California’s Proposition 15 (Prop 15) — otherwise known as Schools and Communities First, was rejected by a very small margin: only 52% to 48% as projected by the Associated Press. Prop 15 was the largest attempt to help reimagine the public education system. It proposed to undo a California constitutional change made by 1978 Proposition 13 that limited increases on property tax levels in California, reassessing the values of corporate property holdings and taxing them on their current values. The estimated 11.5 billion dollars yearly generated by the tax increases were to be distributed with 60% going to local governments and 40% going to K-12 public schools and community colleges. Supporters of Prop 15 argue that large wealthy companies have been able to avoid taxes that they could easily afford, preventing much-needed funding from reaching local governments and schools. While Proposition 15 had significant support from community organizations and elected officials, the opposing movement was backed by many wealthy companies and organizations, leading to an eventual failure.
I spoke with Cathrine Bracy, CEO, and co-founder of TechEquity and part of the Schools and Communities First coalition. TechEquity’s role in the coalition was to raise money and support from California tech companies. She argued Prop 13’s tax cuts discouraged startup competition because of the advantage it gave larger, more well-established companies from the 20th century. Most tech companies are fairly new and pay much higher property taxes because of their recent property purchases. TechEquity and the larger Coalition hoped to convince these Tech companies to endorse the campaign for the benefits they would receive. While these corporations were the target of TechEquity’s support efforts, the main goal of Prop 15 was not to support companies, but Californians themselves who are being hurt by Prop 13. “We needed to address Prop 13 if we were going to live in a Bay Area where the growing economy was benefiting everybody,” says Bracy.
While California’s economy is consistently growing, our public school systems are perpetually underfunded, in large part because of Prop 13 and stagnant education funding. The main source for public education in every other state in the country is property taxes, and according to a 2018 report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California ranked 29th in the nation in per-student spending. Other states, even those who are notoriously anti-tax, have more funding for their education system because of the way their property taxes function. The lack of funding for school disproportionately affects marginalized youth, whose families can not afford to supplement their education. Lack of funding also means a lack of support systems within schools, such as counselors, food programs, and afterschool programs, all of which are crucial in helping disadvantaged youth succeed. The Schools and Communities First coalition and everyone involved were hoping to patch up the gaps left by the lack of funding, investing instead in the education system. Prop 15 aimed to directly address the problems caused by Prop 13 and the state’s lack of funding, and its failure will have a significant effect on local governments and schools going forward.