Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2016  
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  Kids First - A Most Cynical Initiative
July 26, 2016

The Kids First initiative Just qualified yesterday with only nine signatures to spare. The move to the November 2016 ballot, it will require five votes of the City Council to place it on the agenda as an emergency item because, by state law, the agenda has a 72-hour deadline and has already been published.

Kids First is really bad public policy, and while it eventually may make its way to the ballot, I am not going to help it get there. Here are some things you should know about Kids First.

  • It’s not just for Kids; the ballot definition includes individuals up to 24 years old and acknowledges that this represents over a third of Richmond’s population.
  • Kids First includes no funding source, so the $4.5 million or more to fund it has to come from some other existing program or service. Of the 3 per cent of General Fund revenues required to fund Kids First, (equal to $4.5 million in 2016-17),10% can go to administration, 5% for evaluation and 20% maximum to public agencies. The remaining 75% (equal to nearly $4.5 million FY 2016-17 dollars) must go to community organizations or public agency/non-profit partnerships. That’s almost equivalent to the entire Library and Cultural Services budget for 2016-17! The result will be a massive shift of resources ($3.5 million in FY 2016-17 dollars) from the public sector to the private sector and will result in massive program and service cuts as well as layoffs. It will also result in moving City funds from City employees who belong to unions to private sector employees who don’t.
  • The City of Richmond has just adopted a structurally balanced budget that will serve as a foundation for five more years of barely balanced budgets. It required substantial restraint and even resulted in some layoffs. Kids First will shred this trend and put Richmond back in danger of bond rating downgrades.
  • The Kids First initiative sets up a significant new bureaucracy in City government, a new “Department of Children and Youth” with a 15-member Oversight Board. As mayor, I appoint members to all boards and commissions and I simply can’t recruit enough people to fill the available slots. Two years ago, the City Council created a new Youth Council to replace the former Youth Commission that had no members. The Youth Commission is now floundering because nobody wants to serve.
  • Emails I have received typically make the case, “Youth and community members in Richmond have worked tirelessly to secure more than enough petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot.” The fact is that most signatures were secured by highly paid signature gatherers. A professional signature gatherer who solicited me at Juneteenth told me he was getting $15 per signature!
  • The fact is that taxpayers already fund massive programs and services for kids. The WCCUSD budget for 2016-17 is $309 million. The WCCUSD has spent $1.5 billion on new educational facilities, more than half of which are attended by Richmond students. The City of Richmond funds libraries and recreational programs, employment and training programs, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, and subsidizes the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts and the Richmond Arts Center, both of which provide substantial programming for kids. The Richmond Promise Program, funded at $35 million from the Chevron ECIA, serves almost totally individuals 24 years old or less. Other grant programs from ECIA, totaling $6 million are targeted to youth. But Kids First gives no credit for any of these. It requires additional money.
  • Contra Costa County also funds tens of millions of dollars for youth-related services in Richmond, including Health Services, Counseling Services, Employment/Career, Education/Training, Family Support and Emergencies. Council Member Jovanka Beckles works for one of these agencies.

With all those expenditures, I agree it is is not enough. For example, California consistently skimps on education. The California Budget and Policy Center reports that California’s support for K-12 education ranks low by almost any measure. “In 2014-15, California ranked 42nd among all states in spending per K-12 student, after adjusting for differences in the cost of living in each state.”

California was once a top funder of public education, but that was long ago. A 2016 report, “California’s Challenge: Adequately Funding Education in the 21st Century”, estimates that “the amount of additional funding that would be needed to move California to the average funding level of the top 10 states is $47 billion to $56 billion, roughly a doubling of current state funding.” In a long, slow slide, California has joined Florida and Texas toward the bottom of the national stack. Funding per student in California, adjusted for inflation, is only slightly above where it stood forty years ago.
Education expenditures per student by state, 1970 - 2012(est), adapted from EdSource 'States in Motion' interactive graphs view #7
Education expenditures per student by state, 1970 – 2012(est), adapted from EdSource “States in Motion” interactive graphs view #7
But requiring Richmond to make up for state funding shortfalls is not practical. Kids First is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. Additional funding for “kids” is important, but it is not the highest priority of Richmond residents. The top three priorities based on the last Community Survey are (1) reducing crime, (2) improving environmental quality, and (3) developing job training opportunities. While reducing crime and job training involve “kids,” moving existing funds for these uses from City programs to programs provided by community organizations results in no net benefit.

Source: Richmond, CA 2015 Community Survey

Following is one of the typical identical pleas I have received to allow the Kids First initiative to appear on the November 2016 ballot.

From: _______________________
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2016 5:39 PM
To: ___________________
Subject: Richmond Kids First - Support

Dear Mayor Butt and Councilmembers:

My name is _______________.  My wife and I are parents of a 3.5 year old son and Richmond residents. A friend of mine brought this initiative to my attention. 

I’m writing to urge you to make sure the Richmond Kids First ballot measure is on the July 26th city council meeting agenda and that you vote in favor of the resolution to put this on the November ballot. 6476 of registered voters in Richmond want to see this on the ballot.

Richmond youth are in a state of emergency. Youth in Richmond bear the burden of multiple health and social inequities, resulting in disproportionately high rates of homicide, gun violence, high school dropout and punitive discipline policies, unintended or early pregnancy, poverty and unemployment, and contact with the child welfare and juvenile justice system.

Youth and community members in Richmond have worked tirelessly to secure more than enough petition signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and now it is upon city council to follow through on democratic process. Please honor the community’s wishes by making sure Richmond Kids First is on the July 26th meeting agenda.