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Members of Education Coalition Mull Over Which Proposition to Support in November 2012 Election

By Jeff Hudson - December 15, 2011

Wednesday’s teleconference involving representatives of The Education Coalition – a broadly-based group that includes most of the major stakeholder groups concerned with K-12 schools in California – took an interesting turn when Peter Schrag (now a columnist for California Progress Report, formerly the editorial page editor and columnist with the Sacramento Bee) posed a question.

The teleconference had been set up to give the education stakeholders an opportunity to vent their frustration at the “trigger cuts” that had been announced on Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Then Schrag posed a question regarding the statewide ballot proposition that Governor Brown has proposed for November 2012 (which the Governor claims would generate $7 billion in revenue for education and public safety) as well as other ballot propositions with somewhat similar aims that are being discussed.

“Are you planning to support a single ballot measure?” Schrag asked. “And to what extent are you working with other stakeholders, like higher education? What is the plan, so there’s a unified message?”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torkalson was first to respond. “The Education Coalition has talked about this. There are at least three, and possibly five ballot measures that will get circulated (in petition form in an effort to qualify for the ballot),” Torlakson said. “There needs to be an effort to narrow it down, so that we are not offering a smorgasbord of choices so that it splits (public support for education) and no measure passes. We are aware that there has been a turn of public attention, the polls indicate that voters understand the gravity of the cut (in state funding for education). Before the end of January, we need to fix on how we can combine some of the measures, pick the best one.”

Schrag asked, “What you’re saying is you don’t know yet?”

“Correct,” replied Torlakson.

Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, quickly added “It is not atypical to have a bunch of (competing) measures filed (on a given political issue).” Wells noted that there is a 60 day period in which the Secretary of State’s office processes and prepares a proposed ballot initiative for actual circulation of petitions. Wells said that during the next few weeks, as several of the initiative proposals are working their way through the Secretary of State’s office, education stakeholders need to “stay in touch with those who filed the measures, and find the one that meets all of our tests. We need to pick the one that is the best for our schools. We have a little bit of time that we can use to have that analysis, have conversations, and see if there is one of these measures that we could all rally around.”

Wells also noted that “November 2012 is almost a year away” and added that “our entire focus has to be to find any revenues (to support education) that we can” – including some actions that could be taken by the California Legislature in the next few months.

Wells added, “In previous big shortfalls (during past decades) there has been a mix of revenues and cuts (as a means of addressing state deficit problems that have affected education). All we’ve seen (during the budget crisis of the last three or four years) is cuts. We’ve given our share. California schools have been cut more than any (other state) in the nation.”

Torlakson mentioned that he has had discussions on this topic with California State University Chancellor Charles Reed and University of California President Mark Yudof regarding which of the potential ballot propositions might be best, but added that these discussions were still in their early phases.

Dean Vogel, President of the California Teachers Association, said “We all know that if we have more than one (proposition) on the ballot, it is going to be difficult (to get any of the propositions passed). We are going to be best served with all of us coming together around one of these initiatives. Right now I don’t think we know which one it will be.”

Torlakson wrapped up the discussion by noting that “the Governor will be announcing another tough, tough budget in January.”

Editor's Note:  Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.