Educators breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday over the apparent passage by state voters of Proposition 30, which will let Fresno Unified nearly double the number of children attending preschool, expand middle school classes and let Fresno State avoid a fee hike and class reductions.
The initiative, raising California's sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years and increasing income taxes on those who earn more than $250,000 for seven years, will net $17.5 million for Fresno Unified School District, Superintendent Michael Hanson said.
"We could not be more thrilled," he said.
About $7.4 million will be used to fund preschool for 80% of the district's 4-year-olds, increasing their chances of classroom success, Hanson said. Currently, 42% of the district's 4-year-olds attend preschool.
The money also will be used to offer more elective, career education and technical classes for middle school students, expand music classes and buy musical instruments in the district.
Other uses for Prop. 30 money include reducing the walking distance to school for middle school and high school students from 2 miles to 11/2 miles.
Fresno Unified's board approved a "plan B" budget in September that included funding from Prop. 30, allowing the new classes and programs to be phased in during the next eight months and into next school year, Hanson said.
Prop. 30 allows Fresno Unified to add programs to its budget.
For Fresno State, the new sales tax revenues will prevent even deeper budget cuts.
Fresno State President John Welty was nervous on Election Day as he waited for Prop. 30 returns.
When the first batch came in, showing the initiative was behind, Welty became "real nervous."
But as the night wore on, the deficit turned into an advantage, and now, Welty and other university officials feel, certain approval.
As of Wednesday with ballots still being counted, 54% of state voters supported Prop. 30.
That means the university will be able to admit "a full class" next year.
If Prop. 30 had failed, the university planned to reduce new admissions by 600 to 800 students.
In addition, there will be no class reductions. If the initiative failed, Fresno State likely would have had to eliminate 300 to 400 sections each semester, Welty said.
"This gives us some stability for the next three to four years," he said.
Finally, students will receive a $249 tuition refund for the current semester and a planned $150 per semester tuition increase will not be implemented.
Welty credited Fresno State students -- and college students in general -- for voting and for getting out the vote.
He said Fresno State student leaders worked to register new voters, as well as successfully working with county elections officials to get a polling place on campus.
While 54% of voters statewide backed Prop. 30, support among Valley counties was well below that percentage. As of Wednesday, 46% had voted for the initiative in Fresno County, 41% in Kings County, 39% in Madera County and 40% in Tulare County.