Update below: PTA issues a letter to California’s teachers explaining its support of Prop 38.
All pretense of goodwill is gone between backers of the two competing education tax measures on November’s ballot.
State Board of Education President Mike Kirst and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg joined union leaders Monday in sending a strongly worded letter to Molly Munger, the primary backer of Proposition 38, asking her not to run TV ads criticizing Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s school funding measure. Kirst also emailed PTA district presidents, implying they should pressure Munger “to do all in your power to stop this destructive course of action.” The state PTA, bucking education groups representing school boards, unions, and administrators, is a co-sponsor, with Munger, of Prop 38.
The letters to Munger and the PTA follow a TV interview in Los Angeles on Sunday in which Munger called Prop 30 TV ads featuring Brown “utterly deceptive,” marking a turning point that advocates for more education funding have feared: both campaigns going negative on each other, to the potential destruction of both.
In the latest polls, Prop 30, which would raise $6 billion annually for the General Fund by increasing the income tax for the wealthiest earners, along with a temporary sales tax increase, has a precarious majority barely breaking 50 percent.
Prop 38, which would raise $10 billion for K-12 schools and early childhood education by increasing the income tax on most earners, has backing of only 41 percent of voters in a recent Field Poll, although Munger insists internal polls indicate increasing support.
In their letter, 10 leaders, who include heads of the state’s largest unions, wrote Munger that a “positive campaign from both the Prop 30 and 38 campaigns will create the highest likelihood that students in California will benefit from the November election.” And they took a swipe at Munger’s brother, physicist Charles Munger Jr., who has donated $23 million into a campaign fund opposing Prop 30 and supporting Proposition 32, which would restrict the ability of unions to raise campaign money from their members. Munger has already spent $28 million promoting Prop 38.
“If you launch these Prop. 30 comparison attack ads you will be the second Munger spending millions against our students and schools. In the end, the Munger family could be known as the millionaires who destroyed California’s schools and universities,” they wrote. The state budget passed in June assumes the passage of Prop 30. Its defeat would “trigger” $6 billion in cuts for K-12 schools and higher education.
Munger has been ambiguous about encouraging a “yes” vote for both Props 30 and 38, as some education groups, including the California School Boards Association and the parent activist group Educate Our State, are promoting. The state PTA has not taken a position for or against Prop 30. In an interview with EdSource Today, she called Prop 30 the governor’s “band-aid approach” and said that voters would prefer Prop 38 once they learned more about it.
In the interview Sunday on NBC4 in Los Angeles, Munger said the Yes On 38 campaign would not produce ads opposing Prop 30, but would do “compare and contrast” ads. “Part of the communication is to make the distinction between 30 and 38: “’Don’t be confused; you know 38 is the one you want.’ So absolutely, we will be trying to communicate that,” she said.
She acknowledged that proponents of Prop 30 have asked her not to do comparison ads, which they interpret as negative. But she said false claims in the Prop 30 campaign’s recent ads, that it “was all for schools, that it would send money directly to schools,” compel her to respond.
“Prop 30 is really a budget patch, is going around saying it’s the schools initiative when we, who are really the schools initiative, are being asked not to say anything,” said told newscaster Conan Nolan. “Well, no, if you are going to say you are something you are not, we do have to say that’s not actually the case.”
Under the state’s education funding formula, K-12 schools and community colleges would get about half of the $6 billion annually that Prop 30 would raise for the General Fund. Because the initiative would bring in new revenue, this would be a permanent increase in the funding guarantee under Proposition 98.
By not mentioning other uses for the new revenue, one of the latest Prop 30 ads, featuring Brown, could be seen as implying that all of the money would go to education. Other ads accurately state that Prop 30 would restore money that has been cut from education, fix the state budget deficit and prevent further cuts for schools.
Munger and Prop 38 proponents take umbrage over claims in Prop 30 ads that Sacramento politicians could not tamper with Prop 30 revenue. Legislators technically would retain the power to reallocate money for schools by suspending Prop 98 if they chose. Prop 38 would funnel money into a special fund that would allocate money directly to school sites, outside of the state budget.
In an email Monday night, Paul Richman, executive director of the state PTA, said that PTA leaders had not viewed the upcoming TV ads and reaffirmed the organization’s strong support for Prop 38. He also called on Prop 30 supporters to stop criticizing Prop 38.
“As the campaign season heads into the final month, it’s important for the public and the media to stay focused on distinguishing the real and substantive policy choices voters will make,” he wrote.
Prop 30 backers would add that it’s also important to stay focused on the tax initiative that polls seem to indicate, with less than a month before the election, has the best and perhaps only chance of winning.
Update: On Tuesday, State PTA President Carol Kocivar released a three-page letter to teachers in California explaining why PTA supports Proposition 38.
It reads in part: “The idea is simple and straightforward: Generate significant additional revenue to start to restore the programs and services that have been cut. Move California out of the basement in school funding. Make sure new dollars go directly to every single public school in California to support our children, help our teachers and improve our schools. And ensure the new money goes for things we know improve student achievement and readiness for college and careers,” she wrote.
“That’s the motive and passion behind our efforts, pure and simple. PTA supports Proposition 38 because it provides more money for every local school, guaranteed, for 12 years – a generation of kids. And it requires local parent and educator input into how the new dollars are spent at each school.”