Op-ed: Equitable access to quality education has the power to transform society — Vote yes on Measure E1

Berkeley has long been recognized for its diversity and openness to differences, intellectual curiosity and civic engagement.

The values of this city resonate with us as a family. A city that believes and stands for social good and gathers around each other for real collective action – be it opposition to the Vietnam War or equal access for disabled individuals – setting the stage for the country to follow its lead. A city that values equitable access to quality education at all levels, considers public education a shared endeavor and an investment in creating dynamic vibrant communities. These values attracted us to Berkeley and make us a proud resident every day.

As you get ready to cast your vote in the election next month, your opinion will also count in how local decisions are made. As a Berkeley resident, I am writing to share one such measure which will have a lasting impact on our youth — The Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP).

BSEP is a special property tax which was first adopted in 1986, and since then has been renewed consistently by the local residents who believe in the power of education to strengthen our community, most recently as Measure A in 2006. The BSEP (officially known as the E1 measure) is set to expire at the end of 2016-2017 academic year and is up for renewal in the upcoming November ballot. According to current projections, Berkeley Unified School District estimates that the funds from E1 would provide about $28 million for the public schools, beginning in 2017-18, which would be about 20% of the overall budget for the schools.

As you consider your options, I wanted to share some facts.

Berkeley Unified School District educates over 9,400 students who represent different ethnic backgrounds and income levels. The district spends an average of $12,130 per student per year, which is at par with the national average. However, it is important to understand the revenue streams that collectively add up to the average funds spent per student per year.

According to research done by NPR, school funding generally comes from a combination of three sources in the U.S. The proportion varies from state to state but, on average, looks like this: 45% local money, 45% from the state and 10% from the federal government. In Berkeley, local property taxes have provided $25 million (about 20% of the overall budget) in funding to supplement state and federal funding each year. (According to the most recent publicly available date for 2013-2014, BUSD’s combined general fund was $124.2 million. Detailed breakdown.)

When placed on top of the state and federal funding, this special property tax brings Berkeley to about the nationwide average for school funding.

The funds from the local property tax enable our district to provide high-quality instruction and equitable access to programs that help students reach their highest potential. Among other things, this means access to a literary coach, a library in every school, an enriched curriculum for our youth, including arts, music and theater, and professional development for our teachers.

The accountability for these funds rests with the Planning and Oversight Committee. This committee comprises of representatives from each school who review the implementation of many aspects of the BSEP measure. In addition, independent auditors review the expenditures to ensure that funds are used and accounted for in accordance with the terms of the measure.

As you go to vote this year, please consider the facts and surface your questions.

Equitable access to quality education has the power to transform society. Our schools enable young people to maximize their potential, respect differences and work together and build a strong foundation for a future that we cannot yet predict. Let’s support our teachers and educators who work hard every day to shape the future by voting YES on Measure E1 in November.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Email submissions as Word documents or embedded in the email to editors@berkeleyside.com. The recommended length is 500-800 words. Please include your name and a one-line bio that includes full, relevant disclosures. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Avi Khullar is a Berkeley resident and has a son who attends a Berkeley public school. The opinions expressed in this article are personal and not based on professional affiliations.