My experience in tabling for Yes on Prop. 30 and No on Prop.32 on a California campus for the last six weeks has reminded me of a major problem – we are not communicating and educating the vast majority of people of the need to support public education and public services.
In one recent experience a beyond middle age African American woman stopped to discuss California Prop. 30, an effort to fund schools, universities, and public services. I will use her case as an example. Her experience as a college student was that her fees went up. Over the last 4 years university fees went up over $1,500. Her experience was that her fees were pushing her out of the university. Her question, why do my fees go up ? Doesn’t the federal government pay for our education ?
Well, no. Public education at the k-12 level is 88% paid for by state taxes, and at the university level it is 50% paid for by state taxes. But, she doesn’t know this and as a result, she has no context for making this important decision on Prop.30. – and she, and 50% of California voters- may well vote wrong
K-12 education makes up 42.8% of all the state budget. The economic crisis since 2007 has caused a crippling decline in state revenues to the schools. In 2006/2007, California spend $ 8,801 per student. In 2011/2012, the state will spend $ 7,229 per pupil. California ranks 47 out of the 50 states in per pupil expenditure, and 50th in class size. Our students are suffering.
Although the campaign does an excellent job of making ads, I believe that the basic lack of comprehension of the budget issues adds to the No vote on Prop. 30 and other efforts to reverse austerity budgets.
Politicians, advocates, and ads repeat stories that contain a kernel of truth, and they urge voting as a response. But, if voters do not understand the broader budget ( for example Prop. 98), these campaign efforts only reach a small portion of potential voters. Social media does not resolve this problem. The central problem of social media is talking to people in your network. People in some networks have the background information, but people in most networks are completely uninformed with basic economic data on schools.
Beyond campaign work, we need build long range and active educational efforts to help all people understand the public services they use and depend upon. Who funds (most) schools ? Why are those schools open? Who funds (most ) colleges and universities ? Who pays for police protection, fire protection, and emergency responses? Who are all those workers cleaning up the mess in the East, repairing electric lines, pumping out water ?
There is an interesting article on The Welfare State in America on In These Times by Peter Frase and Bhaskar Sunkara, but they don't really deal with how do we do popular education for the vast majority of voters who are not in our relatively narrow networks. How do we educate that education and social programs benefit everyone ?
I welcome ideas on this. I am stumped ?