California Education Battle Pits Hollywood Against Teachers

PHOTO: LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: I AM 38 Press Conference with Edward James Olmos, Molly Munger, Melissa Revuelta, Tyler Posey, John Posey, Rick Najera and Marco Antonio Regil held at BESO Restaurant on September 26, 2012 in Los Angeles, California

At the start of third grade, John Posey was given an assignment to write a few pages on what he had done over the summer. He turned in 38 pages.

He clearly didn't follow directions and thought his teacher would be unhappy. Instead, in an importantly formative moment for the future Hollywood screenwriter and actor, Posey says his teacher recognized his talent and encouraged him towards his career.

That's something he and education advocates say happens less now with education budgets slashed, increased class sizes and teachers caught in the middle and expected to do more with less.

"In a system where they're not well-funded, a teacher might overlook that and say 'that's not what I asked for,' rather than taking a deeper look and giving the students some encouragement," said Posey, who has written screenplays for Sony, Disney and HBO.

How to fund that system, however, is a question that Californians are debating in the lead up to elections this November. At stake: How to pay for the state's much needed education costs -- by taxing all residents' income tax or increasing sales tax with a tax on the state's highest earners.

California ranks near or at bottom of many education investment measures. The state has the highest number of students per teacher (20.5), is almost last in per-pupil spending ($8,908), number of counselors (1:810), administrators (1:301) per students and has the lowest ratio of librarians (1:5,489).

John and his son Tyler Posey, who stars in MTV's Teen Wolf, have joined Edward James Olmos and other Hollywood Latinos to support California Proposition 38, an initiative that would raise an estimated $10 billion a year for K-12 education over 12 years by progressively increasing state income taxes on most Californians.

"Latinos also suffer especially when schools are underfunded," said Molly Munger, the initiative's proponent and almost exclusive funder of the bill (contributing $28 million). "Groups with higher incomes can put private money into their schools, but many Latino families cannot."

For the next decade and beyond, Prop 38 would funnel new tax money directly to schools on a per-pupil basis -- bypassing state legislators in Sacramento. The new formula would give slightly more funding to schools with older and lower-income students. For the first four years, 30 percent of the funds would go to paying down education bonds with the rest of the money used directly on students.

Funds would be tightly restricted. Politicians would not be able to divert money for other needs or use funds for teacher pay.

Few groups support the Prop 38 so far. The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers are against it and no politician has come out in support.

That's because the initiative is dueling with Governor Jerry Brown's Proposition 30, which would raise money for education and law enforcement by raising taxes on the wealthiest and sales tax for everyone.

Brown has been banking on public support for Prop 30 to fill the budget shortfall after his plan to raise income taxes failed in the legislature.

Both 30 and 38 cannot exist together. If they both pass, only the one with the most votes will become law.

If passed, Prop 30 would bring about $6 billion to the states general fund. Failure of Prop 30 would trigger $5.9 billion in cuts -- particularly to education, Brown has said.

Proponents of Prop 38 accuse the governor of fearmongering.

"It's language of weapons of mass education destruction," said writer and actor Rick Nájera, part of the campaign for Prop 38.

Many districts and school boards are have hedged their bets by supporting both propositions, according to new reports.

And as an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle admitted, it seems for Californians both choices aren't very good.

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