Saturday, September 19, 2015

Struggling to Find Money for High School Extracurriculars


High schools all over California have been "hawking" to pay for their extracurriculars and yet, some simply do not have the money to continue these various programs. Lisa Lewis, a longtime public-school parent, is "not exactly surprised to find that [her] tax dollars don't cover the cost of an education; anything extracurricular requires extra cash" (LA Times). Lewis continues by saying how excited she was to hear that her son made the speech and debate team and in addition, wanted to play football. At Los Angeles High School, where Lewis's son goes, both programs have long histories at the school - having its first football game in 1894 and creating its speech and debate club not long afterward.

Lisa was not happy to hear that each football player needed three sponsors, at one hundred dollars each, to be on the team. Through this, local businesses sponsor a local player and, in return, receive public recognition in game programs. With practice, it is a lot of football players to ask several businesses for assistance. This, however, brings in a lot of money for the football team and as a result, brings in about twenty thousand dollars to help finance the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams. Public high schools in California have long requested supplemental funding from the community, but it wasn't always this drastic. "Twenty-five years ago, our high school's football program received thirty-two thousand dollars a year from the district from fifty thousand dollars it needed to operate. Now the district provides only seven thousand dollars of the football program's one-hundred ten thousand dollar annual costs" (LA Times). In addition, Los Angeles High School raised their prices for football tickets at eight dollars for students and twelve dollars for adults (LA High School).

When Proposition 13 was enacted in 1978 to limit property taxes, local revenue atrophied and school districts were forced to rely on often cash-strapped Sacramento (Board of Equalization). What seems to frustrate people the most with the lack of fundraising for extracurriculars is the fact that public schools are supposed to be free after taxes are paid. This build in frustration is not only angering the public, but weakening California's public school system as a result. We need to make sure that California residents believe that its government's sole interest is representing the needs of the people. If not, then people may feel that they are not being taxed fairly and will challenge their right for equal representation.

Despite countermeasures including state laws that established minimum funding levels and authorized a temporary tax increase, the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that California ranks 36th in the nation in spending among the least per pupil in the country. "At $9,220, California’s per pupil spending ranked 36th in the nation, a steep drop from its 2002 ranking of 23rd. This year, California’s per pupil spending was about $1,500 less than the national average" (California Common Sense).  Unfortunately, many public schools have completely removed several of their extracurriculars due to a lack of funding.  And if those aren't removed, then schools will limit their spending on school supplies.  What many public schools end up doing is they find money through outside sources.  Schools cannot use a “pay to play” method because the California Constitution mandates free public education (Article IX, Section 5 of the California Constitution).  So, many resort to incessant fundraising.

What are your opinions regarding Prop 13?  Should we tweak Prop 13 to assist public schools in more aid or should we remove Prop 13 all together? Do we think Prop 13's consequence due to a lack of funding public schools can be fixed?  Should we increase property taxes to combat the issue of losing extracurriculars in our schools?  Should the states have the power to decide where tax money goes or should local governments be the ones to decide?  


Source of image: Los Angeles Times


Elliot Quan said...

A big problem with Prop 13 is that large corporate properties that have gone unsold since the 70s are not being taxed at an appropriate amount. In 2008, it was calculated that homeowners were paying 2/3rds of property taxes while commercial property owners were only paying 1/3rd; during 1978, it was roughly split even. This is in part due to a loophole that allows buyers to split up their ownership so that nobody owns more than 50% of the property—as a result, the property value is not reassessed as it changes hands.

Another problem with Prop 13 is that since the burden of tax revenue is shifted onto sales and income taxes, revenue becomes heavily dependent on the California’s economic state. Thus in times of recession, funding gets cut quite unexpectedly. Undoubtedly, this does seem like a major issue for any local government when the state finds itself with its hands tied behind its back.

Do we keep Prop 13? At this rate, and if another recession hits, tax rates might spike in an effort to try and compensate. CA already sits on the #8 spot for combined local and state sales tax, according to Governor Brown has been saving up a small portion of the budget for a rainy day, but if Prop 13 is not changed, another decade will mark half a century’s worth of uneven property tax values.

So what would outright killing Prop 13 do? Property would suddenly go back to market value, and homeowners (especially long time owners or children who have inherited property) would suddenly be hit hard, and a bunch of other unanticipated effects may occur. So perhaps we shouldn’t strike it down completely, especially given the 40 year disparity.

I do think that certain provisions need revisions, such as the lax regulations on commercial property reassessments. Perhaps we could reassess their tax rate every once in a while (every 10 years? 15 maybe?) to adjust it closer to market value so we don’t run into problems where corporations are paying 1970s prices for properties whose values have skyrocketed. Regardless, change will not come quickly. We still have the 2/3rds majority requirement in the legislature to adjust tax rates, part of the reason why so little has changed after 40 years. Regardless, if we want better funding, people are going to have to pay for it somehow.

Caroline Mameesh said...

I think Elliot's last sentence sums up a major issue perfectly: people want lower taxes, of course, but they also want consistently improving municipalities, namely in the form of schools. This is definitely a paradox that could fit into the central issue in People of Paradox.

You can't easily and accessibly find better funding for schools beyond property taxes. Public schools receive funding by property taxes in the district surrounding them, so Prop 13 cutting property taxes will inevitably affect public schools.

Proposition 13 requires (most) tax increases to yield a two-thirds vote from the legislature or voters to be instituted. Enacting this has made it challenging to produce new revenues for the state treasury, leaving "drastic budget cuts as the only alternative" (CA Calls).

Most Californians, I'd venture Lewis herself, too, understand this. However, while Lewis may not be happy with the funding required for her son to play football, how would she feel about raised property taxes? I doubt she would favour them.

"Today, California’s public schools rank 46th out of 50 in K-12 per student spending" (CA Calls). This is an astonishing statistic for such an affluent state, and it is largely due to Prop 13's cut on property taxes.

All this being said, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who would vote in favour of upscaling property taxes.

One alternative to Prop 13 could be a measure in which taxes are cut if they rise above a certain percentage of a household's income. Additionally, an alternative could be allowing rates to rise for commercial properties at the expense of a rise in household properties (California Planning & Development Report).

Even those two alternatives come with setbacks. The first option would still affect schools, because as property value rises exorbitantly to income levels, so do the prices of living around these properties, so it makes schools' costs rise. Schools would still have a widening gap to make up for. And raising taxes on commercial properties, which often sponsor parts of schools' costs, as Lewis and her son experienced firsthand, would mean the owners of these businesses would be less likely to sponsor.

The vicious cycle seldom ceases to end. There are two easily arguable sides to this issue, but I believe that, at the end of the day, people will forever prefer lower property taxes, even if it is at the expense of local schools among other municipalities. There are ways to counteract, the best one can, the effects of Prop 13, and that is where I think our efforts as a state should be focused. Abolishing Prop 13 in its entirety would be difficult to do, because at the end of the day, hardly any Californian would support a raise in his or her property taxes.


Janet Liu said...

It's hard to argue against funding education or even offering local governments more "power to decide," but it's crucial to consider the kinds of programs we might decide to fund, had we the money and the means.

Since we're talking about football, let's think about it from a football standpoint.

As a (disclaimer*) non-sports fan, I think spending $50,000 each year on a high school football program is ridiculously expensive. Ever since the Sayreville high school football scandal in August, the national consciousness has already begun re-evaluating the virtue of pouring, some would say, a disproportionately large amount of money into a sport that doesn't bring in much at the high school level. Not to mention the active danger of concussions, which are easy to accrue during practice at the nonprofessional levels. Perhaps it is necessary to place some limits on local sports purely for the sake of safety and local prudence, which implies giving the states more power to decide.

On the flip side, I appreciate the fact that sports provide not only provide us with ways to grow both mentally and physically, but also keep some kids off the streets. A high school football team could easily become the very fabric of small-town culture and pride, and thus, how much we spend on sports is largely a question of what the community wants or needs (and socio-economic factors too). In which case I agree that Prop 13 stands in the way. Sports definitely seem to be one of the hidden costs that come with free public education, along with electronic school supplies, ritual yearbooks, prom tickets, extra tutoring and the College Board. Before Prop 13, California's was one of the best public school systems in the country. Although the state still spends more than most on its higher education, it has become necessary to spend both within and beyond school in order to be well-rounded both socially and academically in high school. Hard for families that are drawing from their college funds in order to pay for high school expenses which may or may not pay off via their students' resumes.

Yet the cure might even be worse than the disease, so to speak. It's strange to imagine that while getting rid of Prop 13 altogether promises to alleviate these costs, those same families are going to be burdened on an altogether different front when property taxes go up.

Purely based on what little I understand, I don't think there is an end-all, be-all solution to Prop 13 yet, at least not on the state level. Maybe a local needs-based reassessment of Prop 13 is best. Or maybe that'll just end up being a race to the bottom.

But placing some emphasis on the local opinion of what is really worth spending, and combining it with state oversight, seems to me like the best way to go.

*This is my two cents on extracurricular sports (but honestly, take it with a grain of salt).





Meghan Hilbert said...

Proposition 13 was a smart idea for one issue, but problematic for another. I believe that economic experts could've predicted issues with freezing property taxes because they're so important to many other parts of a community. That was obvious when it hit public education. Many families became outraged when high schools had to cut extracurricular activities due to this proposition, and as a result, created Proposition 98. Proposition 98 was a good idea in many ways, it expanded the budget of the California government more into public schools, and helped bring in more money for more extracurriculars. However, it was clearly not affective because public schools are continuously getting affected by budget cuts. To be a cheerleader at Aragon High School, one must pay a certain amount to join, even though it's considered a sport/hobby at Aragon. I think that since colleges are so competitive nowadays, states should put more responsibility on giving children the best public education as possible, so if that means increasing property taxes, so be it. California is expensive regardless, and if people cannot afford taxes to the extent that it wounds over sections of the state dramatically, they should face realities of moving or downsizing. That being said, I believe stats should overlook taxes; it is their responsibility to view the damages they have done, or problems they are about to fix. Local governments should document and report specific issues or events that take place in a community, and report it to the state government, so that they can distribute money and taxes.

Juliana Stahr said...

I agree with Elliot and Caroline that we should not be quick to strike down Prop 13 as it has some benefits. Polls also state that 57% of Californians are in favor of Prop 13. I also appreciated Caroline's point in regard to People of Paradox. People will simply turn the other way when taxes arise in a conversation, yet expect high quality services as a result. I also agree with Caroline that we should NOT cut our property taxes because then, public schools will be further impacted and receive LESS fundraising as a result. I also appreciated Janet's honesty. As a non-football fan myself, $50,000 for one program does seem to be an awful lot; however, I do not believe that we should take that money away from them. Janet does bring an interesting point. Should we be pouring money into an extracuriccular that does not necessarily help a students resume? I believe we should! Whether one finds an activity to be beneficial to one's academic career or not, we want students to do what they love - and a little exercise always helps! I also agree with Meghan that paying to attend a mandatory, expensive summer cheer camp in order to be a cheerleader at Aragon High School is absolutely ridiculous. This creates a high school cheerleading team with parents who have the money to afford their daughter or son a position on the team - how inclusive! Clearly, Prop 98 was an attempt to aid public schools, but still, public school budget's are rather low. Money needs to reach the hands of public schools, but where will the money end up coming from?