If you're looking for info on Golden State schools, you might check out this new tool, California School Finder, offered up by the state (and pushed hard by the governor's office). Word is it will become a little more robust in the future, but for now, it gives you some measures to compare schools in your area. I found it a little slow to load, but I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Arvin, Calif., surrounded by nothing but fast-food joints, tour buses, long-haul truckers and carrots (the last is big agricultural product in this part of the world, just north of the Tehachapi Mountains).
California legislators continue to struggle with how to close the $15 billion budget gap even as the year has begun and the budget deadline has passed. On July 8, the Budget Conference Committee developed a plan that restores some proposed cuts and proposed a package of six tax increases. Five of the increases involve the individual income tax and corporate franchise tax while the sixth calls for efforts to collect some of the state's uncollected taxes (reduce the tax gap).
A problem with aiming to close a specified budget shortfall is that it is too easy to look at the amounts various changes could raise and massage it until you hit your needed number. Math wins out over strategy. while the committee has reasons for each of the five tax increases, they are fairly weak, such as - we had these high rates in the past. Why does that mean they make sense for California's economy and society now? What about cutting back on tax deductions, exclusions and credits that are too generous or poorly targeted such that they benefit taxpayers who don't need a benefit? What about shaping our tax laws to support our economic, societal and environmental goals? For example, policymakers are working to find ways to get California to reduce its GHG emissions. So, why not enact a carbon tax?
Once a decade, California starts over at 1 in the numbering of its ballot measures. This November's ballot thus provides a fresh start. After Prop 99 in June, we start with Prop 1 this November. The Secretary of State is out with the numbers of all 11 measures on the November ballot. Here they are:
The big ones to watch are Prop 2 (the Humane Society is the champion of direct democracy), Prop 8 (the much talked about gay marriage initiative), and Prop 11 (the redistricting measure).
Prop. 1: High speed rail bond.
Prop. 2: Humane Society farm animal confinement initiative
Prop 3: Children's hospital bond
Prop 4: parental notificatoin before minors have an abortion.
Prop 5: lighter sentences, easing of parole restrictions for non-violent offenders.
Prop 6: Anti-gang initiative
Prop 7: Initiative to require utilities to generate 20 percent of power from renewable sources by 2010.
Prop 8: anti-gay marriage initiative.
Prop 9: a crime victims' bill of rights.
Prop 10: $5 billion alternative fuel bond.
Prop 11: Redistricting reform.
One of the side effects of our patchwork system of preschool early education is that it's incredibly difficult to get good, comprehensive data on the extent to which children are receiving early education services or the quality of those programs. That's why a new RAND Corporation report on preschool in California is hugely important.
The RAND researchers built a portrait of pre-k access and quality in the Golden State from the ground up: First, they interviewed parents of more than 2,000 three- and four-year-old children about their children's early education and childcare arrangements. Then they interviewed more than 700 preschool and childcare providers. Then they conducted in-depth observations in more than 250 preschool classrooms. That's a massive undertaking, but because California's early care and education landscape is so fractured--children are receiving publicly funded preschool through California's State Preschool Program, Head Start, childcare subsidies, school-based programs, and county-driven "First Five" programs, not to mention the significant percentage of youngsters whose parents pay for private preschool--it's the only way to get a true picture of what the early education landscape really looks like in the state. Key findings include:
The LA Times has an excellent, interactive marriage map, that shows how counties are responding to the legalization of same-sex marriage and also has data, county by county, on the estimated number of same-sex couples.
Study Finds Roots of High School Success in Grade 4
Teachers can identify students who are at risk of failure in high school as early as fourth grade, according to a report released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute of California. The study analyzed the test scores of the Class of 2006 in San Diego and found that grades, test scores and behavior reports in grade 4 were accurate predictors for whether a student would pass the California High School Exit Exam, known as the CAHSEE. The report expressed concerns about the value of 11th hour interventions for students who fail the exam. Instead, the report's authors recommended shifting funds to help build a strong educational foundation in the early grades, including universal pre-kindergarten and class-size reduction.
Mark Paul, a senior scholar and colleague here at New America, submitted this excellent guest column, with some important new data from Tuesday's election results in California:
Within the halls of California's State Capitol, hardly a day goes by without a conservative legislator standing up to say that raising taxes is the worst thing California can do during an economic slowdown. To judge by the results of the June 3 primary election, California's voters didn't get the message.
Voting just three days before the 30th anniversary of the passage of Proposition 13, the landmark Jarvis-Gann initiative that cut property taxes and triggered a tax revolt across the country, voters in the primary election approved dozens of tax increases in local communities around the state.
By my count from semi-official election results, they passed 26 of 32 proposals to issue school and community college bonds; each of these measures, which raise local property taxes to repay the bonds, required a super-majority (55 percent) vote for passage. They approved 13 of 24 proposals to create or raise local per parcel property taxes to pay for a variety of services, including schools, libraries, parks, and law enforcement; parcel taxes can be passed only with a two-thirds vote. They approved tax increases not just in the liberal Bay Area but also in the Central Valley and Orange County. Overall, they passed 49 of the 75 tax-increase measures on local ballots around the state.
Like generals who are always fighting the last war, California's pundits are still fighting their way out of the last budget crisis. Latest case in point: George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times, who recently complained again that California's income tax "depends too heavily on the wealthy." In Skelton's world, the wealthy are just like those men mothers always warn their daughters about: they'll show you a good time, and then disappear, leaving you heartbroken. "Their incomes rise and fall steeply with the economy," he writes, "and therefore so do state budget deficits."
Except that's not why California has a budget crisis. As the state controller reported on May 9, personal income tax collections for the first nine months of the current budget year are $1.4 billion over the estimate in Gov. Schwarzenegger's January budget and within a whisker of the amount budgeted last summer. Through the first nine months California revenues are up 1.2 percent over a year ago, thanks entirely to the income tax, which has more than made up for the decline in sales tax revenues caused by the housing crash.
This blog took a shot last week at senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill yesterday for the hypocrisy of going after ballot initiatives as part of reform proposals. But Cogdill and his Assembly counterpart Mike Villines at least are offering a number of reform ideas. It's a long, piecemeal rollout, as they tackle contracting, education, and budget reform. Given the power of labor and the fact they're the minority party, few of these ideas have much chance of passing. But it's good that they're raising issues--California desperately needs a serious, wide-ranging debate about the structure of its government, its budget system, and its tax system. Here's the latest set of proposals. Of these ideas, the ones that have the best chance of making it are the ones calling for more government transparency (requiring public agencies to publish their expenditures on the Internet in a searchable form), the elimination of some state mandates to local school districts in bad budget times, and the speeding up of voter-approved infrastructure projects.
As usual, California faces a budget crisis. And just as predictably, Californians are mired in budget confusion.
How big is the crisis? a conscientious citizen might ask. The answer is: As big as you want it to be. Just take your pick. An "$8 billion budget shortfall," reports the San Jose Mercury News. "A $10 billion gap," says the Sacramento Bee. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger uses a more technical description: "$20 billion out of whack," he recently said.
This cacophony of numbers and nouns is a big piece of California's budget problem. Not only does California routinely fail to balance its budget, it can't even talk straight about its finances.
In normal accounting and common understanding, a budget is balanced when spending doesn't exceed revenues in a budget year. If revenues are greater than spending, the difference is a surplus; if spending exceeds revenues, the difference is a deficit. Revenues are the proceeds of taxes, fees, and interest on investments.