News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.
Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.
October 30, 2020
By Jimmy Le
The COVID-19 pandemic remains uncontained and most school buildings remain closed. The burden of pandemic learning losses is not felt evenly, exacerbating learning gaps between students of color and their whiter, wealthier peers. Educators and childcare providers are trying to meet the needs of all students and families, especially those disproportionately affected by distance learning, but risks to health and historical underfunding prevent safe and holistic services.
But Prop 15, a measure on the ballot this November, could restore $12 billion to our schools and help build the kind of wraparound services that are necessary for a COVID learning recovery that benefits all students.
The distance learning model has put pressure on families to have food, Wi-Fi, stable housing, and adults present to ensure that students learn. Christian Martinez, a Newcomer Specialist at San Francisco’s Francisco Middle School, said of his students,, “They don’t have Wi-Fi at the house. They’re renting and sharing a room with multiple families, sometimes people they don’t know. And when [school staff] try to call them to help, sometimes they don’t pick up because their line was cut.”
As Chris’s experience with his students shows, the shift to distance learning makes everything even more difficult for the 370,000 students who lack stable housing in California and relied on physically being at school to learn and access services. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that most, if not all, of these students are unable to engage in distance learning.
Even when students are online, engagement is sparse since the school day structure is difficult for students to follow without someone physically present to keep them engaged. For many students, going to school during the Covid-19 pandemic means logging onto Zoom where their presence equates to being another box with a name on the screen. Isolation and lack of engagement intensifies students’ challenges to learn and increases the anxiety that stems from exposing their living situation over video and mic in large virtual classrooms. In response, educators are doing their best to meet students where they are at, by providing small study groups and one-on-one tutoring.
Distance learning has emphasized the importance and value of having a wide variety of school professionals present for students. “When we were in person,” Christian said, “students had a handful of adults outside of their teachers to confide in, explore their interests with, and to redirect them. But now they’re not in a confined space with us and can ignore our multiple phone calls to support them.”
Instead, these responsibilities get passed to guardians who are already spread thin between working or looking for work, finding stable housing, and taking care of other domestic responsibilities. Some parents have a language barrier that makes it harder for them to support learning using English materials. Childcare providers and educators are providing in-person community hubs to lift some of the weight off guardians but require intense labor power. American schools should have been prepared to support students and families like other countries are doing; however no aid from the federal government and budgets inadequate to the needs of students and staff continue to be insuperable hurdles.
During the 1960s and 70s, citizens of California experienced the “perfect storm” to rally behind Prop 13–a measure that aimed to help homeowners reduce their taxes but created loopholes that provide two-thirds of its tax relief to the wealthiest economic entities in California.
It has been over 40 years since Prop 13 was passed and corporations are disproportionately benefiting from its preferential loopholes. For example Chevron has avoided paying its fair share of $100 million per year in property taxes, while it pollutes the air, doubles the risk for asthma for people living near its refineries, and has been the cause for at least 15,124 trips to the emergency room in Richmond due to respiratory issues.
Meanwhile, the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the commercial property loophole directly costs California between $8-$12 billion per year in lost revenue, which is about 6 years worth of state education budgets for k-12 and community colleges. Almost immediately after Prop 13 was passed, schools lost assistant principals, nurses, counselors, therapists, teachers, and janitorial staff. Communities lost libraries, after-school programs, and summer camps. Recently, California was reported to be 46th in the nation in per-pupil spending–previously top 5–as a result of being $3000 short than the national average. This historic loss of funding cut all the essential services to keep schools open and students learning during a national crisis.
Let’s be clear: Prop 15 will not raise property taxes for homeowners and small businesses. Instead, it’s specifically written to close the commercial property tax loophole that disproportionately benefits corporations and billionaires while schools and communities are left to raise funds for essential services. To be more specific, Prop 15 would actually exclude all residential properties from tax increases and protect small businesses by only targeting properties worth more than $3 million.
With a possible pandemic depression on the horizon, the revenue coming from Prop 15 is essential to a COVID-19 recovery. American lives are more disrupted now than they were during World War II when “life went on” and schools were open. We are facing an unprecedented problem of helping the majority of students regain lost learning and helping them to cope with the social-emotional and mental stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robert Slavin, Professor and Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at John Hopkins University, explains how tutoring–the most effective form of intervention for students falling behind–would be critical to COVID-19 recovery for students and beneficial for college graduates entering the workforce during an economic recession. He calls for a “Marshall plan for tutors” which would create thousands of tutoring jobs for young people while closing learning gaps widened by the pandemic. With the $12 billion from Prop 15, similar to the intentions of Prop 30, we can start bridging the gap for our students and support economic growth through a people-first model instead of a model that prioritizes profit.
We are less than a week away from election day and we need a two-thirds majority of votes to pass Prop 15. Our students are in dire need of highly skilled individuals to be their life line. “All students need this support. It doesn’t matter if you are high-risk or valedictorian. All kids need holistic information and social interactions. They need all the different mentors and perspectives,” says Christian. He’s right: our students need the full picture to effectively navigate our sick system, especially after losing almost a year’s worth of learning.
We need to rally behind Prop 15 to implement a progressive tax that invests in our schools and communities by drawing revenue from corporate billionaires. So I ask that you and everyone in your immediate circle vote yes for Prop 15, among other progressive ballot items, to revitalize our schools and equip them to help students and families recover from the messed up reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.