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Bond fatigue and school choice

By Larry Sand
March 17, 2020

Californians nix school bonds as Florida’s parental choice program expands.

It looks like California’s Prop.13, a $15 billion school construction bond, has been defeated. This is notable because voters had not rejected a bond of this nature since 1994. Additionally, supporters raised $10 million for the campaign, while opponents spent 1/40th of that amount – $250,000 – to defeat it. As of now, it is going down 54-46 with many thousands of votes still uncounted. (Amazingly, votes are still being tallied, ostensibly in an airless room filled with bleary-eyed manual vote-counters. As Pacific Research Institute Communications Director Tim Anaya writes, it’s “…embarrassing that California, the epicenter of American innovation, takes more than a month to count its ballots and determine the final outcome of elections. If other states can count nearly all of their ballots on Election Night, why can’t California?” For an up-to-date count, and a map which shows how each county voted, go here.)

It wasn’t just Prop.13 that failed to pass. According to Cal Tax, there were many other school bonds on the ballot in California; 64 of them were rejected, 21 were approved and 36 are too close to call. Of course, there too, votes are still being counted.

Why is this bond rejection – really a tax rejection – happening now in California?

Because the voters have had it. As Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) Legislative Director David Wolfe posits, “This should really be a wakeup call for state and local politicians that tax and bond fatigue is real and is happening….” HJTA President Jon Coupal suggests that 42 years after the passage of California’s iconic Prop. 13 (nothing to do with the measure that was just defeated), a “second California tax revolt could be upon us.” And it’s about time. Businesses are leaving the state in droves. In 2018, 1,800 companies said sayonara, with most bound for Texas. California is regularly dead last on “Best States to Do Business” lists.

Perhaps Los Angeles’ Measure EE in June presaged the March 3rd turn of events. This utter bomb of a parcel tax needed a two-thirds majority to pass, but it couldn’t even garner a simple majority.

Meanwhile, on the right coast – and in fact a world away – there is news that, at first glance, seems unrelated to California’s tax revolt. Florida’s successful and wildly popular school choice program is about to grow. Just last week the state legislature voted to approve HB 7067, a bill that will expand the new Family Empowerment Scholarship program, which was adopted last year and now serves 18,000 students. Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature is expected shortly.

Needless to say, the education monopolists in the Sunshine State are not pleased. In a Miami Herald op-ed, Florida state representative Javier Fernandez whines that choice programs already divert “almost 130,000 students out of the traditional public-school system and into private schools each year.” And private schools are not accountable. And private schools discriminate. All the usual fallacious ed establishment claptrap.

But Mr. Fernandez, not to worry. I have very good news for you! A brand new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research – which is very consistent with many others – has found that public school students in Florida benefit where school vouchers are in play. Not only that, but the research “indicated further growth of those positive effects as the program has scaled up.”

While it has been widely reported that vouchers and other forms of parental choice improve education for those involved, this study shows that the rising tide indeed lifts all boats. In fact, researcher Greg Forster, who assiduously examines every bit of data he can dig up, finds that in 32 of 34 empirical studies, “school choice improves academic outcomes in public schools affected by the program, while one finds no visible difference and one finds a negative impact.”

Additionally, Forster found that school choice overwhelmingly has a positive effect on taxpayers, ethnic segregation and civic values and practices, not to mention academic outcomes of choice participants.

So, the lesson for Californians is simple. Instead of blindly throwing more money into the bottomless government-run education hole, give parents choices. Kids will learn more and taxpayers will get to keep more of their hard-earned money.

The next test for Californians will be this November, when the ballot will be filled with more bond issues and a teacher union supported proposition which would alter 1978’s Prop. 13.

On the positive side, there may be a revolutionary school choice initiative on the ballot in November 2022.

Stay tuned!

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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