California’s Proposition 13 education bond is a much needed solution for aging campuses

By Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, Special to CalMatters

More California high school graduates are academically ready for college than ever before and expanding access to higher education would benefit them and the state’s economy.

To meet student demand and the need for an educated workforce, expansion of facilities and fire and other life safety improvements in buildings at California’s public colleges and universities are urgently needed. 

The state must protect its 151-year investment in its public higher education system to fulfill its commitment to educate these students.   

Approving Proposition 13, a $15 billion bond measure on the March 3 ballot, would help address the most critically needed seismic repairs and improvements of buildings and other infrastructure at California’s pre-K-12 schools and public universities.

Proposition 13 would be the first bond measure since 2006 to provide significant money for UC’s and CSU’s infrastructure.

With almost unanimous bipartisan support, the Legislature supported this investment in education when it approved Assembly Bill 48 authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Long Beach Democrat, and Sen. Steve Glazer, Orinda Democrat. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill placing Proposition 13 on the March 3 ballot.

Proposition 13 would allocate $9 billion to pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public schools and $100 million to charter and technical schools. A total of $6 billion would go to California’s public higher education system, divided equally among the 114 community colleges, the 10-campus University of California system and the 23-campus California State University system.

Projects that address fire and life safety issues, seismic deficiencies and critical deferred maintenance issues in laboratories, classrooms, dormitories and other facilities would be given top priority.

The UC and CSU systems would not receive any bond funds unless they have plans in place to provide more housing for students. There would be public hearings before CSU and UC governing boards to determine spending priorities on projects. There also would be annual independent audits so taxpayers could see how the money is spent.

Proposition 13 is needed to have the skilled workforce that is critical to a thriving California economy. The state’s public higher education system must have up-to-date classrooms, scientific laboratories, libraries and facilities that keep pace with current technology.

Unfortunately, state funds for capital investment in California dropped sharply during the Great Recession, especially at four-year universities and colleges.  

As a result, many students in California’s public higher education system find themselves inside seismically deficient classrooms and laboratories, and shut out of certain courses because of the limited available class space.  

A recent study found that UCLA and UC Berkeley have at least 84 seismically deficient structures.

The public university system is aging.

Nearly 60% of the UC’s public-use space is more than 30 years old, with 42% of that space built between 1950 and 1980. In the California State University system, half the space is 40 years or older, and a third is more than 50 years old. UC and CSU have reported capital needs of more than $16 billion for short-term and long-term projects.

Recent initiatives have helped increase enrollment, graduation rates and the number of degrees awarded at UC and CSU.  

As the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California noted in a recent report: “Substantial gains in these areas—particularly among historically underrepresented groups—would help improve equity, boost economic mobility, increase tax revenue and put less pressure on the social safety net.”

Our public universities must be ready to educate these students. Proposition 13 recognizes the critical role the state plays in creating high-quality colleges and universities across California.

As the state continues to improve higher education access and success, we must support Proposition 13 to provide the funding needed to revitalize aging facilities so that they will be safe places to learn and will have the capacity to meet the increasing number of students seeking higher education.

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Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former Republican state senator from Orange County,  [email protected] Levine is a former Democratic member of Congress from Los Angeles, [email protected] They wrote this commentary for CalMatters. To read their past commentaries for CalMatters, please click here, here, and here.

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