San Francisco mayoral candidates voice their plans for education

While each candidate for mayor of San Francisco has a general idea of how to handle education woes in the city, few candidates have a solid plan of how to deal with the issue of funding for education, the root of the problem.

“We (San Francisco Unified School District) get it worse than the universities… at least the universities can raise tuition. We can’t raise money,” said SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia. “It’s just unfortunate that… we say we value education but we don’t put our money where our mouth is.”

The state legislature has consistently reduced funding for education throughout the past five years. As of the 2009-2010 fiscal year, California was 44th in the nation in general funding per student in K-12 education alone, according to Close the Loophole, a website committed to fixing the damage to funding created by Proposition 13, which limits the amount of money the state can receive from property taxes.

In 1988, California’s Proposition 98, designed to fix Proposition 13’s problems, guaranteed that 40 percent of the state’s general fund would go to K-12 schools and community colleges.

Yet, the budget continues to get slashed. Between the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 fiscal years, annual state funding for schools K-12 has decreased by $6.3 billion, forcing schools to reduce the number of school days, increase class sizes and reduce or eliminate summer school.

The SFUSD has lost $27 million in general funding from the state, $561 per student, between 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, according to the California Budget Project. The city of San Francisco cut $113 million from education in 2010 alone.

“The reality is that we are going to have to pay more taxes, we are gonna have to do this, but isn’t the future worth it?” Garcia said. “How short-sighted could we be that we’re not willing to invest in our own future?”

In the meantime, the reduced funding has taken its toll on higher education at SF State, and some students hope that the new mayor will be able to help.

“More focus on education for sure, I think that would be the biggest necessity,” said Brieanna Wright, 22, counseling graduate student at SF State. Her biggest hope for the next mayor is that the he or she will put more energy into advocating for education. Wright wants the mayor to “focus on not allowing resources to dwindle in K-12 and then limit the already limited funnel into higher education.”

Although the mayor of San Francisco has no direct control over the budget and its implementation, the position does allow the mayor to propose a budget to the Board of Supervisors. The mayor can also use the influence of the position and advocate certain priorities for the government.

“The mayor doesn’t have direct responsibility over education,” said District 11 Supervisor John Avalos. “I want to be a mayor with a lot of education connections.”

Some mayoral candidates, including Supervisor David Chiu, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, venture capitalist Joanna Rees, Interim Mayor Ed Lee, State Senator Leland Yee and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, believe they can make a change by simply making the mayor the primary supporter for education.

“I believe the mayor should be the chief education advocate for the city and thinking about public schools and how to improve them in relation to job creation, in relation to community, in relation to safety and security in the city,” said Rees in her official campaign video. Rees has said that the issue of education is her “moment of obligation” and the reason she is running for mayor.

Former District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty believes in focusing primarily on the SFUSD; both Chiu and Yee believe that the mayor should be the primary advocate for increased funding for education. Yee has a track record in the state Senate of opposing tuition increases for students and has consistently advocated for increased education funding.

Chiu, Rees and Public Defender Jeff Adachi want to use private sector and business involvement to integrate private and public schools, and work with businesses to get internships for students.

“As mayor, I will seek to establish internship programs with private sector companies to facilitate the transition from school to work for students in our schools,” Adachi said on his campaign website.

Ultimately Garcia thinks it’s up to the students to make the change.

“We stand up to the governor, the legislature and we say ‘Hey what you’re doing is wrong,’ but it can’t be done with single voices,” Garcia said. “It has to be done with everybody caring enough to walk, to talk and say to our leaders ‘Enough.’”

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