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SKELTON: Is Brown's plan for schools unfair?

  • In this photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown gestures during a news conference at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. Brown, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 will propose his third state budget that must address an estimated $1.9 billion deficit.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

A revenue redistribution scheme probably was not what Californians had in mind when they passed Gov. Jerry Brown's tax increase to salvage public schools.

But as it turns out, the tax hike, Proposition 30, was essential to help pay for the governor's plan to redistribute state education money — sending more to mostly inner-city schools at the expense of suburban districts.

Brown's proposal wouldn't work without Proposition 30. But voters weren't told about that during the election campaign.

The governor wasn't quoting Aristotle, as he did later after Proposition 30 passed comfortably in November.

"Our future depends on disproportionately funding those schools that have disproportionate challenges," Brown told reporters in January while unveiling a new budget proposal that contained his redistribution plan for school money.

"Aristotle said treating unequals equally is not justice." And two weeks later during his State of the State address, Brown put it this way: "A child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more help. Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice." Brown certainly has a good point: Poor children and kids who struggle with English deserve extra help. And that usually means more money.

But it shouldn't come at the expense of more advantaged children — middle- and upper-class kids — who also must fulfill their potential if California is to be competitive economically in the 21st century. Most of their schools were hit hard during the recession, many losing counselors, librarians, art and music while class sizes grew.

What's needed is a larger pie — along with some vital reforms that aren't even being discussed — not a redistribution of the current pie, which amounts to practically the lowest per-pupil funding in the nation.

But none of that was part of the Proposition 30 debate.

That tax increase, first and foremost, was aimed at avoiding $5.4 billion in additional whacks at K-12 schools and community colleges, plus $500 million in cuts at the public universities. And Proposition 30 did do that.


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