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Dr. Gary Mangiofico: Our children’s future is at stake

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Posted: May 16, 2009 2:51 p.m.
Updated: May 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has recently been traveling across the state, arguing for the passage of the six propositions on Tuesday’s statewide special election ballot. He has called the package a needed “budget reform.”

Every Californian who has suffered through the twists and turns of our state budget process welcomes the idea of a procedure that will, in the future, avoid partisan gridlock. Polarization and ideology have often paralyzed the Legislature during budget negotiations.

That is why we would welcome efforts to make the boom-and-bust budget cycle of our state’s spending less likely to recur.

However, in looking at the special election, it is prudent to remember the architect Mies Van Der Rohe’s words: “God is in the details.”

As a nonprofit organization that promotes early childhood education efforts throughout Los Angeles County, including in Santa Clarita, Los Angeles Universal Preschool encourages voters to carefully review the implications of one particular proposition — 1D.

Proposition 1D would have a significant impact on efforts to promote early childhood education, as it would have a direct impact on

First 5 LA, a commission that funds services for children throughout Los Angeles County during the critical first five years of their lives.

First 5 LA, which in turn funds Los Angeles Universal Preschool, is 100 percent funded by the tobacco tax, as mandated by California voters following passage of Proposition 10 in 1998.

Proposition 1D specifies that Proposition 10 revenues should be used to fund other, existing state service programs for children up to the age of 5, and would divert substantial Proposition 10 funds over a five-year period.

Proposition 1D would seize $268 million per year of tobacco tax money, or half of the current revenue the tax generates, for five years and use it to help balance the state’s general fund.

Because the number of smokers in California is declining, by the fifth year, the initiative would grab up to 70 percent of the tobacco tax revenues.

California taxpayers spend billions of dollars on public education each year, yet there are few programs — like the ones provided by Los Angeles Universal Preschool and First 5 LA — designed specifically to help prepare children to enter school in good health, ready and able to learn, and emotionally well developed.

Proposition 1D threatens to undo that.

I urge voters to find out whether the Legislature intends to ensure that vital programs — like high-quality preschool education and health-care services to children of Santa Clarita Valley families that are funded by tobacco tax money — can continue to receive adequate funding should Proposition 1D pass.

That is unlikely, because Proposition 1D would shift First 5 LA funds to plug up other holes in the state budget. Proposition 1D states that the money will be used to protect funding for other health and human services programs.

However, it does not unequivocally call for cuts in those programs if the initiative does not pass.

Contrary to what the ballot summary states, this shift in funding will not “protect” vital services for children. Instead, it will severely damage the abilities of children and families to access essential health and early education services.

Any proposed cuts resulting from Proposition 1D are also targeted primarily at low-income families. Although services provided by Los Angeles Universal Preschool and other First 5 commissions around the state are not exclusive to low-income families, they do receive the bulk of the direct services that are provided.

Simply said, Proposition 1D could eliminate crucial funding for children’s programs that include health care services and early childhood education.

At Los Angeles Universal Preschool, we have a simple mission: We do not want any child entering our K-12 school system to start behind, because a boy or girl who starts behind usually ends up being left behind.

That is why, on May 19, voters will have an important say on which direction our state will take when it comes to giving our children a good start in school, to better prepare them for the global economy.

There is too much at stake to let this program be cut.

Dr. Gary Mangiofico is chief executive officer of Los Angeles Universal Preschool. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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