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Monday November 13, 2000

For youngest voters, the issue is education and victory is sweet 


Defeated Prop 38 accidentally helps us older youth 


By Liz Gonzalez 

Pacific News Service 


On Tuesday, I eagerly cast my vote in what I knew would be a very close election — not Bush or Gore, but Proposition 38 was the important vote to me. 

As a student at Overfelt High School in east San Jose, I saw firsthand the ugly side of public schools. Many of the teachers were inadequate educators, and the supplies they used were shoddy at best. Our books were the same ones students used in the 1970s, and the maps were so old they were inaccurate. 

Sure there were computers, but there were so few, students always had to share even though the school is in the heart of Silicon Valley. 

Despite all those problems at my old school, I knew Prop. 38 was not the right solution. Avoiding a problem will only make it worse. The initiative was going to take money out of the system that desperately needs it. 

I was not just worried about high school students. I was concerned about my own education at Evergreen Community College. Prop. 38 would not only mean even less money going into already underfunded schools like Overfelt, but it also meant skimming money out of the pot that funds community colleges. 

No one for or against 38 brought up this point. Actually community colleges are always left out of the public education discussion, even though we have the same problems as high schools — if not worse given the slicing of affirmative action. 

If Prop. 38 passed it would have been a direct assault on working class people of color trying to get a higher education. With affirmative action cut, and costs of four-year universities rising, many more people I know are going to community college. 

Voters in California rejected prop 38 as a threat to the future of their youth, but they saved some of us older “youth” in the process. 


Props 36 and 38  

signal change of heart for voters 


By Russell Morse 

Pacific News Service 


I’ve spent about as much time in California’s public school system as I have in its criminal justice system, so I had both a vested interest and unusual insight into Propositions 36 and 38. 

Just the fact that these propositions were on the ballot was alarming. 

They seemed to say that people had lost faith in public schools and the criminal justice system. 

Now I saw first hand that these systems are not working. I cut school for 60 straight days in high school before the counseling office called my home. I sat warehoused in juvenile hall for nearly a year while probation officers and judges decided where I should be sent. 

I don’t blame these institutions for my poor judgment, but I was a drug addict at 15, and no one knew. 

As much as I know that the public schools are backward in their policy and curriculum (not to mention toilets that don’t flush), I know that abandoning them will solve nothing. 

What kind of a message are we sending to kids in public school when we say they’re beyond repair? Proposition 38 wanted to take money allotted for public schools, and give it to parents, so their children could attend private schools. 

This assumes that private schools can address problems that public schools cannot -- but it is the philosophy of education in this country that is flawed, not the practice. 

The same is true of our criminal justice system, with its philosophy based on punishment. People who commit crimes, for the most part, need help in anger management, drug and alcohol treatment, or psychological counseling. I needed all three. So did most of the kids I shared cells and washed dishes with. 

Last March, California voters approved Proposition 21, which included mandatory adult sentencing for violent or gang-related juvenile offenders. It also moved to strike the idea of rehabilitation from the juvenile justice system. 

If Proposition 21 had been in effect while I was in trouble, I would probably still be in jail. Instead, I’ve been clean for three years and I’m a sophomore at San Francisco State University. 

I expected the voters who passed 21 to reject 36, which mandates rehabilitation instead of jail for drug-related offenders. They didn’t any more than they condemned public schools. 

These votes reflect the fact that people are examining these systems. 

People see incarcerated felons — later found innocent — go free because they were convicted as a result of police corruption. 

When schools and jails start to look more alike, the situation gets worse. For instance, there are now police officers on duty at most public schools in California. This eases the transition from school to jail — a schoolyard fight which at one time might have resulted in a suspension, now becomes a police report. 

When this situation exists, trust leaves the school arena. Students see classmates taken to jail for tagging on lockers or setting off firecrackers and the situation becomes “us versus them.” Education is then replaced by enforcement. 

Tuesday’s vote is a sign that people are taking faith out of punishment and putting it into prevention. They’re rethinking criminal justice and saving public schools. It’s not a bad idea — after all, the majority of people who end up in jail are those who have been failed by the public school system. 

Both Liz Gonzalez and Russell Morse are contributors to YO! Youth Outlook, a monthly news magazine by and about Bay Area youth.