View from Lodi, CA: Must We Finance Our Own Dispossession?


To paraphrase Ronald Reagan in
his presidential debate against Jimmy Carter, “Here we
go again.” We`re back to the races with

school bonds
.

In 1998, Californians passed Proposition 1A, a $9.2
billion statewide bond issue to construct new schools
and to repair dilapidated facilities. That considerable
sum is long gone.

Now, tax-weary Californians are being asked to approve

Proposition 47
, a $13.05 statewide general bond
obligation to continue upgrading existing K-12
classrooms and to construct 46,000 new classrooms. Also
in November, 90 California communities will vote on $10
billion in local school bonds. A little further down the
road, in March 2004 another $12 billion in bonds—mostly
allocated to schools—will reappear on the statewide
ballot. All this comes on top of November 2001 and March
2002 bond issues wherein voters approved $4.7 billion
for local school bonds.

Tallied up, since 1998, $50 billion in school bonds have
been either approved or are on the ballot.

That`s

billion with a “B.”

And Californians can bet their bottom dollar that they
will be asked to pony up again in 2006 and 2008. No sum
will ever be enough.

As usual, voters hear that we need more schools, more
classrooms, more teachers, and generally

more of everything
. We must spend, spend, spend “for
our children.”

But since it is increasingly clear that California
cannot

keep up with the demand
for schools or find the
necessary teachers, the logical question is why does
California have to go so deeply into the well so often?

Why, for example, will California need at least 16 new
classrooms, seven days a week for the next five years?

Why are some school districts discussing the possibility
of double sessions or Saturday classes?

Why are the hallways in many Los Angeles Unified School
District schools so crowded that administrators have
lengthened the time between classes so that students
will have enough time to get to their next session?

Answer: the

major reason
California can`t build schools fast
enough is the continued arrival to California of
legal and

illegal immigrants
. The children of these
immigrants add to California`s already overburdened
schools.

According to the Demographic Department of the
California Department of Education, the number of

English Learners
(ELs) in the state has increased
every year over the last decade. In 2002, of
California`s 6.2 million K-12 students, 1.6 million are
ELs. In 1992, total ELs were 1.2 million of a total
enrollment of 5.2 million. ELs as a percentage of total
enrollment increased from 22% in 1993 to 26% in 2002.

The $8 billion cost to educate ELs represents a very
significant chunk of the $24 billion California state
deficit.

Those statistics are dramatic enough. But if you crunch
the numbers in different ways, then they become
staggering.

In February 2002, the Public Policy Institute of
California (www.ppic.org)
issued its report,

“The Linguistic Landscape of California Schools.”

[PDF]

The PPIC discovered that, over the last two decades, the
percentage increase ELs in 11 different California
geographic areas has skyrocketed: in Los Angeles, 231%;
in San Francisco, 246%; in the Inland Empire, 656%; in
the San Joaquin Valley, 516%; in San Diego, 334%; in
Sacramento, 596%; in the Central Coast, 327%; in the
Sacramento Valley, 533%; in the North Coast, 456%; in
the Foothills, 307%; and in Mountain Area, 543%.

When you recover from those statistics, try these on for
size. As a proportion of the current year`s total new
school enrollment, (percentage increase) ELs are: in Los Angeles, 38%; San
Francisco, 23%;  the Inland Empire, 133%; the San
Joaquin Valley, 75%; San Diego, 57%; Sacramento, 69%; 
the Central Coast, 49%;  the Sacramento Valley, 42%; 
the North Coast, 25%; the Foothills, 50%; and the
Mountain Area, 7%.

One of Proposition 47`s selling points is that “our
children” deserve the best educational environment the
state can provide. But are these really “our children”
or are they children who have come to America to, among
other reasons, take advantage of

free public education
?

And yes, I realize that some of the ELs are U.S.-born
children of immigrants. But that

technicality
is another story in the U.S.`s flawed
immigration policy.

Proposition 47 represents the continued failure of state
and federal officials to look for long-term solutions to
critical problems. Schools bonds—as painful as they are
to state and local taxpayers—are the easy way out.

To solve California`s school crisis, politicians would
have to go where they dare not—to a long, harsh look at
our immigration policies.

But since realistic laws are not on the horizon,
citizens concerned about the soaring cost of education
would do well to a send a loud and clear message that
enough is enough.

You don`t have the opportunity to vote directly on

federal immigration laws
; you`ll have to express
yourself indirectly.

Vote “No” on Proposition 47.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.