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How one 40-year-old decision starves education

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NOVEMBER 20, 2017

It was a weird time to be in Washington, D.C. The cheeto king’s regime had just set up shop, and a distinct Snapchat filter provided a millennial-friendly reminder that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was being grilled in confirmation hearings. Despite the curious dichotomy of a field trip class of 8-year-old, red-hatted Trump supporters on my right and grandiose capitol architecture to my left, I couldn’t help but appreciate that my community college had provided amateur lobbyist Neil an all-expense-paid trip to the political capital of the world.

No doubt, it was not a luxury allotted at most community colleges.

With only about 30 percent of their students managing to complete their degrees within six years, most California Community Colleges remain staggeringly underresourced, leaving them hard pressed to fulfill a public school’s most basic mission statement of #equity. But venture into the realm of financial voodoo and enigmatic budgetary rules, and you’ll find one particular plague upon the K-14 education system: the once widely beloved Proposition 13.

This late-1970s amendment to the California constitution lowered property taxes, basing them on 1976 property values. Instead of assessing property values every year for tax purposes, the tax only requires that values are adjusted when property changes ownership. Additionally, it capped out property taxes at a fixed rate that cannot surpass 1 percent of the assessed value.

Prop. 13 taxes a number of large corporations and old retired property owners at decades-old rates. Because California public schools have been traditionally reliant on property taxes, these lower, older rates essentially starve local public schools of potential funds. In Reddit r/explainlikeimfive terms, wealthy old people and established corporations thrive, while young folks might as well take a dive.

This overnight 57 percent slash in property taxes has been burdensome on all students, but its effects can end up hitting transfer students remarkably hard. On equity grounds, higher proportion of transfers are disadvantaged as compared with four-year students, which means means that community college students require continuously improving programs and more resources for guaranteed completion. As a former CC student, I’ve experienced the opposite.

Back at De Anza, one of the most visible examples of this phenomenon is the growing exploitation of part-time faculty, who are much cheaper to enlist. Adjunct professors often receive limited benefits and significantly lower salaries, and they rarely have tenure.

From personal experience, De Anza’s part-timers lacked personal offices, making office hours scarce. My international relations professor, for example, taught at three different colleges, meaning he had to commute for hours each day, draining time and energy he could otherwise focus on students.

If De Anza, with a nationally renowned completion rate of 74 percent, has resorted to these sorts of financial cutbacks, it should come as no surprise that 70 percent of newly hired community college faculty across the United States were hired part-time.

When glaring underfunding becomes the standard for so many CCs, few students are afforded the guidance needed to get into a school such as UC Berkeley, and those who do may struggle once they enroll.

Now, are you a UC Berkeley student who has never once set foot in a community college? Unfortunately, you are also adversely affected by Prop. 13. Low property taxes have shifted K-14 funding mechanisms away from local districts, forcing the state to pick up the tab using money from the general fund that could have otherwise gone to higher education. If Prop. 13 were to be at least partially repealed, a sizeable chunk of moola could be suddenly available to higher education facilities such as UC Berkeley.

A realistic repeal of Proposition 13 would be in the form of a split-roll tax, where property owners could continue to benefit in its entirety, while businesses would no longer be protected. Already, various groups such as Make it Fair California are amassing support for a split repeal. This revision of the nearly 40-year-old policy would bring in the kind of revenue needed to drastically improve community colleges.

To create a better monetary understanding, put on your collectable pair of Mickey Mouse ears, and let’s take a case study trip to Disneyland. With a churro comfortably slid resting on the tips of your hands, you eagerly await the obligatory Space Mountain — unaware that darkness lurks beyond the pitch-black tunnels of the ride.

Because much of Disneyland has never legally changed ownership since Prop. 13 was implemented, it pays an original value of only five cents per square foot. If Prop. 13 were to receive the aforementioned reform, Disneyland alone would pay millions more each year in taxes.

Property tax reform is not exactly a sexy issue. But when the higher ed standard has become paying more each year in tuition while simultaneously decreasing the number of services students have access to, a tactile approach is needed to disrupt the status quo.

While I had no major issues transferring out in two years, I can’t help but think of community college students who have been stuck there for more than five years. Friends of mine have been clamped down by a lack of institutional support needed to compensate for their financial insecurity.

Aside from its diametric opposition to the state’s mission of “creating strong, effective schools” that “cause a high standard of student accomplishment,” the continued use of Prop. 13 represents an embarrassing disregard for those most disadvantaged in education.

Neil McClintick writes the Monday blog on transfer student troubles. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @neil_park.

NOVEMBER 20, 2017