The lame opposition to Proposition 78 comes from the Libertarian Party, which insists that only people who use the educational system will benefit while everyone will pay. That absurd and self-centered economic argument ignores the pattern of decades in California that sees leadership in public higher education pay off in economic progress not only for graduates of public schools and colleges but for everyone who lives in the state.
The other measure, Proposition 79, would provide $800 million for new buildings, renovation, and air conditioning in the state’s elementary and secondary schools. California’s public schools rank a dismal 51st among 51 states and the District of Columbia when it comes to average class sizes. School systems could hire all the teachers they could find, but that would not allow reductions in class size unless there was space in which to put new, smaller classes. Approval of this bond issue would prevent California from falling further behind as it faces the addition of 1 million students over the next six years.
In June the voters approved another $800-million bond issue for school construction. Los Angeles will receive a large share of that money with $97.3 million already approved for new construction locally, $52 million for renovation and $1.6 million for air conditioning.
Even though the bond issue was a big one, the needs are bigger. As of May, school districts had submitted applications for $2.9 billion in construction and another $1.1 billion for modernization. That’s because students continue to pour into these districts. Riverside County, for example, is expected to have 72% more students in 1996 than it had last year, San Bernardino County an additional 60% and San Diego County 38% more.
As one sign of the general agreement on how vital these projects are, the bond issues are endorsed by Gov. George Deukmejian, the state Legislature and Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig. We join them in urging yes votes for Propositions 78 and 79 and for California’s future.