California State Superintendent Jack O'Connell made the following comments last week in response to the delay of Prop 55.
"I'm greatly concerned about the discussion in the state legislature which may cause a critical delay in our ability to help our children get a better education in California. Passage of Proposition 55 in the March 2004 election would provide $12.3-billion for badly needed new school construction to modernize and address overcrowding conditions, as well as funding for higher education that has been hard hit by the state budget crisis.
"In November 2002, voters resoundingly passed the companion bond measure, Prop 47, that provided $13.05 billion for construction and renovation of kindergarten through university facilities. Because of the urgent need to update our buildings, the modernization money provided by that bond measure is already depleted. Now there is a backlog of approved but unfunded modernization projects totaling about $120 million that could grow by as much as $50 million to $60 million per month.
"Now, more than ever before, in these turbulent economic times, we must provide a stable funding stream for desperately needed school projects. Although California's students have been improving their scores in the past five years, they are doing so in an environment of crumbling schools and crowded conditions, while our young adults face increasing pressure to pay more for tuition. How can we ever achieve our goal of providing our children a world-class education and expect them to be inspired about learning under these conditions?
"We must do everything in our power now to exercise our choice to vote on Prop 55 that is already on the March ballot. Time is of the essence. Moving Prop 55 to next November is unfair to our children. If it is delayed and fails in November 2004, then voters must wait until March 2006 for a chance to vote on the bonds again. In addition, if the bond measure fails, then local and state funding partnerships could dissolve or would not exist. That would force school districts to provide all the funds from local sources to build and modernize schools, or continue to let children use dilapidated and potentially dangerous facilities. Moreover, the primary ways school districts may have to deal with increases in the number of students would be to put them in portable classrooms, increase class sizes, or implement year round education programs in the absence of building new schools. The need for this funding is immediate and critical. Our children cannot wait."