PTA opens state convention amid budget worries

One of the few exhibitors that offer healthy fundraising for public schools at the annual statewide PTA convention in Long Beach. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Thousands of PTA members from across the state are meeting in Anaheim for their annual convention, and California's PTA is spending the week pushing hard for its first ballot measure to raise money for schools.

“Good afternoon PTA!”

State schools' chief Tom Torlakson welcomed parents and educators to the three-day convention in Anaheim — just a stone’s throw from the “Happiest Place on Earth.” He dove straight into one of the saddest issues for schools: anemic funding.

"Changes are happening," said Torlakson. "They’re detrimental changes in terms of the cutbacks — cutbacks of equipment, cutbacks of the school year, cutbacks of the school day and cutbacks on some of the great programs. [...] Music and drama are getting squeezed back out of our curriculum in many respects."

Torlakson said he came to mobilize members to spread the word about the PTA’s first ballot initiative. It’s aimed at restoring arts programs and physical education, among other programs.

The initiative raises income taxes on a sliding scale, with higher incomes paying more. The PTA says that would raise $11 billion a year for an education fund that the governor and state lawmakers couldn’t touch.

After a dozen years, the tax increase would end unless voters renewed it.

"Now this, as you probably know, was a very unusual move for the PTA," acknowledges Carol Kocivar, president of California's PTA. "But you know what? These are unusual times."

The PTA convention continues through Saturday.