Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Why Kids Deserve a Share of the ERAF Surplus

San Francisco has a ”good” problem, and it’s trying to figure out how to spend $185 million of the $415 million surplus from a fund originally designated for education.

There’s a back story; the Educational Augmentation Revenue Fund came about in 1992 after Prop. 13 had shifted the responsibility for funding education to the state in order to shift some of it back to counties. But after this shift, almost all counties fall short of contributing their share through ERAF for their school districts, so the state usually has to kick in the difference. Our neighboring counties including Marin and San Mateo were among the elite few awash in property taxes, with discretion on spending the excess funds after K-12 and community colleges were accounted for. It’s a wonder that San Francisco had not attained that special status until the past few years, discovered only in late 2018.

The Mayor and Supervisors in San Francisco have put forth different proposals for the spending of these surplus funds. The budget and finance committee hearing on Feb. 6th was packed with people advocating for money to go to education. Mayor London Breed’s plan would have allocated it entirely to homelessness and affordable housing. Supervisor Gordon Mar has proposed a way to use $52 million from the reserves in that surplus to provide negotiated raises for SFUSD teachers and also support early childhood educators. This proposal has broad support in the Board of Supervisors.

San Francisco has many families in need concentrated in the public schools, and even the middle class is struggling in this expensive city. We cannot afford to pinch pennies in educating our youth.  Superintendent Vincent Matthews recently wrote about the SFUSD pathways programs that offer hands-on learning and 21stcentury skills. At City College, we’ve collaborated with SFUSD on bringing our programs in this sphere, such as Computer Networking & IT, to their students. This is just one of the initiatives that provide broader learning options for a diverse student body at SFUSD. Because they’re hands on, these programs need equipment and teacher training. If California, boasting an economy larger than most nations, ranks a shameful 43rdin per pupil spending in this country, why does it not make sense to invest more in our youth and their future given the opportunity?

We need to pay our educators so they aren’t hanging by a thread to live in SF and surrounding cities. This goes for the west side which is just as affected by displacement and the affordability crisis as other neighborhoods. According to a Stanford/SFUSD survey, nearly two-thirds of teachers spend over 30% of their paycheck on rent. Each year the district loses one out of eight teachers — not to mention para-educators and staff in and outside classrooms.

Again, schools in the Richmond and Sunset are experiencing high turnover; a Hoover counselor described losses of as many as 12 out of 50 faculty. A west side school had teacher attrition that’s twice the district average! The ripple effects are felt by students, families and school staff, and the district scrambles to hire enough credentialed teachers by August every year. We need to ensure that the Prop. G funds for raises and professional development are met for the long-term.

When we look at the competing proposals for this ERAF surplus, it’s important to think long term. First of all, it’s unlikely that the so-called windfall will go away in future years, barring a recession so severe that it would undercut the tax base of SF properties. So whatever the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor decide will set a precedent as hundreds of millions in surplus funds show up on the books each year. Secondly, if you take the long view on education, we have an opportunity to do right by our youngest and in some cases, most vulnerable. Quality programs for early childhood education do make an impact, improving literacy skills and decreasing the need for special education services. For low-income families, access to childcare means job stability for parents and nurturing care for youngsters. We have long waiting lists in San Francisco for subsidized programs; putting resources into caring for our youngest “keeps San Francisco working” and has lifelong impacts for children.

The ERAF ‘windfall’ came at an opportune time, just as Howard Jarvis Association and others are holding up recent ballot measures in court, claiming that citizen-led initiatives which requires thousands of signatures need to be held to a 2/3 margin of voters. This was directed at the universal childcare measure known as ‘Baby’ Prop. C, but affects November’s Prop. C for housing and the homeless and Prop. G for educators. All three measures deserve consideration. And if we care about our kids in this city, let’s put more money into education which will yield the greatest fruits over time.

What you can do: The full Board of Supervisors will vote on the spending of ERAF funds at SF City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 12. Go to https://sfbos.org/about-board for updates.

Li Miao Lovett
City College Academic Counselor
Free City Steering Committee


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