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Children issues gain at polls.

In last week's elections, the ballot box proved to be a powerful advocate for children's and educational issues.

Widespread support for these issues is evident from results in San Francisco and four other cities where voters said "yes" on issues affecting the children in their communities. Besides San Francisco, municipalities with children's issues on the ballot included Seattle and the Ohio cities of Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

"The trend is clearly there. If people believe the funding will indeed go to children's services, then they will vote for the initiative," states Jule M. Sugarman, chairman of the Center on Effective Services for Children in Washington, D.C. Tuesday's election indicates that many voters believe that increased funds are necessary to meet the needs of children.

San Francisco

San Francisco's initiative is known as Proposition J. It is a charter amendment which requires a portion of the property tax revenues to be earmarked for children.

Fifty-four percent of San Francisco's voters feel that Proposition J is an idea whose time has finally come. For many years, child care advocates had lobbied City Hall for increased funding. City officials agreed that it was an important issue, but there was not any money. Margaret Brodkin, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Childre and Youth, decided to take the issue to the voters.

She gathered more than 60,000 signatures in a petition drive, far more than the 40,000 needed to get the proposition on the ballot.

This broad support from the citizenry was later joined by elected officials. Mayor Art Agnos as well as seven City Supervisors supported Proposition J. "We are very pleased that this initiative passed, and have already started the implementation process" according to the mayor's office on the day following the election.

In contrast to other proposals, Proposition J does not increase taxes. This ten year charter amendment requires the City to earmark 2.5 percent of its property tax revenues for a Children's Fund.

The proposition will add approximately $13 million per year to the Children's Fund for the next ten years. The funds can only be used for children's services such as child care, job training and placement, prenatal services to pregnant adult women, and educational programs

Proposition J received endorsements from various political officials, and organizations such as the police, senior citizen associations, and gay groups.

A major fear of the proposition's authors was that the amendment would pit children's advocates against other groups who also need extra funding. The realization of the severity of the problem, however, diffused any such competition. There was no backlash from the other interest groups.

Although there was no organized opposition, some individuals and groups voiced their reservations about the amendment. "It is robbing Peter to pay Paul" says State Senator Quentin L. Kopp. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce voiced its strong commitment to support children's issues, but opposed the proposition. In its position statement, the Chamber indicated its traditional opposition to mandates that restrict the manner in which General Fund revenues may be spent.

In the final analysis, however, the voters decided how they wanted their tax dollars to be spent. Proposition J passed by a comfortable margin.

Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus

Tuesday's vote tallies show that support for children's services and educational concerns is not limited to San Francisco. Voters in Cincinnati, and Columbus, Ohio voted in favor of tax levies to improve scholl disticts. Both cities' action erased unseccesful attempts from last year.

Cincinnati's "Issue 7," a tax increase plan, was endorsed by most city officials. Dwight Tillery, the newly elected mayor was "extremely involved" in the process according to Denise Hewitt of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. Broad support from City Hall and the citizens was instrumental in the levy's success.

"We were all at the same train station, getting on the same train, and going in the same direction, Hewitt said.

The struggle in Columbus was also difficult. "We had to have the most aggressive campaign we have ever had," says Kwesi Kambon of the Columbus Public Schools. With strong financial backing from the Chamber of Commerce, which donated more than $200,000 and other citizen groups, the coalition was successful in generating the necessary support.

The campaign created and mailed out a short videotape which helped describe the current problems facing the educational system and the need for more money. Issue 32 received "the highest level of voter approval for a levy in 25 years" according to Kambon.

In Cleveland, voters elected all four school board candidates who had been endorsed by Mayor Michael R. White. Candidate endorsement is only the latest effort by White to strengthen Cleveland's schools. In the past, Mayor White, who chairs NLC's Human Development Steering Committee, has worked with community-based organizations and foundations to establish policies, programs, and activities that will support educational outcomes in the Cleveland schools.


Seattle voters have agreed to raise their taxes in order to pay for new computers for students and to renovate older schools. The city's one year levy, which is known as the "Safe Schools and Modern Tools" initiative will generate $50 million. The funds will be collected in 1992. Mayor Norman Rice, who co-chairs NLC's Task Force on Cities' Roles in Education, openly supported the levy through an "air of collaboration" with the school district.

Todd Turner is a research intern for NLC's Children and Families in Cities project and is a master's degree candidate in Public Administration at The American University in Washington, D.C.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:November, 1991 elections
Author:Turner, Todd
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 11, 1991
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