Student achievement may rank high on the list of concerns California voters have regarding the welfare of our state's young people, but there's an issue that troubles voters even more.
The bigger problem to their way of thinking is the growing rate of violence against youth.
A statewide survey of 1,000 randomly selected registered voters, conducted last April, found that the respondents think youth violence is a "big" problem in California today. Voters taking part in the "Choices for Youth-sponsored survey said it is easy for youth in their local area to get a gun, and that youth violence is hurting the quality of education in California. They also said the state should increase funding for youth-violence prevention and that expanding after-school and crime-prevention programs would save the state money in the long run by reducing the need for prisons.
Their concerns seem well founded.
State Department of Health Services data show that homicide is the leading cause of death for California youth between 15 and 19 years of age. In fact, youth between 12 and 17 are nearly three times more likely than adults to be victims of serious violent crimes. In just one year, nearly 6,000 young people are hospitalized in California for some form of violent injury, including assault, child abuse, domestic violence or rape.
Given these and other statistics too numerous to elaborate on here, it comes as no surprise that the public's awareness of youth violence is high. The effects of youth violence are seen as lingering for years to come. Voters surveyed showed strong bipartisan support for youth violence prevention programs, with solid majorities favoring expanding programs and increasing state funding. Most voters said they see youth violence prevention as an investment that will pay off in the future.
Here's a brief recap of the survey results:
Three Three out of four voters think youth violence is hurting the quality of education in California. The effects of youth violence are perceived as especially extreme among Latino and other ethnic minorities, of whom nearly half say it is hurting the quality of education "a great deal."
Concerning solutions, eight in 10 voters, including sizeable majorities in all political parties, believe that expanding after-school and crime prevention programs would save the state money in the long run. And, a large majority, 63 percent, favors expanding the state's after-school programs that now operate in elementary and middle schools to include high school students. Again, a majority in all parties agreed to that suggestion.
Voters will get a chance to consider a ballot measure that would guarantee and increase funding for after school programs when they go to the polls next month. Proposition 49, known as the After School Education and Safety Program Act of 2002, would earmark funds within the current Proposition 98 K-14 funding guarantee for after school programs at all public schools.
The proposition's major financial backer is actor Arnold Schwarzenegger who has been personally concerned about protecting kids from the many harms that can befall them after they leave California's 6,600-plus schools for the day. While many students have safe environments to which they can go, too many do not. The current state budget only provides funding to serve about 125,000 students roughly 10 percent of the 1.2 million children, ages 5 to 14, would need an after school program. That doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of high school students who voters say need protective resources as well.
A study earlier this year estimates there are nearly 42,000 students on waiting lists for existing after-school programs and that the state Department of Education received twice the number of after-school applications for programs it could fund during the last two funding periods. Again, no high school students were included on such waiting lists.
Concerning existing uses of the state educational funding guarantees, the after-school initiative ensures that all education mandates financed through Proposition 98 would be fully funded before any monies would be used for the expanded after-school programs.
Funding through the program will be available to all schools, regardless of socio-economic status. However, priority will be given where these programs are really needed those schools in which 50 percent or more of their students are eligible for the federal government's free- or reduced-lunch program. This program has long been considered as the poverty benchmark in local schools.
Given the voters' abiding concerns about violence against youth and the vagaries of state budgets, Proposition 49 seems a reasonable approach, worthy of serious consideration.
When it comes to dealing with violence against our youth, we can either pay for it now through viable prevention programs or pay for it later with young people ending up in gangs, jails, hospitals or, heaven forbid, the morgue.
The choice seems obvious.
Hovenic, Ed.D., is president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Foundation and executive director of the Foundation's Business Roundtable for Education. E-mail her at email@example.com.