Commentary: UnidosUS Endorses California Propositions 15 and 16 

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On this November ballot, UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, supports two education-related propositions that could make a big impact and improve education outcomes for Latino students. The UnidosUS education team put together this summary of their position on each one.  

Author Kendall Evans is an UnidosUS Education Policy Analyst. 

Prop 15 (Schools and Communities First Initiative) 

California’s economy is the fifth largest in the world, yet its education system is critically underfunded, with funding levels well below the national average. According to the California Budget & Policy Center, the state ranks 41st in the nation in per pupil spending. The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching negative impacts on the state’s entire budget. The most significant cause of the state’s budget problem is a substantial decline in economic activity, resulting in a $42 billion shortfall in the budget. However, Proposition 15 (the Schools and Communities First Initiative) seeks to remediate this by raising revenue for public schools, community colleges, and social safety net services through a change in tax assessment of commercial and industrial property that is long overdue. 

For almost 40 years, many commercial and industrial property owners have used loopholes under Proposition 13 to avoid paying taxes based on market value—Proposition 15, if passed, will put an end to this practice and ensure that those reaping the benefits of operating in California pay their fair share for the public good. 

The pandemic has only exacerbated the needs of our most vulnerable students and families, with Latino students already facing a disproportionate impact of COVID Of the six million K-12 students attending California public schools, 54% are Latino, and Latino students are the most socioeconomically disadvantaged ethnic group in the state. English learners (ELs) in California’s public schools, of which 975,500 are Latino, are also struggling 

With Latinos projected to make up 30% of the workforce within the next few years, California must get smart and invest in education to ensure that students are receiving a quality education and are prepared to enter the workforce or college.  Proposition 15 would also help provide economic relief to students and their families by strengthening the state’s safety net. One of these programs is CalWORKs, California’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides cash assistance for low-income families with children and has seen its caseload dramatically increase. These programs are critical to keeping families afloat especially during these turbulent times. 

UnidosUS is proud to endorse Prop 15: Schools & Communities First on the November 3rd ballot in California. Prop 15 is critical for California’s recovery and will reclaim $12 billion every year for schools and local governments to resource services we depend on, like public health, affordable housing, wildfire protection, transit, infrastructure and more,” says UnidosUS California Policy Advisor Jose M. Carmona. Many Latino families live in economic insecurity and Prop 15 will provide important funding to support struggling Latino families recover from the state’s economic crisis.” 

Click here to learn more about Proposition 15.

Proposition 16 (Restore Affirmative Action) 

California is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse states in America, and when Proposition 209 passed in 1996, prohibiting the state from considering race, sex, or ethnicity in college admissions, offers of admission to Black and Latinx students at UC Berkeley and UCLA plummeted by more than 50%. Other states followed suit, rescinding their affirmative action programs in the years following— Washington in 1998, Florida in 1999, Michigan in 2006, Nebraska in 2008, Arizona in 2010, New Hampshire and Oklahoma in 2012, and Idaho in 2020. The implementation of Proposition 209, and the cessation of other affirmative action programs, had negative impacts beyond higher education. Diversity in the workforce slowed and California’s ability to directly address the racial disparities in its education system and target resources to students who have been historically marginalized were severely limited.  

Research has shown that Latinx students are less likely to drop out of high school and are more likely to aspire to college when exposed to at least one teacher of color. Yet, in a state with more than 3.3 million Latinx students in its public education system, there is only one Latinx teacher to every 52 Latinx students. Proposition 16 seeks to repeal California’s ban on affirmative action programs to increase diversity and cross-racial learning opportunities, which aids in the hiring of diverse professionals.  

Black and Latinx students’ high school graduation rates have increased over the last two decades, but in many states, their enrollment in most public colleges and universities has remained stagnant or declined, and they continue to be underrepresented at public flagship institutions. Latinos make up more than half of public-school students in the Golden State but only represent a quarter of University of California (UC) students. Race-blind admission policies have had negative impacts on all marginalized groups and repealing Proposition 209 through Proposition 16 would allow affirmative action programs to mitigate equity gaps in college admission.   

Opponents of Proposition 16 argue that state officials should not treat certain populations as though they are more valuable than others and often urge lawmakers to use race-blind policies. However, despite more than 20 years of investment in alternatives to considering race in admissions, the UC system considered one of the top public university systems in the world – has never returned to its previous levels of diversity—an indication that race-blind policies are not particularly adept at diversifying institutions of higher education or workforces. Additionally, research shows that Asian American students at more than half of the UC campuses also decreased under Proposition 209, making clear that Asian Americans do not necessarily benefit under race-blind admissions either. 

We need to call for our leaders and legislators to do much more to address systemic racism and inequality. Proposition 16 seeks to do just this. Through the restoration of equal opportunity in education, hiring, and public contracting, California will have the tools to actively address racial disparities that have for too long taken root and must be dismantled. In order to help ensure students of color have equitable access to our higher education institutions, that the teacher workforce reflects the diversity of the students they serve, it’s time to repeal Prop. 209 and reinstate affirmative action programs. 

In 1996, California passed Proposition 209 as part of a suite of anti-Latino, anti-immigrant propositions proposed and promoted by the highly conservative and racist administration of Governor Pete Wilson. The impacts of this anti-affirmative action ballot measure were immediately felt in institutions of higher education, in particular the UC system,” says UnidosUS Principal of Education Programs Feliza Ortiz-Licon. “As a Latina who has attended three UC institutions and fought to oppose Prop 209 as an undergraduate student, I believe the time is right to reverse this damaging policy. If we are serious about racial justice and equity work, we must vote Yes on Proposition 16. 

Click here to learn more about Proposition 16.  

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