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May 16, 2006 > Proposition 82: Preschool for All Act

Proposition 82: Preschool for All Act

by Steve Warga

On June 6, California voters will be asked to approve Proposition 82, an amendment to our state constitution which will appropriate over $2 billion per year to fund free preschool for all California children 4 years of age. This money will come from a tax levied on the less than 1 percent of California citizens claiming annual taxable income of $400,000 or more ($800,000 for married couples filing jointly). Conceived and promoted by Hollywood celebrity, Rob Reiner, Proposition 82 will create a new bureaucracy controlled by the State Superintendent of Schools and administered by county offices of education. The amendment specifies regular oversight and auditing along with criminal penalties for any misappropriation of these monies.

Reiner and supporters of Proposition 82 cite "recent studies" leaving the impression that a great body of scholarly work supports "free" preschool for all. None of the literature reviewed by TCV actually referenced any of these studies by title or author. Supporters claim that every dollar invested in preschool will bring "more money back - from savings on reduced remedial education, lower dropout rates, and the economic benefits of a better educated workforce" (Ballot Measure Summary, State of California; p. 20).

The California Legislative Analyst's office notes, "Some research based on pilot preschool programs suggests that participation in preschool may result in such outcomes ... The degree to which these effects would occur as a result of a statewide program and the amount of related state and local savings is unknown." (ibid; p. 21)

A "preschool education crisis" in California is also cited by proponents. However, eligible California preschoolers already benefit from an estimated $860 million from both the state and federal governments. Proposition 82 money would be added to this total.

Opponents cite the language of the bill itself, highlighting a provision that allows the state to tax all parents, not just the "rich" ones, in the event funding targets are not met. A "funding emergency" clause permits the state, under certain conditions, to require a one-year "fee" to maintain the program's constitutional mandates.

They question the supposition that a half-day of classes (3 hours) for a maximum of six months would remedy California's national ranking near the very bottom in assessments of reading skills of 3rd and 4th graders.

The Legislative Analyst's office projects that Proposition 82 will produce $2.1 billion assuming no changes by targeted taxpayers. Past tax hikes on upper income earners suggest that many will relocate to more taxpayer-friendly states, such as neighboring Nevada. This new tax would push California to the highest marginal tax rate in the nation. Proposition 82 money would amount to an average of well over $7,000 per student ($8,000-plus is possible). In other words, Californians would be spending in the more than $140,000 per mandated class-size of 20 students, one teacher and one assistant, every year, in perpetuity, constitutionally guaranteed. There is no provision for a decrease in this tax should the population of 4 year olds drop below present levels of about 540,000. Superintendents would still receive two billion plus dollars each year strictly for preschools.

The initiative's sponsor, Reiner, is currently being investigated by the state auditor for improper use of public funds. In March, he resigned as chairman of the First Five California Children and Families Commission after accusations surfaced that he authorized spending nearly $23 million of commission money to purchase advertising on television and in other media promoting his Proposition 82. The First Five Commission is funded by a special tax of 50 cents levied on every pack of cigarettes sold in California. This tax was narrowly approved by voters as Proposition 10 in 1998. Reiner was the primary sponsor of that proposition also.

In general, taxpayer and consumer advocates oppose Proposition 82 as do many business organizations and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Proponents include most state employee and teachers unions along with many state Democrats. One notable exception, State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, reversed his support in February saying it "would become another obstacle impeding prudent government of the state." Joining Perata is his predecessor, former State Senate President Pro Tem, John Burton, D-San Francisco, released a statement in April opposing Proposition 82. The longtime California liberal who left office after reaching his term limits said, in part, "Without any income tests, the plan would help wealthy and middle-class families who already take advantage of preschool, but not reach those who need it most: poor, disadvantaged and English-learning children."

For more information in favor of Proposition 82, visit www.YesOn82.com.

Information in opposition to Proposition 82 may be found at www.NoOn82.org.

 
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